Published: Oct. 3, 2018

American Religious Sounds Project awarded $750,000 grant

Contact(s): Kim Popiolek College of Arts and Letters office: (517) 432-1561, Amy DeRogatis Religious Studies office: (517) 432-7158

A joint, multidisciplinary project between Michigan State University and The Ohio State University that examines sounds of religion throughout the United States recently received a three-year, $750,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to support expansion of the project. The grant was approved in conjunction with a request for proposals issued by the Luce Foundation’s Theology Program.

The American Religious Sounds Project, or ARSP, is a multiyear, collaborative initiative led by Amy DeRogatis, professor of religion and American culture in the Department of Religious Studies at MSU, and Isaac Weiner, associate professor of comparative studies and associate director of the Center for the Study of Religion at OSU.

With the aim of generating innovative scholarship, the ARSP challenges scholars and others to consider how they might understand American religious diversity in new and complex ways by listening to its sounds.

“The need for understanding religious pluralism has arguably never been greater,” DeRogatis said. “Given the remarkable diversity of American religious life and the increasing polarization of our politics, building a civic culture that is inclusive and valuing of all peoples constitutes one of the most pressing challenges we face today. The ARSP aims to bring together, educate and engage multiple constituencies around issues of religious diversity in ways that are accessible, compelling and intellectually rigorous.”

The ARSP originated as the Religious Soundmap Project of the Global Midwest with support provided by the Humanities Without Walls consortium in 2015. A year later, the project received a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

During the initial phases of the project, a digital audio archive was created, which consists of hundreds of recordings of formal and informal sounds of religious institutions, including prayer, chanting and hymns. For these recordings, the research team visited churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, homes, workplaces, interfaith chapels, coffee houses, race tracks, public parks, political rallies, arts festivals and even college football games.

To make these recordings accessible to the public, a website is being developed and will launch later this fall that will invite users to explore the ARSP audio archive, discover connections among recordings, plot them on a map according to the geographical location where they were produced and listen to short, edited clips. The website also will include a digital gallery with multimedia exhibits on selected themes, sounds and communities, featuring images, explanatory texts, interpretive audio collages and essays.

The ARSP research team includes both undergraduate and graduate student researchers. DeRogatis and Weiner also have incorporated the project into their classrooms. Last spring, they published an article in the journal Religion, titled, “Turning students into scholars: using digital methods to teach the critical study of religion,” where they discuss two courses they taught in conjunction with the Religious Soundmap Project of the Global Midwest.

At the end of the three-year grant cycle, a conference will be held to bring all participants together to present their research, network with future collaborators and share ideas for the future of the American Religious Sounds Project. In addition, the ARSP’s leadership structure will be reorganized to strengthen its collaboration with other institutions and to ensure the project’s long-term growth and sustainability.

For more information or to follow the progress of the American Religious Sounds Project, please see the ARSP blog.

Amy DeRogatis, professor at MSU, and Isaac Weiner, professor at OSU, lead the American Religious Sounds Project.