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MSU Prof Co-Directs Project To Capture Sounds Of Religion During Quarantine

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Facebook page of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lansing
The American Religious Sounds Project is co-directed by MSU professor Amy DeRogatis.

Many public religious services around the world are still on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.  Still, people are finding ways to express their spirituality.  Two university professors are capturing the sound of those moments.  WKAR’s Kevin Lavery spoke with Michigan State University professor Amy DeRogatis and Ohio State University professor Isaac Weiner about the American Religious Sounds Project.



I began inviting students to produce audio recordings of what religion sounded like in their local communities.  That grew into this research initiative in which I ended up partnering with MSU professor Dr. Amy DeRogatis. We developed a program using audio recording as a way of learning about religious diversity in the U.S.



Sometimes we ask people, ‘what’s your favorite religious sounds?’  That usually brings happy feelings.  Other times we record sounds that communities don’t think of as their favorite.  There are all sorts of opportunities to consider the types of sounds people can hear.


One of my favorites is a recording of an Orthodox Jewish man chanting the book “Goodnight Moon” in the style of the Hebrew chant of the Torah. He’s capturing the sound that’s so emblematic for Jews, but adding sound of this children’s story. He brings together sounds of a traditional ritual with the experience of domestic child care. It really captures the moment we’re living in.



Another recording comes from Walnut Grove, Missouri.  It’s from a church that had an Easter parking lot service.  They’re honking during the “amens.” 


One thing I hope remains from this project is the idea that religious people and communities come together during a remarkable moment and have an opportunity to make some profound changes.  We can watch and hear what that sounds like.



None of us know what the future will bring.   It’s cliché that we can all say that COVID-19 will change everything.  But we don’t know where the world will go.  But we do know that whatever it looks like, it will be useful to have an archive like this to be able to look back and think about how we got to wherever it is that we end up. 



Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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