Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

2008 Seminars

Christian Hymnody in Historical Perspective
June 23-July 3, 2008

Directed by Edith Blumhofer

Co-sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Funded by the LIlly Endowment, Inc.

Seminar Description

From New Testament times, Christians have expressed their faith in song. Since the Reformation, Protestants have made hymns part of family and private devotions as well as church practice. Hymn texts provide metaphors for understanding theology, articulating deep emotions, and elaborating the practical consequences of belief. Hymnody offers an underutilized lens on the religious lives of ordinary people and the language that sustains popular faith.

This seminar will offer an historical overview of Christian hymnody with an emphasis on the period since the Reformation. Historical perspective provides a context for thinking about contemporary changes and how other generations have embraced or rejected new styles of Christian song. The seminar will invite participants to understand more deeply the traditions of hymnody that have shaped the church as we know it. It will examine such broad topics as different understandings of the place of hymnody in Christian worship, sources and authors of Christian song, Christians hymns as cultural icons, hymns and political rhetoric, hymnody and literature, hymns and gender and ethnicity, the importance of musical settings, the impact of physical spaces on the style and use of hymns, the editing and abridging of hymns. (Unlike poetry, hymns have been seen as public texts to which hymnal editors can bring a free hand.) The emphasis will be on Western hymnody written and sung in the West and what it suggests about larger issues in Christian history and practice, but we will also consider the use of Western hymns abroad.

About the Director

Edith Blumhofer is Professor of History and Director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. Her teaching and research interests include the history of Christianity and American religious history. She is a graduate of Hunter College of the City University of New York and received her Ph.D. from Harvard University. She directed a three-year project funded by the Lily Endowment on the history of American hymnody and in 1995 published a biography of the American hymnwriter Fanny J. Crosby entitled Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Eerdmans). She is co-editor with Philip Bohlman of Music and the American Religious Experience (Oxford University Press, 2005) and is currently at work on a book on Victorian women hymnwriters.