Accepted Paper:

Musical aesthetics, spirituality and the morality of performance in Mongolia  


Rebekah Plueckhahn (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines Mongolian musical aesthetics and corresponding creations of moral personhood. Drawing from the public performance of two spiritual genres, it examines the interconnection between everyday musical sociality and the formation of changing postsocialist spiritualities.

Paper long abstract:

Among the Altai Urianghai in rural west Mongolia, musical performance is a key medium through which a person's character and moral personhood can be brought into being. This paper explores the innate synthesis between musical, performative aesthetics and social aesthetics and morality by examining public performances of two spiritual genres - an Altain Magtaal, (praise song), and tuul' (epics). The musical and performative aesthetics of these two genres, while having causal properties that interlink with active animist landscapes, also extend from and to everyday social life within the rural district.

This paper focuses on how Altai Urianghai musical aesthetics interconnect and blur distinctions between the social and the spiritual, the secular and the religious in the making of spiritual imaginaries. Through drawing from everyday examples of how musical performance can influence the formation of 'good' personhood, I discuss how musical-social aesthetics are linked to the creation of fundamental social networks and changing postsocialist spiritual practices. I examine this interlinked process through the Mongolian concept of yos, an encompassing term that can mean both preferred forms of efficacious social behavior and aesthetics, as well as forms of exemplary moral personhood. Both performers and audience members alike negotiate these secular and spiritual moral frames, drawing from a range of 'divergent, multiple possibilities' (Humphrey 2008) of action and thought. This paper examines how musical aesthetics are fundamental to the way that changing Mongolian postsocialist spiritual practice and collectivities emerge from everyday secular socialities.

Panel P007
Aesthetics and the making of religious collectivities