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DATE: Dec. 9, 2002

Pluralism Project records sounds of religious life

DEARBORN---Chants in Hindi, sermons in Mandarin and prayers in English: these are the sounds of religious expression in metropolitan Detroit. Now students, scholars and the general public will be able to hear these and many other sounds thanks to a project at the University of Michigan Dearborn to record the religious and cultural activities in metropolitan Detroit.

Field recordings at 45 religious centers have already been collected, representing Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and many other religious groups. According to Claude Jacobs, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Pluralism Project at UM-Dearborn, recordings range from chants and music to prayers and sermons.

"What this project really is about is promoting dialogue in the community," Jacobs said. "We may not agree with each other on everything we believe in, but we need to form a community, in which we know each other, see each other and hear each other."

With digital archiving it will be possible to hear the sermons, chants, music, and various cultural and religious sounds created in this time period years from now and observe the changes that are occurring in the culture and religions of the metropolitan Detroit area.

Some changes in religious practice can already be observed among different generations of recent immigrants to the Detroit area, Jacobs said. For example, he cited a recording at a Chinese Christian church where the adults of the community conducted a traditional service with hymns in Mandarin while the youth had a more contemporary service in English.

"It is expected that this archive will become a valuable primary resource for use by scholars, including anthropologists, musicologists and historians and that it will be a useful resource for considering music as a means of cultural expression," said Jacobs.

The recordings are made digitally in the field by a recording technician, Ed Moran, and are transferred to tape and CDs. The recordings range from one hour to four hours and are then edited. "We work with the community," said Jacobs. "We send one copy of their recordings back to the religious groups and if they want to they can make copies for gifts or for fund-raising purposes."

On campus the recordings will support scholarly research and teaching, class discussion and other possible uses in the future. Jacobs plans to use the recordings in his own classes on religion, culture and society. The goal of the archive is to provide a reliable, permanent documentary record of the music, the individuals and groups that perform it and the context in which it is performed. The project is in collaboration with the UM-Dearborn Mardigian Library's Metropolitan Detroit Digital Music Archive.

The Pluralism Project at UM-Dearborn, which is an affiliate of the Harvard University Pluralism Project, studies diverse religious communities throughout the metropolitan Detroit area. UM-Dearborn faculty members and students go to various religious centers and interview members of the congregation, photograph ceremonies and other events, and record services.

"What the Pluralism Project does," said Jacobs, "is foster greater understanding by allowing us to see, hear and feel the environment in which the religion exists."
Along with the photographs from the Pluralism Project, the digital recorded sound clips will soon be available online on the Pluralism Project website at




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