‘Redneck Religion and Shitkickin’ Saviours?’: Gram Parsons, Theology and Country Music by Michael Grimshaw


The country singer Gram Parsons (1946-73) has in the last decade been increasingly cited as a seminal influence upon the development of contemporary alt.country and the roots/americana revivial. This article critiques Parsons and his music within the realm of contextual theology, using him as a bridge to examine the wider issue of what a theology of country music might entail. Both Parsons and Country Music in general are strongly religious in language, ethos and culture, yet the theology articulated both explicitly and implicitly is not evangelical as those outside the genre and culture might assume. Rather, the theology of country music involves a gospel of liminality, a theology of redemptive transgression that is expressed in ‘white spirituals’ where the song is a locus of grace. The article asks if Parsons was a locus of grace; are his songs those of liminal presence; does country music employ a theology of redemptive transgression?

[Some “theological help” from Wikipedia:]Liminal existence can be located in a separated sacred space, which occupies a sacred time. Examples in the Bible include the dream of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-19) where he encounters God between heaven and earth and the instance when Isaiah meets the Lord in the temple of holiness (Isaiah 6:1-6).[108] In such a liminal space, the individual experiences the revelation of sacred knowledge where God imparts his knowledge on the person.Worship can be understood in this context as the church community (or communitas or koinonia) enter into liminal space corporately.[109] Religious symbols and music may aid in this process described as a pilgrimage by way of prayer, song, or liturgical acts. The congregation is transformed in the liminal space and as they exit, are sent out back into the world to serve.]

A quote from the article:

The roots of the theology of country are to be found most expressively in an experience of Jacob, that of his wrestling with God. The struggle articulated in country music is reminiscent of this, of the man who feels the call of the divine, the spiritual, and yet who cannot help himself from attempting to outwit and overcome those he encounters. As part of this experience, there is the ongoing wrestling with God which, while being an encounter with grace and divine blessing, also results in a permanent limp, a sign of being marked, an experience of holy suffering.”1

1. Michael Grimshaw, ‘Redneck religion and shitkickin’ saviours?’: Gram Parsons, theology and country music.” Popular Music vol. 21 no. 1 (January 2002): 93-­105.

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