Religion out loud: religious sound, public space, and American pluralism Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Weiner, Isaac A.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This dissertation attends to complaints about religion as noise. I draw on court records, archival sources, and oral histories to analyze three American legal case studies in which neighbors complained about religious sounds spilling over into public space: an 1877 dispute about the volume of bells at an Episcopalian church in Philadelphia; a 1948 Supreme Court case about Jehovah's Witnesses operating sound trucks in an upstate New York public park; and a 2004 dispute about a mosque broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer in a historically Polish-Catholic Detroit neighborhood. Drawing on an understanding of noise as sounds out of place, I argue that through disputes about public religious sounds, Americans have demarcated and contested the proper place of religion and religious adherents in the U.S. spatial and social order. Noise complaints have offered a useful means for containing religion, for demarcating and delimiting its boundaries, but religious devotees also have used public sounds to claim place for themselves, pushing against popular and legal conceptions of religion. In the cases I analyze, I find that disputants aimed to demarcate religion's place in relation to three particular boundaries. They tried to draw clear lines between public and private, between religion and non-religion, and among diverse religious communities. But the contested sounds also crossed and collapsed these symbolically significant and pragmatically useful boundaries, complicating efforts to map religion's borders. This dissertation thus calls attention to the shifting and permeable boundaries of American religious life. It offers a model for interpreting American religious diversity that centers themes of embodiment, contact, and exchange. It underscores how both sound and law have mediated public interactions among diverse religious communities. And it highlights the everyday material practices through which Americans have mapped religion's boundaries, rather than analyzing these boundaries as products of abstract intellectual debate. This dissertation proposes that interpreting American religious life will require scholars to become more attuned to the sounds of religious difference. In debates about whether religion should be practiced quietly or out loud, we can hear competing conceptions of religion's place in the modern world.
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  • In Copyright
  • Tweed, Thomas A.
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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