Europe is the tale of three religions: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. While these religions may at first glance seem completely different from each other, they actually share a lot of common beliefs and history. This has caused hundreds of years of misunderstanding war, and persecution between members of the religion which continue to this day. In this assignment we will look at each religion individually for both shared and unique beliefs to try to better understand not only the religions themselves, but how these religions have impacted and shaped the art, music, and culture of their regions. The written response portion can be found at the end of this assignment.


Before we begin, a disclaimer; discussing religion is always a sensitive topic and a difficult one for many reasons. One of these reasons is there are often many different ways to interpret and practice a religion. I have done my best to be as accurate with the information presented here. If you feel there are issues that need to be addressed, please contact me. If you are a follower of any of these faiths and wish to add more details, either through email or on the discussion board, please feel free to do so!


One more thing, please approach this assignment from an open, unbiased, and respectful point of view.




In the beginning …




There are many ways to start this story, but let’s begin with Abraham. According to all three religions, Abraham was a man of God (see (Links to an external site.)) and a founder of their beliefs. According to the book of Genesis, Abraham was told by God that he would have a son and rise up a great nation. This seemed a little difficult because his wife, Sarah, was past the child bearing age. In fact, according to some traditions, they both laughed when they heard the news. Sarah was worried that God’s promise wouldn’t be fulfilled because she wasn’t able to bear children so she convinced Abraham to conceive a child with their servant, Hagar. Abraham agreed and Ishmael is born. Later, Sarah – who is estimated to be about 90-91 at the time – miraculously conceives and gives birth to Isaac. Here’s where the problems begin.


Sarah and Hagar apparently have a sort of falling out and Hagar and Ishmael are banished. Ishmael is the oldest son and should inherit from Abraham. Isaac, however, is the child born of Sarah, the wife, and the child through whom God established his covenant. Arabs believe they are descended from Ishmael. Jews believe they are descended from Isaac. And that is where all the conflict begins.


Arabs feel that they had their birthright stolen. After all Ishmael was the oldest son and it wasn’t fair that he was cast out.


Jews counter that argument by saying but Isaac was the legitimate child and the one who was chosen by God to be the heir. Therefore they are the rightful heirs.


Both believe that they should control/own/live on what we call the “Holy Land”, which both religions believe holds sacred significance because it was the birthright of their progenitor going back to the time of Abraham.


They have been fighting about it since the time of Abraham and they are still fighting about it to this day.




Christians come into this because up until the birth of Jesus Christ they believe along the same lines as Jews. The theological split came over whether or not Jesus was the promised Messiah or not. Christians say yes; Jews say no. And another bloody conflict began that thousands of years later has yet to be resolved.


Many of the conflicts center around who controls the Holy Land (Jerusalem). Israel believes it’s theirs by birthright, Muslims believe it’s theirs by stolen birthright, and Christians believe it should be theirs because that’s where Christ ministered, thereby nullifying the claims of everyone else.


The Arabs meanwhile (approx. 600 years after Christ) found their own religion through the prophet Mohammed (see (Links to an external site.)). This religion became known as Islam and it’s followers as Muslims. It is important to remember that not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Muslims are Arabs and the term are not interchangeable. Islam proved to be a civilizing influence, so much so that by the Middle Ages the Muslim culture and influence was thriving (see (Links to an external site.))


Meanwhile in Europe, the Christians felt so adamantly that they should control the Holy Land (which was now controlled by the Muslims) that during the Middle Ages they launched a series of often disaterous wars known as the Crusades to push out the Muslims. In Western society, these wars are often seen as virtuous battles by heroes of the middle ages against the infidels of the Middle East. Interestingly enough some of the music has survived ( (Links to an external site.)

). The Muslims have a different perspective which you can discover by reading here (Links to an external site.)


Ok, so now let’s look at the religions themselves. What follows are my lecture notes. Much of this can be seen in the lecture video I posted if you need extra explanation or want to watch the lecture.






Believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of the original religion revealed many times through prophets such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The Quran is the unaltered and final revelation of God.




Five pillars (Sunni):


Declaration of Faith


There is only on god (Allah) and Muhammad is God’s messenger


Obligatory Prayer


Salah – Obligatory prayer; dawn, noon, afternoon, evening, night


Click here to hear the call to prayer: (Links to an external site.)



Click here to experience what it is like when the whole city goes to prayer: (Links to an external site.)



Compulsory giving


All things belong to God: this knowledge is essential for personal growth. It is the personal responsibility of each Muslim to ease the economic hardship of others and strive towards eliminating inequality. If poor, can pay in acts of service.


Fasting for Ramadan


Abstain from food and drink during the daylight this month and e mindful of sins. Facilitates a nearness with God by expressing gratitude and dependence on Him and to become more mindful of the needy.


Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)


Men and women required to make the pilgrimage. Only a hajj if during specific month. Ceremonial clothing is worn when close to the holy city. Meant as an expression of devotion to God. Leads to constant striving for self-improvement




Two main branches – Sunni and Shia. They fight. A lot. See (Links to an external site.)


Click here for a summary of Muslim beliefs: (Links to an external site.)


See also: (Links to an external site.)




It is VERY important to note that not all Muslims are terrorists. In fact, only a very small fraction of them are. Most Muslims do not believe the terrorists are following the Quran. Like most people in the world, Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding, productive members of society.






Unlike Christianity and Islam it has never established as a state religion. Even in modern Israel it is not the state religion; Israel is technically a secular democracy (however, certain elements within the Israeli government would like to have that changed which is currently causing internal contention) Came to Europe in 70 AD after the second diaspora when Rome destroyed their temple. Settled first in Mediterranean and then spread.


