Baker Academic has a brand new website! Click Here To Visit:

Personal Jesus

How Popular Music Shapes Our Souls

series: Engaging Culture

Cover Art Request Exam Copy

Where to Purchase


Pop music is now an ever-present force shaping citizens in the West. Even at funerals, it is often requested over hymns. But how does popular music work? And what roles does it play for listeners who engage it? This new addition to the critically acclaimed Engaging Culture series explores the theological significance of the ways pop music is listened to and used today.
Clive Marsh and Vaughan Roberts show that popular music is used by religious and nonreligious people alike to make meaning, enabling listeners to explore human concerns about embodiment, creating communities, and tapping into transcendence. They assess what is happening to Christian faith and theology as a result. Personal Jesus incorporates case studies featuring noted music artists of our day--including David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Sigur Rós, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and Lady Gaga--and includes practical implications for the church, the academy, and daily musical listening. It will be of interest to professors and students of theology and culture, religious studies, and popular culture.
Foreword by Tom Beaudoin

Part 1: Music and Religion

1. Music in Context: Contemporary Discussion about Religion and Popular Culture

2. Explorations in Affective Space: The Magisteria-Ibiza Spectrum

3. Acknowledging a Theological Interest: Popular Music from Sin to Sacramentality

Part 2: Living by Pop Music

4. Pop Music in the Marketplace

5. Pop Music and the Body

6. The Tingle Factor: Popular Music and Transcendence Today

7. Pop Music, Ritual, and Worship

8. What's on Your iPod? Classics, Canons, and the Question of What Matters

Part 3: Pop Music and Theology

9. The Discipline of Listening: How (and Why) What We're Doing with Music Matters Ultimately

10. Three Steps to Heaven? On Negotiating Meaning between Popular Music and Christian Theology

11. Embodied Social Rituals: Revisiting Theology through Popular Music

A Programmatic Postscript: Practical Consequences for Church, Academy, and Daily Living


About the Series
The Engaging Culture series is designed to help Christians respond with theological discernment to our contemporary culture. Each volume explores particular cultural expressions, seeking to discover God's presence in the world and to involve readers in sympathetic dialogue and active discipleship.


"Personal Jesus is one of the best theological treatments of pop culture I have ever read. Marsh and Roberts offer a many-layered, comprehensive model for how we can more thoughtfully understand and engage pop music. Weaving together an impressive array of scholarship on the subject and a wide variety of music--everyone from Springsteen to Lady Gaga--Personal Jesus is a book that will help pastors, students, scholars, and everyday music fans better understand how and why pop music matters in the Christian life."

Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity

"Marsh and Roberts prepare the way for a new style of making theological sense of popular culture. The continued decline of the influence of religious traditions makes this kind of theological study even more imperative. In this situation, Marsh and Roberts show us why studying the lived experience of popular music is an imperative if we want to find out where religion cohabitates with ordinary stuff, more or less openly, today: in the spaces of meaning communicated by music in everyday life."

Tom Beaudoin, Fordham University; author of Virtual Faith (from the foreword)

The Authors

  1. Clive Marsh

    Clive Marsh

    Clive Marsh (DPhil, University of Oxford) is senior lecturer and director of learning and teaching at the Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester, in Leicester, England. He is the author of many books, including Cinema and Sentiment: Film's...

    Continue reading about Clive Marsh

  2. Vaughan S. Roberts

    Vaughan S. Roberts

    Vaughan S. Roberts (PhD, University of Bath) is vicar of Collegiate Church of St. Mary in Warwick, England, and an active writer on topics of religion and contemporary culture.

    Continue reading about Vaughan S. Roberts


"This engaging study is the most substantial book on theology and popular music yet to appear: it has a theological seriousness lacking in earlier treatments; it is one of the few to take account of current developments in music theory; and it manages to take proper account of the wider field of popular culture studies. . . . [The authors] have raised the quality of the theological debate about popular music to a new level."

Jeremy Begbie,


"Theologians and self-avowed music lovers Marsh and Roberts posit that popular music is 'a significant frame for holding whatever people come to call religious or spiritual,' and as such should be an integral part of any relevant theological discussion. What follows is a well-reasoned examination of how music affects people and how people engage that music within a theological framework. Both authors are familiar with analyzing various aspects of pop culture from a critical theological perspective, and it shows in their sure-footed approach to subjects, like finding transcendence in popular music and the ritualization of listening to music. . . . This is primarily an academic volume, but Marsh and Roberts do such an admirable job of presenting a unique view into popular music that a wide array of music lovers will find something here to consider."

