Part III of a series investigating projects that document religious and cultural diversity across the country.
By Lauren Horn Griffin
As we prepare to launch our own research project mapping and documenting the cultural diversity of Texas, we want to give our readers an idea of the types of initiatives from across the country that examine religion and culture in the public sphere. Each of these projects, like the IDCL, are working to provide resources that will further conversations about the challenges and possibilities of diversity in the U.S. We will be posting a series of blogs profiling a variety of projects that are dedicated to improving understandings of religious diversity.
How might we understand religious diversity if we begin by listening? The Religious Soundmap Project produces audio recordings of religious practices from across the Midwest, exploring religious diversity through sound. Sounds both reflect and contribute to the shaping of communities, and as the Midwest grows more diverse, researchers wanted to create a digital sound map that could capture that diversity in a unique way. Their recordings include sounds from rituals such as Islamic prayer calls or Buddhist chanting, but they also include sounds in homes and workplaces during public festivals and even secular gatherings, such as school graduations or football games. Their aim is to record any auditory events “with spiritual significance.” These sounds will be accompanied by interviews with practitioners, visual images, explanatory texts, and interpretive essays.
In addition to creating a searchable map, the team will archive its recordings at OSU’s library. After the map officially launches next spring, there will be museum installations and traveling exhibitions. All of these resources will also be publicly accessible online, providing an interactive research and teaching tool for anyone interested in exploring the religious diversity of the Midwest.
Led by Professor Amy DeRogatis from Michigan State University and Professor Isaac Weiner of The Ohio State University, their team consists of faculty and students from religious studies, ethnomusicology, American studies, and multimedia graphic design. They have already started mapping, and so far their recordings include a Nepali Fellowship at the Central Free Methodist Church in Lansing, MI, and a Hindu Ritual at the Bharatiya Temple in Meridian Charter Township, MI.
The project is funded by a $30,000 grant from the Humanities Without Walls consortium, an initiative that aims to stimulate a reconsideration of the Midwest as a site that shapes global economies and cultures. The consortium is based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.
Sound, then, is an understudied and interesting lens through which to view religious and cultural diversity in a particular setting. According to DeRogatis, their aim is to think as expansively as possible about where and when religion happens and to work with local communities to identify sounds of spiritual significance. In this way, this innovative digital humanities project aims to invite new ways of thinking about the “global Midwest.”