On October 20, the ARSP leadership team gathered at OSU for an all-day brainstorming session with our three pilot site coordinators. In Spring 2018, our project will be incorporated into university courses led by Christopher Cantwell, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Rachel M. Lindsey, at Saint Louis University, as well as a similar research project led by Kathryn McClymond, at Georgia State University.
Over the course of the day we discussed numerous aspects of managing the project from audio recording and editing to tagging and uploading materials into our archive. We shared experiences of incorporating digital humanities projects into our courses and considered ways to standardize our procedures across multiple institutions and teaching contexts. At the end of the day, two OSU undergraduate researchers joined us for a Q & A about their work on the project, and provided suggestions as well as advice for future student researchers.
Next spring we will share the syllabi from the pilot project courses and blog post updates from the researchers at the pilot sites. We are very excited about the expansion of the ARSP through these pilot sites and look forward to watching it grow!
Rachel Lindsey, Kathryn McClymond, Isaac Weiner, Amy DeRogatis, Chris Cantwell, Lauren Pond.
On September 14-16, 2017, we were delighted to host our second ARSP advisory board meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio State and Michigan State leadership teams met together with five members of our advisory board: Vicki Brennan, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Vermont; Pamela Klassen, Professor of Religion, University of Toronto; Laura Kwerel, Senior Producer, Interfaith Voices; Ely Lyonblum, ethnomusicologist and Research Grants Officer, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto; and Kristen Mapes, Digital Humanities Coordinator, Michigan State University. Over a day and a half of productive conversation, we received constructive feedback on mockups of the ARSP website, discussed the ARSP’s broader intellectual objectives, wrestled with some of its key ethical challenges, and plotted next steps for further development and expansion. We also enjoyed good food, good drink, and good company!
The meeting left us energized and motivated to get back to work with a renewed sense of mission and purpose. We are grateful to all of our advisory board members for their time, energy, and insight. We are also grateful to the Henry Luce Foundation, OSU’s Center for the Study of Religion, and OSU’s Research Commons for providing funding and material support to make this meeting possible. We look forward to sharing publicly some of the products of our conversation when the ARSP website launches in spring 2018!
ARSP Advisory Board member and project co-originator, Kathryn McClymond, has a wonderful blog post up about her work with the ATL Maps project, in which she reflects on the value of sound mapping for studying and teaching about Atlanta’s religious diversity. We are excited about bringing our projects together in the near future. Stay tuned!
In 2015, when I initially got involved in the American Religious Sounds Project (then the Religious Soundmap Project), my very first assignment was to attend an Eckankar seminar in Dublin, Ohio. Eckankar centers on the idea that humans are connected to God through a divine spirit, which can be “heard as sound and seen as light.” One of the cornerstones of Eckankar is the HU song, a chant that adherents say allows them to raise their consciousness and become closer to the divine.
Upon coordinating my visit to the Eckankar seminar, I learned that although I could record a group HU song, I would not be permitted to take photographs. Granted, the ARSP focuses on sound, but with my background in documentary photography, I was accustomed to telling visual stories, and I had anticipated at least being able to take a few contextualizing photographs to accompany my recordings. I became somewhat concerned: How was I going to tell a compelling story about Eckankar without a visual element?
However, my fears began to dissipate when I put on my headphones and started to record. Despite the fact that the HU song was just that, a song, it had almost a three-dimensional quality to it. About 50 disparate voices, all chanting “HU” at their own pace, combined to form an encompassing, undulating melody. Most people closed their eyes as they chanted, and I later learned that some had visualized colors or peaceful scenes. I, too, felt my mind drifting.
There was no need to photograph people chanting HU, I realized, and to do so would probably be a disservice to Eckankar. Sound served to help the mind wander, both visually and spiritually. Attempting to represent HU through imagery would flatten this experience.
