Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Music




Jonathan De Souza


This thesis investigates the relationships between altered states of consciousness and the musical experience in religious tradition and practice. A common accompaniment to religious worship and ceremony, music is often used as a way of attempting to capture something of the ineffable and to help bring about a mystical experience. In this thesis, I make use of three contrasting case studies – the Brazilian syncretic religion Santo Daime, the historical branch of Zen Buddhism Fuke-shū, and the psychedelic rock of 1960s counterculture – to paint a portrait of the variety of ways that music has been used in different musical traditions to evoke mystical experience and how those experiences are expressed and understood in their cultural contexts. In these case studies, I explore the ways that music is used as an aid to other means of consciousness alteration, such as the entheogenic brew ayahuasca or Zen meditation. I also make the sustained argument that the ineffability of the musical experience itself can evoke a kind of “micro-mysticism” and that religious traditions which do not make use of entheogenic compounds or meditative techniques can still use music as a means of producing a milder form of consciousness alteration for the purpose of accessing mystical states.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis investigates how different religions use music as a way of modifying conscious states. Music is often used in religious ceremonies in an attempt to express inexpressible ideas. In this thesis, I look at three spiritual traditions – the Brazilian Santo Daime, the Japanese Fuke-shū, and the American and British psychedelic rock of 1960s counterculture – to paint a picture of how different religions evoke a mystical experience using music. In these case studies, I discuss how music is used in combination with other tools for modifying consciousness, such as the psychedelic brew ayahuasca or Zen meditation. I also argue that music on its own conveys a kind of “micro-mysticism” and that religions that do not use mind-altering substances or intense meditative practices still often try to evoke profound religious experiences through the milder method of musical experience.