Also monotheistic. Found among the Hebrews. Believed that God revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and other prophets who then created a book of scripture known as the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament). These are the books ascribed to Moses. Rabbinic traditions also an important part of the religion and are sometimes included in the Torah as the “oral Torah”. Ancient Israelites base much of their identity on the believe that they are in a unique relationship with God. Jews are to set an example of holiness and ethical behavior to the rest of the world. Can have an individual and personal relationship with God through covenant. This was a groundbreaking idea in an age of idols, superstition, and polytheism.


Two types of Jews: Ashkenazic (France, Germany, and Eastern Europe) and Sephardic (Spain, Portugal, Middle East). In general, the belief systems are pretty closely aligned, but there are some differences in traditions. The Ashkenazic Jews are the ones that were hit the hardest by the Holocaust. An interesting look at the haunting melody in Schindler’s List can be found here (have Kleenex ready). (Links to an external site.)



Very family oriented, many ceremonies. Can convert but it isn’t easy. Because of the idea that they are special and kept to themselves (along with many other things), Jews began to be hated by everyone around them. This continues and in fact anti-semitism is on the rise again sadly.


Beliefs about God: God exists, there is only one, doesn’t have a body therefore no gender, is omnipresent, omnipotent, beyond time. God is just but merciful; choses to behave this way. New concept in religion.


Identity came from being Jewish but also where they lived. (Links to an external site.)


Jews follow a dietary law which determines which food they can eat (are “kosher”). More about that can be found here: (Links to an external site.)


More about the Torah can be found here: (Links to an external site.)




Christianity – oldest and most established in Europe. Came through the Romans.


Believe in Jewish tradition until the coming of Christ and then it starts to deviate.


Believe that Jesus was/is the Savior who was talked about in the Bible. New code of living. No more blood sacrifice for example.


Believe that there is a Godhead made of three parts. God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Can be three individuals or trinity. Redemption is brought about through faith, works or a combination of the two depending on belief system.


Two main groups: Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe the religion is the continuation of the church as explained by Christ to his followers.


Protestants believe that through the course of history things went a little wonky and the teachings need to be restored. Began with Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses in 1517 which attacked the belief that the Bible was the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation by their faith and not by their deeds. This sparked MANY wars, in particular the 30 Year War (1618-1648) which was ended with the Treaty of Westphalia. War ended with three official religions: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist. Ripped apart the Holy Roman Empire which was Germany and the surrounding areas.


Often religion and politics would get mixed up together. For example the Crusades.


Knights Templar were a religious order from 1119-1312, created by papal edict. Acted as a military branch to protect Christian pilgrims. The Crusades were an attempt to gain the Holy Land back from the “infidels” but were often used as a way to wag the dog away from other problems back home and were a way to grab land from the Byzantine empire and the Middle East.




Music of the three religions


Muslim: recitation of the Koran is not considered music. However, the rules for reciting it resemble the rules used by Muslim musicians (modes, etc.) and influence the music and how people sing. You’ll explore more about Muslim music in this chapter of the book.


The guitar and possible the violin come from the Middle Easter ud.




Jewish: Klezmer music is some of the most distinctive Jewish music. Many of you will recognize it as sounding “Jewish” because of its use in movies (many film composers were/are Jewish). This type of music can be a lot of fun to listen to. (Links to an external site.)

is one of my favorites. This one is also good: (Links to an external site.)



More about klezmer music can be found here: (Links to an external site.)


Musicians who provided music for Jewish rituals and dances. Jewish musicians were among the most highly sought after until the Holocaust. The Holocaust drove many Jewish musicians to the US (those who could escape). Many became employed at Hollywood were they developed a new genre of music – the film score (see Max Steiner, Erich Korngold).


Because of the prejudice in Europe against Jews, many Jewish musicians felt forced to convert to Christianity in order to be accepted and find employment. One such musician was the composer Gustav Mahler. Mahler converted to Catholicism in 1897. Whether this was a superficial conversion to get the position of director of the Vienna Hofoper or not is a matter scholars have debated for years, but what is known is that the conversion caused an identity crisis for Mahler, which can be heard in his music. One of the clearest examples of this is his first symphony. In this Mahler takes the Christian tune “Frere Jacques” (Brother John) and contrasts it with Jewish klezmer music. Listen to this piece here: (Links to an external site.)

. Read more about the piece here: (Links to an external site.)






As we saw in the previous assignment, Catholicism was responsible for much of Western music’s origins. From the harmonies and intervals we use, the scale system, to the way that music is notated. Music began as a form of worship and a way to pray. “The ability to notate accurately many aspects of music (notably pitch, rhythm, and duration) subtly changes one’s conception of music itself and forms one of the ideological divisions between classical, popular, and folk music in Europe.” (Titon 151)




All three types of music blend together to form European music.




Nationalistic music is a human invention, just as political borders are. Nation-states characterize Europe and were formed as a result of US independence, French Revolution, and other local uprisings. Nation-states differ from kingdoms and empires because the power resides IN THE PEOPLE of the state rather than dynasties. They are secular and have no “divine” origins. Grew out of the idea of the Enlightenment and Romantic philosophy, as a new way of organizing large groups of people.




Writing assignment


Please answer the following questions using either essay or short answer format. The following rubric will be used to grade your responses:


Please write at least 500 words (12 pt. Times New Roman). You may write more, but be as concise as possible. Excessively long papers may not be read in full.




You will be given one of three possible grades, based on the strength of your submission. Here are the general guidelines:




Excellent, full credit = clear and articulate writing style; reflects thoughtfully on the topic; meets 500-word minimum.




Satisfactory, half credit = good writing, but unclear at times; satisfactory reflection on the topic, but could elaborate more; does not meet the 500 word minimum




Not acceptable, no credit = failure to turn in assignment, or makes little effort to seriously engage with the assignment

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