What can we learn about religion if we begin by listening to it? This is one of the guiding questions of the American Religious Sounds Project. It only took one assignment for me to realize the importance of taking a sonic approach, and how this might help us understand religion in a more nuanced manner.
Text by Amy DeRogatis Recordings by Emma Pittsley Photographs and Audio Editing by Lauren Pond
On Saturday, April 15, the Michigan State ARSP research team attended the Holy Saturday Divine Liturgy service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lansing, Michigan. After the service, we joined congregants to help wrap red eggs for that evening’s celebration after the Paschal Vigil. During Thursday of Holy Week, congregation members had dropped off dozens of eggs that had been dyed bright red. These were ready to be wrapped in tulle on Saturday.
Last Sunday, April 2, 2017, I participated in an interfaith pilgrimage through the streets of East Lansing. To prepare for the event, I spent a few days reading and thinking about pilgrimage. Why do people take pilgrimages? What do they hope to accomplish? Where are they seeking to go? And, significantly for this project, what are the sounds that I might expect to hear while on a pilgrimage?
Text by Caroline Toy
Recordings, editing, and photographs by Lauren Pond
At many sites and events where ARSP researchers record, we try to make ourselves barely noticeable to the community. While we get permission to record and answer questions openly, it’s not unusual for us to document a service or festival understanding that our recordings are only an auditory snapshot, a single, ephemeral slice of religious life at a particular place and time.
In other cases, the opposite is true, and we set out to create a collage of such snapshots, stitched together by interviews with community members, the cycle of a sacred calendar, or narratives of change. These deeper relationships allow us to document how religious communities create and understand their place in their religious landscapes (local, historical, political, and the like). Many of the examples featured on this blog so far – such as the Nine Worlds Kindred community of Asatru practitioners, Wat Buddha Samakidham temple, and Three Cranes Grove of Druids (who sponsor the Krampus Parade in Columbus) – come from ongoing relationships with communities where we’ve recorded multiple times, interviewed clergy and practitioners, and tried to capture religious practices in multiple contexts.
Recordings, photographs, and text by Lauren Pond and Isaac Weiner Audio editing by Lauren Pond
One recurring motif to which the ARSP team has been attuned is how different sounds–including those deemed religious and those deemed secular–intersect and overlap in particular social contexts. We are interested in what it sounds like when religion spills outside of the institutional boundaries meant to contain it and, conversely, how the ambient sonic qualities of a given social situation shape the experience of religious life. In these moments, sound becomes a point of contact, mediating interactions among diverse religious communities, between religion and its broader social environment, and between human practice and the natural world. The following clips offer a few examples of what we have found.
1. Isha prayer at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center
Located just outside of Columbus proper, the Noor Islamic Cultural Center is one of Central Ohio’s largest mosques. On the day of the 2016 Presidential Election, the NICC served as one of the region’s largest polling sites. Likely for political and safety reasons, it abstained from projecting the Islamic call to prayer throughout the day, but resumed doing so for the last prayer of the evening, the Isha prayer, which took place shortly after the polls had closed. At the time this recording was made, it was pouring rain. The combination of the precipitation and the prayer made for a mournful-sounding recording — which, in retrospect, seems suggestive of the election outcome and the xenophobia and Islamophobia that have flourished since then.
To read more about Lauren’s project, read an interview with her here or check out her professional website.
Lauren’s book illustrates her sensitive eye–and ear–for the complex dynamics of religious pluralism in the U.S., which also informs her work for the ARSP. We are delighted that she has received this recognition and are looking forward to seeing the finished product. Congratulations, Lauren!
The Imam prays. A baby cries. This is the human in ceremony, the spontaneous in orchestration.
I made this audio clip from material I recorded at the Muslim celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr, the end of fasting for the month of Ramadan. It was my first time attending an Islamic service. As I observed, I noticed the children: They climbed in their parents’ laps, exchanged small gifts, ran around, and talked with each other. Having grown up in a religious tradition where children were tucked away in nurseries and church basements, this was a novel experience for me.