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Creative Encounters

Living Religions in the U.S.

Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S.

June 29–July 4 and July 6–9, 2023

What do Americans create from their religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions? How do religion and spirituality help communities establish and sustain a sense of place and belonging? In a diverse and changing religious landscape, how does creativity enrich understanding and nurture mutual respect?

This country has been shaped by religion in multifaceted ways. While many people find a sense of belonging in congregations, religious institutions have also caused harm. The spiritual landscape of the United States is diverse and, at times, messy and contradictory. Yet people continue to seek community, inspiration, and healing in old and new ways.

Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S. explored the abundant creativity that emerges from spiritual and religious experiences. The program centered stories and lived experiences of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, Sikhs, practitioners of African-descended religions, Humanists, and other ethical and spiritual traditions. Through case studies, we offered a snapshot of the breadth and significance of cultural expressions of faith and belonging.

The program explored rituals and values that shape American cultural traditions and help us to organize our lives. They connect us to the past and shape our visions for the future. By engaging with rituals and secular stories, Americans build community, agitate for social change, and transmit our heritage and worldviews to others.

At the heart of Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S. was the encounter. We invited visitors to ask questions and share stories, to dance and sing, to smell and taste. Moments of encounter sometimes generate friction, but they also open paths toward deeper relationships and possibilities to create something new.

Key Themes

  • From behind, a person with long braided hair sits with a book of music notation in their lap. Others are seated to the side and in the background.
    Singers participate in a Sacred Harp singing convention in Great Falls, Virginia.
    Photo by Mary Ann Daly CC-BY-NC
    Sound Religion
  • A crowd of people line up on a grassy field, under red and white lanterns, wearing long kimonos.
    Members of the Seabrook Buddhist Temple in New Jersey lead community dances for the Obon festival, which honors ancestors.
    Photo courtesy of Seabrook Buddhist Temple
    Body and Spirit
  • A woman with gray hair pulled back adjusts the pieces of an altar, including photos and orange marigold flowers.
    Maestra Ofelia Esparza constructs an ofrenda or commemorative altar in her studio in Los Angeles, California.
    Photo courtesy of Ofelia Esparza
    Makers of Faith
  • A man in hat and overalls stands behind a table, full of baskets of produce, under a tent.
    Christopher Battle fills farm stands and distributes free vegetables grown at Battlefield Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee.
    Photo courtesy of Christopher Battle
    Kitchen Theology
  • A person in black hat and jacket sits outdoors, cars passing by on the street in the background, arranging containers of seeds on a flat surface.
    Felicia Montes uses a pushcart to bring ancestral herbal remedies and healing knowledge to community settings through her project Botanica del Barrio.
    Photo courtesy of Felicia Montes

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