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Sound Faith: Religion and the Acoustic World, 1400 to 1800

Thursday 13 June 2024, 9.00AM to 9pm 14 June

Event details

The experience of lived religion in the early modern world was, as it is now, profoundly auditory. The prophet Mohammed attached great importance to the power of the human voice, and the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, sounds out five times a day from the minarets of every mosque in the world. For Christians, Romans 10:14, asks: ‘how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?’ and in Judaism the rise of Kabbalah from the sixteenth century, for example, saw a renewed emphasis on singing as a means of elevating the spirit to the celestial. Sound and music were no less essential to indigenous religions, and colonisers and missionaries regularly described the mesmerising effect of their acoustic encounters. As Jean de Léry famously recalled, after witnessing the ritual practices of the Tupinamba in the Bay of Rio in 1557:

"I was not only ravished out of my selfe: but also now, as often as I remember the tunable agreement of many voices, both my minde rejoyceth, also mine eares seeme continually to ring therewith."

Attention to music and sound has significantly shaped recent, pioneering scholarship on religion and faith in early modernity. Much of this work, however, tends to take place within particular religious, national, and disciplinary contexts. This conference will range across such boundaries and borders. Bringing together scholars working on sound and music in the experience and expression of religion and faith throughout the pre-modern world c.1400-1800, the conference intends to map the state of the field.

The conference is generously supported by the University of York’s Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies and the History Department.

The conference opens on Thursday 13 June 2024. Delegates can register from 4pm on Wednesday 12 June and then attend a Graduate Masterclass or Choral Evensong at the York Minster. After the first day of the conference, delegates are also invited to attend a concert by San Francisco Xavier.

See our conference programme for more details.

Keynote speakers

  • Lucía Martínez Valdivia (Reed College): Of Sounds This Is the Strain: Literary Audiation and Early Modern English Poetic Devotion
  • Felipe Ledesma-Núñez (Harvard University); Coya Huarmi: Reconstruction of a Song, a Vessel, and an Ancestor's Voice
  • Jan-Friedrich Missfelder (Universität Basel): Voice, Violence and Intermediality in the Early Reformation

Book your place at the conference

There are four categories of registration: In the first three cases, the registration fee is inclusive of lunch on Thursday and Friday and all other refreshments (including morning coffee and pastries). Your registration fee does not include the Conference Dinner on Thursday 13 June, but there is an option to add this when registering (£30 for a three-course meal and one drink). If you would like to stay for our informal meal on Friday evening, please also add this option when registering (£10 for pizzas, to be ordered on the day).

Buy your conference tickets

Price list

  • Waged Delegates and Speakers, and those with access to institutional funding: £100
  • Reduced Rate: £50
  • Speaker Bursaries and York Postgraduates and Staff – please choose this category for free registration (note there are a limited number of free places, and if you are at York you must be able to provide your username).
  • Online Registration: £20

Speaker bursaries

If you have been selected for a speaker bursary you will have been notified formally in writing.

Graduate Masterclass: Audiation

Wednesday 12 June 4.45pm, King’s Manor

After registering for the 'Sound Faith: Religion and the Acoustic World' conference, in-person delegates can participate in this Graduate Masterclass on 'Audiation' led by Professor Lucía Martínez Valdivia from Reed College. 

Places at the Masterclass are limited, so conference attendees need to book their free place in advance by emailing the organiser, Emilie Murphy,

Concert: San Francisco Xavier, An Indigenous Baroque Opera

Thursday 13 June 6pm, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate YO1 9TL

As part of the 'Sound Faith: Religion and the Acoustic World' conference, all in-person delegates are invited to the UK premiere of the first known opera to be written in an indigenous language. The concert is generously supported by the University of York’s Department of History and the Department of English and Related Literature.

Event details

The Jesuit missions of South America were the source of a very large number of musical compositions, some by Jesuit musicians, but many more by anonymous Indigenous composers . All the compositions had one thing in common, they were written for indigenous people to sing and play. Members of El Parnaso Hyspano, an Hispanic early music ensemble, will give the first UK concert performance of one of the most significant of these anonymous works, the 40-minute opera, San Francisco Xavier, written in the Chiquitano language in the early 18th century. It is the first known opera to be written in an indigenous language.

This concert performance will be framed by a panel discussion of some of the issues around authenticity and respect for Indigenous traditions and culture when approaching such music in a contemporary Western context.


  • San Francisco Xavier - Rafael Montero (tenor)
  • San Ignacio de Loyola - Kate Smith (soprano)
  • Violin 1 - Joana Praça
  • Violin 2 - Edmund Taylor
  • Baroque harp - Emilia Agajew
  • Viola da gamba - Miriam Nohl
  • Percussion - Johnny Rodriguez

See the conference programme for more details.

Location: Berrick Saul Building