The Sounds of Religion poster exhibition, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution, Michigan State University, and The Ohio State University, is now available to educators around the globe to download or print for free and is on full display in its worldwide premiere until June 30, 2023, at the MSU Museum.
This new Smithsonian poster exhibition explores how rituals and gatherings of religious communities create a complex soundtrack of religions in America, teaching us how people behave, how they’re different, and how they’re alike. It draws from the digital sonic archive collected by the American Religious Sounds Project (ARSP), a collaborative research initiative co-directed by Amy DeRogatis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Michigan State University, and Isaac Weiner, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University.
The American Religious Sounds Project suggests by listening to the sound of religions in America one can understand the country more deeply and gain a better understanding of religion itself. The ARSP also challenges scholars and others to consider how they might understand American religious diversity in new and complex ways by listening to its sounds.
The ARSP team partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to create the Sounds of Religion poster exhibition, which consists of 12 interactive posters that give visitors a visual and auditory experience of religious life in the United States. Each poster includes a QR code that, when scanned with a smartphone or tablet, plays field recordings that serve as audio portraits of the rich and dynamic differences that make religious life in the United States unique. According to Weiner, it is the first time the Smithsonian has created a traveling poster exhibit that features a sound component.
“It has been an incredible experience to partner with the Smithsonian on the Religious Sounds posters. We worked collaboratively with them for over two years, delving into our sonic archive to create this public-facing exhibit.”Dr. Amy DeRogatis
“It has been an incredible experience to partner with the Smithsonian on the Religious Sounds posters,” DeRogatis said. “We worked collaboratively with them for over two years, delving into our sonic archive to create this public-facing exhibit.”
MSU Museum Exhibition
The public can now fully experience this interactive exhibition at the MSU Museum. Co-curated by Vicki Brennan, Alison Furlong, Ely Lyonblum, and Lauren Pond, the Sounds of Religion exhibition asks visitors “what does religion in the United States sound like?” It examines what religious sound is, how it can define a community, and where it can be found.
As part of the MSU Museum exhibition, visitors can hear formal sounds of religious institutions, non-formal sounds in religious spaces, and religious sounds in unexpected spaces. Each poster in the exhibition challenges the listener to examine their preconceptions of what religions sound like and asks, “what can be learned by tuning into the sounds of religion?”
Hymn singing, cooking communal meals, protesting in the streets, and silent meditation are all part of the religious sonic landscape. This listening to religion in and outside of traditional religious times and spaces amplifies how religion is audible in everyday life and allows us to hear the diversity and complexity of how and where religion is practiced in the United States.
“I am so grateful for the amazing work of our co-curators as well as the students, faculty, and community members who have contributed recordings to the American Religious Sounds Project over the years,” DeRogatis said. “I am deeply honored that the MSU Museum is the first location to display the exhibit.”
“This project has transformed our approach to research by strengthening our commitment to collaboration and community engagement. We have learned so much about how to make our research more accessible to non-academic audiences.”Dr. Isaac Weiner
An opening reception for the Sounds of Religion exhibition was held on Jan. 27 at the MSU Museum with more than 100 people attending. During this event, DeRogatis, Weiner, and student project assistants shared their experiences in the development of the exhibition.
“This project has transformed our approach to research by strengthening our commitment to collaboration and community engagement,” Weiner said. “We have learned so much about how to make our research more accessible to non-academic audiences.”
In addition to the Sounds of Religion exhibition, a companion sound installation featuring sounds collected, captured, and curated for the American Religious Sounds Project is available in the New Horizons Gallery at the MSU Museum. Several related programs also are scheduled throughout the duration of the exhibition including a collaborative art workshop to create a community art piece inspired by the religious sounds from the exhibition and a bus tour to nearby religious spaces to experience religious sounds. To view the whole list of events or to register, visit the MSU Museum website.
Bring the Exhibition to Your Community
Schools, museums, libraries, community centers, youth organizations, and other local non-profit organizations can bring the Sounds of Religion exhibition to their communities free of charge through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), which develops and offers free poster exhibitions on a variety of topics for educational use.
“We are especially excited that this exhibit allows us to bring our work directly into the religious and community institutions where we did our research and recording,” Weiner said.
Requests can be made to have the Sounds of Religion posters printed for free or available in downloadable formats. Currently, printed copies of the Sounds of Religion posters are available for pre-order and will be shipped in mid-February.
Included in the poster exhibition materials are a poster exhibition handbook and user guide that gives recommendations for printing, mounting, and displaying the posters as well as promotional and educational resources and programming ideas. For more information or to request the poster exhibition, visit the Sounds of Religion Poster Exhibition web page. The Sounds of Religion exhibition is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in cooperation with the American Religious Sounds Project and made possible through the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.
Written by Kim Popiolek