The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

Bennett Zon, Feb 21st


Announcing a special workshop co-sponsored by the Music History/Theory Workshop, the EthNoise! Ethnomusicology Workshop, the 18th/19th Century Cultures Workshop, and the Nicholson Center for British Studies.  On February 21, @3:00pm at the Fulton Recital Hall, Professor Bennett Zon, from Durham University UK, will present his work on “Evolution and spiritual selection in Victorian musical culture.”

ABSTRACT:  The history of religion and science has often been caricatured as strewn with mortal conflict. Early books on the topic, like John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) or Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) did nothing to dispel this view.  The battle between religion and science was, however, never as consistently divisive as these books might suggest, and during the Victorian period there was at times an amicable, albeit dynamic, relationship between the two. Like twins separated at birth, religion and science occasionally rediscovered one another in the booming culture of post-Darwinian Britain, to find abundant similarities and curiously engrossing differences. This is the story of such a relationship, exploring the influence of evolution within the science and religion of Victorian Britain, and then tracing its impact on England’s leading music philosopher, Joseph Goddard (1833–1911).

Because Goddard published regularly throughout most of the Victorian period his work provides a helpful glimpse into the development of Britain’s musicological mind. That mind was deeply immersed in contemporary scientific, religious and philosophical debates, not least as they relate to changes in evolutionary theory. Indeed, as evolutionary theory evolved, so too did musicology. Goddard’s philosophy of music reflects those changes very clearly, from his early days as a flag-waving Spencerian to his later, more circumspect time as a devout Darwinian. Like many other intellectuals of the time, however, Goddard fell sway to the Darwinian argument, abandoning neither his good Spencerian principles nor his fundamental belief in the spiritual nature of the universe. To the extent that Darwin failed to resolve his own religious conflict, he was similarly compromised.  Darwin calls it his ‘muddle’, and it is that so-called muddle between scientific knowledge and religious belief, played out in vast swathes of Victorian intellectual culture, which one finds represented and resolved in Goddard’s philosophy of music.

This paper charts the history of Darwin’s muddle as emblematic of Victorian debates about religion and science, looking closely at the relationship of natural theology and the emerging science of evolution. It examines the resolution of that relationship into a theology consonant with evolution yet true to its religious roots, and then situates that theology broadly within Goddard’s philosophy of music.

Persons who require assistance to participate fully in this event should contact Andy Greenwood at in advance.

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