Hearing the Hillsong Sound: Music, Marketing, Meaning and Branded Spiritual Experience at a Transnational Megachurch

Tom Wagner

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

13066 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis is an ethnographic exploration of the ways that music and marketing work in the pursuit and production of spiritual experience within a ‘Christian’ lifestyle for members of Hillsong Church London, the European Hub of the Australian transnational Hillsong Church, whose music is inseparable from its message. Specifically, it focuses on branding as a co- and re-productive method of organising, patterning and communicating information in a media-saturated consumer culture. While branding is often seen as a top-down, externally focused method of advertising, I argue that, for members of Hillsong London, the church’s branding is integral to their experience of self.

As a basis for this argument, this thesis posits the brand as an ‘educational’ resource that relies on participation and agency to ‘teach’. Participants seek the sacred experience found in a ‘Christian’ lifestyle, and the brand provides the material for this and a cultural frame in which to do it. Music is an ‘associative enhancer’ for the brand, tying its musicians, media and message to its values. Embodied values are central to the production and maintenance of lifestyle. Therefore, this thesis questions ‘the value of values’. The Hillsong brand is the discursive framework within which cultural action unfolds and is experienced, but one that is not ‘value neutral’. The church provides the branded material and cultural context in which the participant’s sacred experience of self unfolds. However, this requires the participant to want to ‘do the work’ to properly understand, and ultimately embody, the values associated with the brand. Therefore, the brand exerts a kind of Gramscian hegemony that channels the participants’ agency toward the reproduction of the Hillsong brand’s value system. Modern branding is perceived as valuable to all participants, yet the methods with which it directs individual agency raise important questions related to the modern production of social order.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Stobart, Henry, Supervisor
Award date1 May 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • Music
  • Branding
  • Evangelism
  • Megachurch
  • Evangelical Christianity
  • Religion
  • Marketing
  • Popular Music
  • Rock Music
  • Worship Music
  • Hillsong
  • Hillsong Church

Cite this