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Melvin Butler

I am an ethnomusicologist with broad interests in music and religion of the African diaspora. The bulk of my fieldwork has explored popular music making in relation to charismatic Christianity in Haitian and Jamaican communities. In these transnational Caribbean contexts, I interrogate the cultural politics of musical style and religious expression while attending to the role of musical performance in constructing individual and collective identities. Much of my research centers on the phenomenology of Pentecostal musical worship, how the transcendent becomes immanent through musical performance, and the intersections of faith, ritual, gender, and power. These interests fuel my ongoing concern with ethnographic representation and the ways in which scholars negotiate their identities in relation to various fields of supernatural encounter. I am presently at work on two book manuscripts. One of these examines the theological and experiential connections between Jamaican and African American gospel performance, along with the musical migrations that shape identities in Jamaica and its diaspora. The other focuses on a continuum of Pentecostal practice in Haiti and the discourses of cultural authenticity and spiritual power that inflect congregational practice. At the heart of both projects lies a critical reconsideration of how spiritually charged music making is deeply embedded in process of boundaries crossing, identity formation, and social positioning in post-colonial contexts.

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