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Documenting America’s Religious Soundscape

Amy DeRogatis, professor in the MSU Department of Religious Studies, and Isaac Weiner, associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State. Photo by Mike Jenkins.

The Henry Luce Foundation has given $200,000 to support a joint, multidisciplinary project of Michigan State University and The Ohio State University that explores the sounds of religion throughout the United States.

Housed within the Center for the Study of Religion at OSU, Amy DeRogatis, professor in the MSU Department of Religious Studies, and Isaac Weiner, associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State, lead the project, working with other faculty and undergraduate and graduate students.

“The American Religious Sounds Project leverages the opportunities afforded by the new digital environment to consider what religion sounds like in the United States, as well as how our understanding of religion’s place in American life might be transformed by using our auditory perception as a source of knowledge,” DeRogatis said.

She held a seminar on the project last fall that taught students how to record, interview, edit clips and create gallery pages. DeRogatis said incorporating this work into classes has been a big part of the project.

“We’re really pleased with our progress to date,” Weiner said. “Most importantly, it’s allowed Amy and I to combine our research and scholastics in working with our students, while also increasing their community engagement.”

Formerly known as the Religious Soundmap Project of the Global Midwest, the project’s name was changed last year to reflect its expanded geographical focus, goals and objectives. The project now focuses on:

  • Construction of a unique sonic archive, documenting the diversity of American religious practice through newly produced field recordings, interviews, oral histories, and other related materials,
  • Development of a new digital platform that will integrate sound, image and text to offer new insights into the complex dynamics of religious pluralism in the United States.

“By focusing on sound, we hope to investigate what constitutes religious practices in everyday lives,” DeRogatis said. “America is becoming more religiously diverse. With that comes new sounds that can shape communities. We want to know how religious communities make themselves heard.”

Adds Weiner, “Sound invites us to think more expansively about where religion happens, to move beyond traditional religious institutions. Our hope is that when our digital platform is completed and people listen to these sounds, they hear the religious diversity of their own communities.

– Kristen Parker, Amy DeRogatis via MSU Today

– PHOTO: Amy DeRogatis, professor in the MSU Department of Religious Studies, and Isaac Weiner, associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State. Photo by Mike Jenkins.

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