MSU professor examines religion, pop music
Interested in how America drastically changed from 1970-80 with a radical current running through Americans’ lives, MSU English and religious studies professor David Stowe’s research led him to publish his third book, “No Sympathy for the Devil.”
Released in April, Stowe’s book examines how popular rock and roll of the 1960s and 1970s influenced religion and politics of the time to create a Christian rock genre, which has now developed into contemporary Christian music.
According to Stowe — who has combined his religious subject matter in teaching at MSU with his outside research — the basis for his examination lies with the religious right and Jesus movements.
“(It) was a revival of hippies that became born-again Christians, and they created rock music to go along with their worship,” Stowe said. “They loved rock and roll, but they wanted to have music that fit within the Church better. So, they created Christian rock.”
Serving as an analysis of American history — including religion, politics, music and popular culture — Stowe examines Christian rock’s influence on Evangelical Christian worshiping practices and how it affected society.
Stowe was inspired by the Rolling Stones’ hit “Sympathy for the Devil,” which he thought of before he began writing the book five years ago. He said he was initially interested because, particularly in his time period of focus, people often associated rock music with being and anti-Christian.
While he spends much of the book specifically discussing Christian rock, he also explores how Evangelical and born again Christians influenced more popular artists, such as Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Marvin Gaye, and politicians, such as former President Jimmy Carter.
Religious studies professor Amy DeRogatis said “No Sympathy for the Devil” compensates for what scholarly writing lacks regarding American Evangelicalism.
“His scholarship sheds light on the intersection between religion and music as well as the specific ways that Evangelicals participated in the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s through music,” DeRogatis said in an email.
While teaching and doing research at MSU, Stowe said he was inspired to explore this topic as a historian because he grew up in the 1970s and wanted a more comprehensive understanding of the political and religious ramifications for society’s music culture.
English professor Gary Hoppenstand called Stowe the “leading national authority” on music and cultural studies and said he’s the perfect example of MSU’s high-quality faculty. As Stowe continues his work, Hoppenstand said he’s achieved an ideal balance in humanities between research and education.
“He demonstrates that important connection between research, publication and teaching because he practices it,” Hoppenstand said. “Few, if anyone, do it any better than (Stowe).”