Choirs singing. Monks chanting. The reading of religious texts. These are religious sounds. But so too are the creaking of church pews and the clanking of pots during the preparation of a communal meal. Sounds of Religion is a Smithsonian poster exhibition that explores how rituals and gatherings of religious communities create a complex soundtrack of religions in America that teaches how people behave, how they’re different, and how they’re alike. The posters will be on view at The Blumberg Memorial Library March 30 – April 28, 2023.
Sounds of Religion is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in cooperation with the American Religious Sounds Project of The Ohio State University and Michigan State University and made possible through the generous support of The Henry Luce Foundation.
Through the 12 posters, the exhibition examines what religious sound is, how it can define a community, and where it can be found—from houses of worship and the home to public spaces and in acts of protest. It also looks at how it can be affected by events like COVID-19. Viewers are invited to listen for sounds that have religious content, religious context, or can be heard in religious communities, and to think about how religion permeates the everyday experiences of American life.
Since 2014, students and faculty in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and elsewhere have worked together to document the sounds of local religious life. The poster exhibition features recordings and images collected during their work. Through QR codes on the posters, viewers can listen to eight contemporary recordings that serve as an audio portrait of the rich and dynamic differences that make religious life in the U.S. unique.
Americans practice a lot of different religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Wicca, Native American traditions, New Age traditions, and many more. Every tradition creates its own unique blend of music, prayer, voices, and silence, which together help define the beliefs and practices shared by the members of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other places of spiritual devotion. The sounds of faith make some feel they belong, yet they may cause others to feel excluded. The American Religious Sounds Project suggests that listening for the sound of religions in America can help people understand the country more deeply and provides insight into religion itself.
Sounds of Religion is distributed at no cost to schools, libraries, museums and community organizations. It is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in cooperation with the American Religious Sounds Project of The Ohio State University and Michigan State University and made possible through the generous support of The Henry Luce Foundation.
About the American Religious Sounds Project
The American Religious Sounds Project (ARSP) is a collaborative research initiative co-directed by Michigan State University Religious Studies Professor Amy DeRogatis and Ohio State University Comparative Studies Professor Isaac Weiner. It offers resources for documenting and interpreting the diversity of American religious life through newly produced field recordings, interviews, oral histories, and related materials.
How to Participate
The Blumberg Memorial Library will have on display a sampling of its sacred music, hymnal collections, and biblical musical instruments. Please contact Rev. Dr. Daniel F. Flores, University Librarian, on how you may contribute your religious sounds to our own Sounds of Praise Project.