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2023

Creative Encounters

Living Religions in the U.S.

Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S.

June–July 2023

At this historic moment…we’re trying to make sense of how we can still be faithful in a world that has become strange rather quickly. I think it’s this creativity, this impulse, that makes it kind of spicy.

Religion remains an important source of meaning for many Americans, and its diversity provides a deep reservoir of cultural creativity. From the creation of regalia for Native American and African diaspora worship to the foodways in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim celebrations, to Hindu puja (worship rituals) and the construction of Buddhist shrines, religious communities enact, adapt, and transmit their worldviews in imaginative ways. At the same time, religious institutions and religiously affiliated people have also caused unspeakable harm to many, and the process of reconciliation has only just begun.

At the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S. will carefully examine the intertwining of American religious communities and traditions and the imaginative encounters this mingling produces. Together we will confront those religious acts which have caused harm in the name of conquest and celebrate ones used to create profound cultural change. In examining the role of religion in American life, we will uncover a wellspring of creative expressions in the United States and, in some cases, their ties to others around the world.

Our Guiding Questions

  • What do Americans create from their religious and spiritual traditions, beliefs, and practices?
  • How does religion nurture relationships with people’s histories and heritage?
  • How does religion help communities establish and/or sustain a sense of belonging and difference?
  • How are religious ideas expressed in and through social action?
  • Where do creativity, diversity, and mutual respect fit within our religious landscapes?

Although rooted in millennia-old traditions, living religion involves the vibrant and surprising ways that religion emerges in our lives today. Creative Encounters invites you to join us at a welcome table—a table offering many worldviews, mutual respect, and cultural exchange. If done well, our conversations will extend beyond a two-week Festival, enriching national, even global, understanding about the depth, nuance, and potential of these diverse religious expressions.


Explore Themes


Story Circles

  • Collage of three images: on left, people marching down a street, with someone on a megaphone in the foreground, and a person holding a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign behind them. On the right, headshots of two Black men, both wearing glasses, suits and ties, and smiles.
  • COn the left, a monk ties a string around a person's wrist. A line of people wait in the background to receive the same. On the right, two headshots of two women.


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