Appropriating Universality: The Coltranes and Sixties Spirituality
Vol. 48, No. 1: Spring 2007

How to Cite

Berkman, F. (2007). Appropriating Universality: The Coltranes and Sixties Spirituality. American Studies, 48(1), 41-62. Retrieved from


During the sixties, Americans increasingly rejected mainline denominations in favor of alternative, eclectic, and non-Western spiritual paths. For African Americans, such pursuits contributed to the goals of challenging racial and religious cultural hegemony. These spiritual explorations have had a lasting impact on jazz music. Many jazz musicians were exposed to the sounds and musical processes they discovered in the foreign cultures from which these traditions emerged. Though less audible, non-Western spiritual traditions also exerted a more abstract philosophical influence, inspiring artists to dissolve formal and stylistic boundaries and produce works of great originality. Contextualizing the spiritual explorations of John and Alice Coltrane within the American religious culture and liberation movements of the sixties, this essay explores the way that their eclectic appropriation of Eastern spiritual concepts and their commitment to spiritual universality not only inspired musical innovation, but also provided a counter-hegemonic, political and cultural critique.

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