Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Greg Johnson

Second Advisor

Deborah Whitehead

Third Advisor

David Shneer

Fourth Advisor

Lucas Carmichael


This thesis addresses the religious aspects of protest music through the analysis of several representative case studies. Drawing on Alan Parkhurst Merriam’s and Stephen A. Marini’s theories on the functions of music in both religious and secular contexts, this thesis argues that music from the Standing Rock and Thirty Meter Telescope protests demonstrates the power of music to not only evoke emotion but also provide a sense of religious community and solidarity in actively resisting the destruction of sacred Indigenous lands. To demonstrate this power, this thesis examines the following case studies: ‘Stand up’ by Taboo featuring other indigenous artists, ‘Blacksnakes’ by Prolific The Rapper and A Tribe called Red, and ‘Love Letters to God’ by Nahko and the Medicine for the People, from the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota, and ‘I Mua’ by Nahko and Medicine for the People, ‘Warrior rising’ by Hawane Rios featuring Lakea Trask, and ‘Rise Up’ by Ryan Kiraoka featuring Keala Kawaauha, from the Thirty Meter Telescope protest in Hawaii. Ultimately, this thesis argues that these songs do not just give us a deeper understanding of these two specific protest movements but can also help us understand Indigenous protests as a whole and give us valuable insight into the present struggles which are deeply connected to religious beliefs. The medium of music, for Indigenous people, is a resource that gives them a platform to voice their ideas and feelings and, in doing so, protest to protect their religious sovereignty.