SDSU class combines hip hop and religion


Illustration by Maritza Garcia

by Brenden Tuccinardi, Staff Writer

Hip hop is a musical genre and even a culture, but is it a religion? In Religious Studies 356: Hip Hop and Religion, Professor Roy Whitaker challenges his students to answer that question for themselves.

“The class was first offered as a graduate level course called Hip Hop Aesthetics,” Whitaker said.

However, this class did not specifically focus on hip hop and religion. After spending a week going into depth on the subject of hip hop and religion and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, Professor Whitaker pitched the idea of offering a class specifically about hip hop and religion to the Weber Honors College in 2012.

The course is now offered to all students once a year through the Department of Religious Studies in the College of Arts and Letters. It also fulfills the upper-division humanities general education requirement.  

The course covers all eras of hip hop. Students learn about the origins of hip hop in New York during the late 1970s, the “golden age” of hip hop in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and thet even study contemporary artists like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z.

The connection between hip hop and religion is not hard to see. Rappers like 2Pac and Kanye West reference it in their lyrics. For example, Kanye West wears a crown of thorns on the cover of Rolling Stone.

“In the class, we look at how artists are using religion and their music and their life,” Whitaker said. “We are reconceptualizing what religion is.”

One can only imagine how eye opening this class can be for someone who is a fan of hip hop or is involved in the culture.

“I am a big hip hop fan and have been for many years and have always been really interested in religion, and this class definitely gives a different perspective on things,” biology freshman Jason Broesamle said. “One thing I have learned is that there is a spiritual aspect [to hip hop] that I never considered before. “

Beyond impacting students, this class strengthens the music community on campus.

“I have directly and indirectly helped students and student organizations bring hip hop artists to campus to either perform or participate in a discussion,” Whitaker said.

This semester alone, Italian rapper Amir Issa was a guest speaker in the class and Professor Whitaker, along with other faculty, organized an event where Issa was able to give a talk open to the public.

Journalism and media studies freshman Bryce Evans, who is not in the class, regrets not taking the class.

“I wish I would have known about this class. I love hip hop and I think it would be interesting to learn more about the genre and culture and how it ties into religion,” he said.

So as not to take away from the other interesting courses offered by the Department of Religious Studies, Hip Hop and Religion will not be offered in Fall 2018 but the course will return in Spring 2019.

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