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Religion and Placemaking
A crowd outdoors releases dozens of white balloons into the air.
At the 1988 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a Boston Saints’ Day procession is followed by music and celebration.
Photo by Laurie Minor, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
A Tibetan monk in a red robe speaks into a microphone, standing in front of a white stone or plaster altar.
Tibetan monks prepare for a fire puja ceremony in front of the stupa at the 2000 Festival program Tibetan Culture Beyond the Land of Snows.
Photo by Richard Strauss, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Dancers in traditional dress of shell necklaces, woven grass hats with feather adornments, and tassled skirts line up, arm in arm, to dance.
Members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon present a welcome dance to Indigenous Amazonian communities from Colombia at the 2011 Festival.
Photo by Dan Payn, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Hawaiian musicians and dancers in matching skirts and green-leaf leis sit on a stage waiting to perform.
UNUKUPUKUPU, which means “Shrine of Ferns [Rooted in Fresh Lava],” the hula group from Hawai‘i Community College, present hula as a sacred dance with relevance in preserving Hawaiian language and Indigenous way of life.
Photo by Pruitt Allen, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Creative expression often occurs at the borders of religious traditions, requiring deep contemplation of one’s own traditions along with rigorous engagement with the “other,” who may be a colleague, neighbor, student, or even partner or spouse. The responses of living religions to encounters with diverse others contribute to the built environment of the United States and to the process of placemaking—the collaborative ways that people shape public and private spaces to promote their values and the common good.

Creative placemaking can also be preceded by migrations, both chosen and forced: young people leaving home for college, diasporic communities creating worship spaces in a new context, and Indigenous communities fighting for protection of consecrated environments. Placemaking can be vital to strengthening communities and fostering sustained reflection on shared meaning and values.

We will examine the role of religion in public spaces where groups traverse geographic, institutional, and cultural boundaries to create the United States’ complex religious diversity. Together we will explore how these creative religious communities transform the National Mall and other public spaces, enlivening the national dialogue about peacefully sharing space in a diverse world.

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