Liberty News

Liberty adds graduate program in ethnomusicology

November 10, 2009 : University Advancement staff

Dr. John Benham, Professor of Worship and Ethnomusicology, has an office full of tribal instruments at the Center for Worship. Here, he holds a drum given to him by an Indonesian shaman who enforced a taboo against music in his culture, only allowing his people to play instruments and sing during a rice planting festival, considered a possession ritual. The drum was the leader's demon-calling drum. Benham traded the shaman a flashlight for the drum.

Liberty University recently received accreditation for its Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology, the study of music in the context of culture, with a mission of preparing musicians, pastors and missionaries for multi- and cross-cultural ministry.

“While music is not a universal language, the concept of music as an expression is universal,” said Dr. John Benham, director. “To go into a country as a musician often has the advantage of being able to establish relationships through music, even before one learns the spoken language.”

The M.A. in Ethnomusicology provides musicians, social scientists and church leaders an understanding of ethnic music culture that facilitates the use of indigenous music in cross-cultural communication, ministry and research. It involves the most extensive graduate curriculum in ethnomusicology available on a Christian campus, integrating the fields of music, cultural studies, theology, history and anthropology. Liberty’s highly qualified and diverse faculty has widespread education and field experience.

The program is offered in a blended format — 30 credits can be taken online and 12 are required as summer residential intensives. This allows students to study from anywhere in the world, and many in the program are missionaries looking to increase their effectiveness in sharing the Gospel.

“We look at the establishment of believer-to-unbeliever relationships in their cultural idiom … to analyze their music enough to where we can turn it around to sing to them the songs of the Gospel story in their musical language, using their instruments,” said Benham.

A graduate specialization in ethnomusicology is also available as part of the Master of Arts in Worship Studies.

For more information, contact Dr. John Benham at You can also apply online at

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