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Baha’i Devotional Music in a Global Key

January 8, 2021

For his senior thesis, Christopher LaMountain combined his love for music and religion and set off on a global journey to critically understand the particularism of Baha’i music in different parts of the world.

Christopher LaMountain spent about a year and a half researching Baha’i devotional music for his senior thesis, an endeavor that took him around the world to Baha’i temples in 6 different countries. 

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The Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois is one of 8 continental Baha’i temples around the world. // Photo via Pexels

 

LaMountain had never encountered the Baha’i faith before coming to Northwestern. He grew up Methodist, singing in church choirs throughout his youth, and originally heard about the Baha’i temple in Wilmette as a place where Northwestern students go to escape academic stresses. The first time he encountered the temple, LaMountain was taken aback by the sight of it; an intricately carved dome rising out of the suburban landscape. 

 

LaMountain’s official introduction to the faith was through music when he joined the Wilmette temple choir in 2018. “I have experience within a lot of church choirs, for example, and sacred music. So it was a really interesting way for me to find my kind of entree into what I would discover is a very multicultural, very inter-religious oriented community of people,” said LaMountain. 

LaMountain, 23, studied religious studies and general music at NU before graduating in June of 2020. In his junior year, he received the Circumnavigator grant, a $9,500 grant awarded to one Northwestern student each year to spend the summer traveling and researching a topic of their choice. He chose a topic that combined his two majors and his experience singing with the Baha’i choir in Wilmette: the particularism of devotional music in Baha’i houses of worship. His travels took him to Baha’i temples in Germany, Samoa, Australia, Chile, Uganda and India.

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Christopher LaMountain stands outside the Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India. //  Photo via Christopher LaMountain

 

“I got to sing in every single house of worship, with people from all these different nations,” said LaMountain. “And it was so interesting to note, the subtleties, the differences, the similarities between each place and singing with each different community.”

In the resulting thesis, LaMountain argues that the universalism of Baha’i devotional music is highly particular to the place where it is performed. The purpose of this particularism, LaMountain claims, is to convince non-Baha’i visitors to the temple that the faith is locally generated, and to promote empathy for the faith from non-Baha’is.  

 

LaMountain has received a Fulbright Scholarship — which has been delayed until 2021 due to COVID — to continue this research at the Lotus Temple in India. He plans to use this scholarship to look more in depth at the Lotus temple and understand it in the same way he has come to understand the Wilmette temple from his time performing with the choir. 

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