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.
On Wednesday, December 7, ARSP co-director Isaac Weiner gave a talk on “Listening for Religion in Central Ohio,” as part of the OSU Center for the Study of Religion’s community lecture series. Isaac discussed some of the ARSP’s goals and objectives, presented the pilot site designed by MSU students during the summer of 2016, and described some of our short-term and long-term plans moving forward. He also played some audio clips, of course! We listened to the overlapping sounds of church bells and a #NoDAPL protest, music at the local Sikh gurdwara, a Serbian Orthodox church fish fry, Tibetan Buddhist chanting, Eckankar “HU” song, and a Krampus parade. Great conversation followed, about similarities and differences among these varied recordings, what if anything makes them “religious,” and how listening for religion might change the way we think about American pluralism.
We were especially delighted that some of the community members featured in these clips were with us in person to discuss their experience participating in the project! We look forward to more opportunities to present our work publicly. If you’re interested in an ARSP team member visiting your community, please let us know!