Taina Lagodzinski,

Booklist Online

"To remain relevant, the church must read the signs of the times and read them well. Understanding the role of popular music in people's lives is an important part of that mission. So Clive Marsh and Vaughan S. Roberts have done us a great service in writing Personal Jesus. . . . In their thoroughly researched work, Marsh and Roberts argue that popular music must be listened to and assessed through a theological lens, as it offers us an important arena for human understanding. . . . The strength of this book is that it facilitates a discussion that is important to evangelization. . . . [The authors offer] an invitation to consider the power and draw of popular music as a way of better understanding a people's deep longing for transcendence, and their final chapter is filled with some excellent concrete suggestions on how to make that happen. . . . A fine study."

Damian J. Ference,


"Readers will find a wide canvas of source material, including academic engagement with popular music. . . . There is much to be commended in this book. The authors have intentionally provided a wide perspective in their quest to engage with popular music. Their intriguing 'Magisteria-Ibiza Spectrum' bookends the study, and readers encountering the chart for the second time near the book's conclusion will find themselves having come full circle, thanks to the authors' carefully directed content. . . . Personal Jesus is aimed at those whose interests lie in the interplay between religion and popular music, and its readers may indeed find themselves listening to their old favorites with new perspectives."

Thomas Breimaier,

Expository Times

"[This book] seem[s] well-suited for those looking to spark broader conversations with students about the changing nature of theological conversations in the public sphere (here the passages which serve as summaries of the work of other thinkers and theologians could be especially helpful). This book is also valuable for its suggestions on how we, as leaders who are vitally concerned with training students to engage culture, can assist our students in understanding the power of music to introduce Christian themes to people who may no longer have a vocabulary with which to handle spiritual concepts. . . . As the march of secularization continues across our culture [this] work serves as a helpful reminder for us to be diligent in our attempts to make connections between the gospel and the life experiences of the people around us."

Tagg Wolverton,

Journal of Youth Ministry

"[The book's] focus on the practice of listening to music leads Marsh and Roberts into dialogue with a broad array of interlocutors. In its descriptive moment, their analysis includes generous engagement with disciplines as diverse as anthropology, sociology, psychology, media studies, and musicology. The goal of this ambitious project is to map the contours of what they call the 'affective space' in which listeners experience popular music. . . . In the course of exploring this 'space,' the authors are able to supply a nuanced account of the many overlapping influences and contexts that shape the ways people listen to and make meaning out of popular music. . . . The theological return on all this descriptive work comes in the final chapter. . . . The payoff comes late, but is worth the wait."

Lance B. Pape,


"The method of Marsh and Roberts is the book's greatest strength. Few theologians venture into this type of cultural engagement, especially at this level of critical analysis. . . . The book is an excellent lesson on not merely engaging culture, but listening well to popular culture before speaking. This is where the church, the Christian academy, and ordinary Christians all have much room to grow. Personal Jesus is a solid step in that direction."

Andrew Lisi,


"Personal Jesus continues the [Engaging Culture] series trend of being both academic and accessible. . . . Marsh and Roberts' greatest achievement in this work is to construct a theological framework for listening to and responding to popular music that operates at a deeper level than any I have previously encountered. . . . They ask how and why listening to popular music might function in our lives as a religion-like practice. This approach opens up various possibilities for deeper exploration. . . . It is evident that Marsh and Roberts are committed and careful listeners of popular music across a spectrum of genres and time periods, a fact which only strengthens their arguments throughout the book. Just as impressive is the authors' engagement with a diverse collective of scholars and theories from a variety of fields. . . . Personal Jesus is a welcome addition to any conversation about religion and culture generally, and an invaluable piece of any conversation between theology and popular music."

Todd Edmondson,

Englewood Review of Books

"This is an excellent book and highly recommended. . . . It provides an overview, summary, and critical engagement with the growing body of literature on popular music and theology. It is full of examples from pop music that both illustrate the authors' argument and provide context for application. It is a model of cultural engagement worth following."

Glenn R. Kreider,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"Few scholars of religion and popular culture are as thorough in their articulation of both methodology and findings (and limitations of said findings) as Clive Marsh and Vaughn S. Roberts are in their book, Personal Jesus: How Popular Music Shapes Our Souls. It's a challenging read, but indispensable for music lovers and those who engage religion, the arts, and pop culture. . . . Marsh and Roberts' book (though highly academic in tone) is suitable for a wide audience of music-loving laity to students of theology and/or culture to ministers looking to engage their congregants on a deeper level regarding the types of entertainment they enjoy. . . . The authors' attention to detail and their recognition of the limits to their findings only bolster the conclusions that they draw in the final section of their book, which begs further publications that will bring to life more conversations between pop music artists and Christian (and other) theologians."

J. Ryan Parker,

Pop Theology blog