The book’s opening chapter locates the jazz in the study of religion and religion in jazz studies. Arguing against studies that focus merely on individuals or institutionally formatted religiosity, the author argues that American religions in the last 100 years have been “jazz-shaped,” to use Ralph Ellison’s phrase. Yet while the tradition’s musicians have been obviously invested in ritual, cosmology, meditation, and community, they have also practiced a resistance to the category “jazz” that suggestively parallels the fluidity of the category “religion.” This oscillation between concrete and abstract is not just endemic to improvisation, then, it is the substance of the spirituality musicians avow is at its center.
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