Mercer University, Nathan Myrick

Macon, Georgia

To identify, through ethnographic research, the myriad ways that musical worship participates in human flourishing, and to share these insights with Christian leaders in order to promote healthy and vibrant communities of Christian fellowship and worship.

Researcher(s): Nathan Myrick (PI)
Academic Discipline: Music - Sacred Music
Other Researcher(s): Johnathan Alvarado, Benjamin Gessner 

Project Summary

The research will consist of ethnographic interviews and participant observation in protestant churches in Macon, GA with the purpose of uncovering the myriad ways that musical worship participates in human flourishing. My intention is that such data will be analyzed and interpreted so that music ministers and ecclesial leaders will be better able to facilitate healthy and vibrant communities of Christian fellowship and worship. Building on my previous work in my monograph, Music for Others, and using the Capabilities Approach as described by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum as a definition of both well-being and justice, the project will disseminate the information in order to facilitate relational health and vibrant, formative faith. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year? List at least two questions that have generated theological reflection and have helped shape your project.

  • What changes in worship when we cannot be together?
  • How does more-mediated music change our interaction with it?

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations?

While it still remains to be seen, I hope that our research will give congregations a better sense how the congregants engage music in worship and what it actually is about musical worship that people find valuable. I also hope that doing the research during the pandemic will bring out new insight that would have been obscured by the volume of musical life under "normal" circumstances, so that congregations may make music in the most vital, and healthy, ways possible. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)

Truly, the pandemic. I feel like that goes without saying, however. To name some of them, we have had an incredibly difficult time making and maintaining contact with our research partners. Several churches that we intended to study with have closed their doors and are no longer active congregations; those who have participated have found it difficult to engage our interviews via phone or zoom. Perhaps more troubling from a scientific perspective is the lack of ability to establish meaningful control groups; under normal, F2F circumstances, we would make contact with non-participating members and dialog with them about why they are not singing in church. This does present a challenge to our analysis. 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

If your grant is going through your institution and you are hiring student researchers, be sure to check the Work Study policies of your school. I was not aware that my research assistants were having there wages subsidized until April, and consequently I was not making the most of the funds I had been entrusted with. 


What products will emerge from your project?

A chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Community Singing 

A series of short videos disseminating the research findings 

An online resource for congregations