The audio recordings and materials collected for the American Religious Sounds Project at OSU and MSU document the soundscape of religious life, exploring religious diversity and illuminating the surprising ways in which secular and religious sounds intersect in everyday life. The project’s co-director’s share some of their experiences and goals for the project in an article on Tricycle.
Three years ago in May, scholar Isaac Weiner stood inside Wat Buddha Samakidham, a Theravada Buddhist temple in Columbus, Ohio, as its members celebrated Vesak, the holiday commemorating the birth and life of the Buddha. Resident monks and women who had taken monastic bhikkhuni vows for the weekend participated in formal meditation and chanting sessions, while outside, locals gathered for the Southeast Asian festival, where vendors were selling food and merchandise.
Walking around the area as night fell, Weiner began recording the chanting sessions and noises outside. As the festival closed down, men and women who had worked the kiosks all evening chatted and drank beer. The sounds of the monks chanting still echoed faintly in the distance amidst the noises of traffic and the crowd.
“I think it’s a really interesting moment, the kind of overlap of the mundane and the extraordinary, the religious festival and the cultural festival, the commercial and the spiritual,” recalled Weiner, an associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State University.
That recording was later uploaded to the American Religious Sounds Project, a digital platform and database of religious audio that launched on Wednesday, May 15. The platform, developed by scholars, students, and multimedia staff, provides an intimate look into the vast sonic landscape of religion and focuses in particular on how secular and religious sounds may unexpectedly intersect.