“Religious Soundscapes” audio exhibit explores the practice of religion
What does religion look like? To this writer, raised Presbyterian, it sounds like “The Doxology” — the weekly hymn that added an explosion of passion to the otherwise low-key services I attended as a child.
But religion has many sounds, reflecting its multitude of forms and the circumstances of its practice. That’s the point of Religious soundscapes, an audio exhibit installed through mid-July at Ohio State’s Urban Arts Space, located downtown in the former Lazarus Building. The show is an outgrowth of the American Religious Sounds Project, which OSU comparative studies professor Isaac Weiner started in collaboration with Michigan State professor Amy DeRogatis in 2014.
When they started working on the project, Weiner says, “people assumed that when we said ‘religion sounds,’ we really meant music or formal liturgy.” However, the project also includes sounds related to religious practices conducted in other places, including the home, outdoors, and, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, online. Indeed, the OSU exposition is largely divided not by faith but by the locations in which the sound clips were recorded.
At the show’s opening reception on May 24, it immediately became clear that such a gathering was not the best way to enjoy an audio exhibit, as the voices of the attendees echoed off the walls and made it difficult to read. hearing many recorded sounds. One exception was a relatively isolated installation that allows visitors to experience the rhythmic chanting of a local Wiccan coven in “surround sound”. Perhaps that’s why it was a favorite of several visitors, including two women who commented on the way out. “I was surprised it made me so emotional,” one said. “After sitting there for a little while, it resonated with me.”
The Wiccan installation was produced by two of the project’s four co-curators, Lauren Pond and Alison Furlong. “I visited [coven members] and recorded them doing a group chant called the ‘cone of power,’ which is a ritual that is done to increase energy for magical purposes,” Pond explains. She adds that it is one of her favorite parts on the show due to the relationships she has developed with the coven members over the years.
For even more personal reasons, Weiner says his favorite piece is a recording of his young children repeating the “Sh’ma,” a Jewish prayer traditionally recited before bedtime and after waking up in the morning. For Weiner, the article illustrates that “religion is not only something formally done in institutions, but [is] very intimate and domestic and made at home as a daily ritual of life.
Although it reflects many spiritual practices and sometimes reveals their commonalities, Weiner says Religious soundscapes also explores differences that sometimes cause friction. Weiner addressed this question in an earlier book, 2013’s “Religion Out Loud.” he said, ‘when do we start listening?'”
Religious soundscapes continue through July 16 at the Urban Arts Space, 50 W. Town St., uas.osu.edu.
This story is from the July 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.