The secular reception of religious music
Philosophy, 81, (1), . (doi:10.1017/S0031819106000040).
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Sacred music expresses and evokes emotional attitudes of distinctive kinds. Even people who are irreligious in their beliefs can find themselves moved by it in these ways. It has been suggested that for an unbeliever to cherish the experience of sacred music may actually constitute a form of sentimentality. This paper considers just what the appeal of this sort of music is, to believers as well as to unbelievers. There are non-religious musical works that have similar emotional content. Everyday life prevents many important emotions from being experienced as consummately as they could be. Art can allow this to happen, can be a vehicle for emotion of the last instance. Indeed, a religious belief system is in part a similar vehicle. In art, where there is no gesture at belief, the risk of sentimentality is, if anything, less.
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