Singing the sacred sounds and scriptures of various religions, spiritual music encompasses the ideologies, teachings, and songs of various religions, or is derived from religious influence. Christian spiritual music, or gospel music, sings songs from the scriptures, telling tales of the Bible and sharing God’s word. Hindu spiritual music offers religious chants honoring the Gods; Gods who are often chanted to include Vishnu and his incarnations—Shiva and Shakti. From bhajans, or Hindu devotional songs, to kirtan, the communal call-and-response chanting of mantras, Hindu spiritual music sings the praises of the Gods. Sikh spiritual music, sung by those who follow the religion of Sikhism, sing their spiritual music as ragas, also employed in Hindu spiritual music. Sikh ragas construct melodies with five or more musical notes to construct songs that directly relate to human moods. Much like Hindu kirtan, Buddhist spiritual music employs the use of chanting mantras that are used in, or inspired by, Buddhism.
Music and spirituality go hand-in-hand for many. Even for those who don’t adhere to a strict religion experiencing the spiritual music of other religions and cultures can aid in a personal spiritual journey. With spirituality simply meaning the search for the sacred, surrounding oneself with the sounds of deep believers, sharing in songs and histories that predate the modern era can help to infuse a sense of permanence and placement within the context of a spiritual journey by feeling connected to those whose convictions and customs are so strong. Each religion and spiritual way of life brings its own sounds and songs, from Islam and Judaism to Shinto, Rastafarianism, and Zoroastrianism; the spiritual songs share the sacred, time-honored traditions of a culture.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century a high request for religious music put spiritual music at the center of Johann Sebastian Bach’s repertoire. Likewise, in the following century, Ludwig Van Beethoven showed sincere interest in the music of the church, inspired by the early composers of spiritual music, such as Palestrina. In even more modern time, artists who gained mainstream notoriety, such as The Beatles and Bob Marley, incorporated spirituality into their songs. The Beatles traveled to India, where they composed many songs, including ones with lyrical references to spirituality and inclusion of Eastern musical influence in songs like “Within You Without You.” Bob Marley also produced a bounty of spiritually influenced music. With lyrics such as “the goodness of Jah-Jah I-dureth for I-ver,” in the song Small Axe, referencing Psalms 52:1, he seamlessly included his religious and spiritual views into songs that defined a culture, proving spiritual music holds a place in mainstream music.