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Sound Religion
Members of a a choir stand on stage in white robes.
The First Church of God and Christ gospel choir performs at the 1969 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Photo by Diana J. Davies, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
A woman sings in an outdoor plaza, with a band of musicians and singers behind her.
A Lebanese choral group performs as part of the program Old Ways in the New World at the 1975 Folklife Festival.
Photo by Katrina Thomas, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
A Black man in dress shirt and slacks holds a microphone with one hand and has his other arm around a Bhutanese man, smiling, in striped robe and traditional animal-skin boots, who appears to be doing the twist.
Texas musician Roy Green of the Original Soul Invaders shares a moment with Bhutanese participant Tshewang Dendup at the 2008 Festival.
Photo by Neil Greentree, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
At least ten musicians sit cross-legged on a stage, each wearing turban and yellow scarves. Their instruments include a harmonium, tabla, and a sitar.
Sikh Kirtani Jatha perform North Indian music in the Asian Pacific Americans program at the 2010 Festival.
Photo by Walter Larrimore, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

In religious communities, ritual activity and celebrations are often complemented by evocative reverberations. Groups connect with one another and with other dimensions of existence through song and sound. From polyrhythmic drumming in African religious rituals to the melodic recitations of the Qur’an to the sonorous singing of Jewish cantors and Christian choirs, religion is inherently a “sound affair.”

Creative Encounters amplified the ways religion has contributed to the soundscape of the United States and has been instrumental in how diverse communities transmit meaning through sound. These questions built upon the pioneering work of Smithsonian Folkways, the institution’s nonprofit record label that has archived how sound impacts and reflects cultural vitality.