American Religious Sounds Project

Teaching Tips

The American Religious Sounds Project website is intended for multiple audiences, but especially educators and students, for whom we hope it will offer a valuable set of pedagogical resources. To facilitate its use in the classroom, we have proposed a number of sample activities and lesson plans, which you can find below. Each exercise suggests a different way of engaging with the ARSP archive, but implicit throughout are two overarching questions, which we hope will guide your classroom discussions: 1) What makes a sound “religious”?; and 2) What new things do we learn about religion when we listen to sound? What do we notice when we shift our attention to sound, both in specific traditions and comparatively, that we might not notice otherwise?

Each activity is designed to be completed in a single class session and could be adopted for a range of courses or institutional contexts. We hope they will spark your own pedagogical creativity.


Preparation: Before class, students review the clips in the ARSP Archive and bring to class 1 example of the following: 1) a sound that they think is religious; 2) a sound that they think might be religious; 3) a sound that they think is not religious.  

During class: Pair and share. Put students in pairs to discuss the three clips that they chose and ask them to explain their choices. When the conversations slow down, the instructor puts three columns on the whiteboard that represent the three choices. A volunteer from each group writes the names of audio files in the appropriate column. As the columns fill up, the instructor encourages the students to comment on their reasons for their placements. When every group has participated, the instructor asks the students to reflect on what they see on the board. The instructor ends the class with a discussion of how scholars of religion (the students!) make decisions about what is religious and why definitions matters.

Goal: Discussion about definitions of religion and the scholar’s role in creating definitional boundaries.



Preparation: Before class, the instructor chooses 2-3 clips from the ARSP Archive specific to a single religious tradition.

During class: The instructor asks students to write for 5 minutes about what sounds they associate with the specific religious tradition. Pair and share. Students discuss with partners what they wrote and then share answers with the class. The instructor then plays the 2-3 clips they selected in advance. Pair and share. Students are prompted to discuss: 1) if the sounds are different from or similar to the sounds they listed; and 2) if these sounds provided new information or prompted new questions about the religious tradition. Return to group conversation to discuss the question: what do we learn (and not learn) about this religious tradition by listening to these sounds? 

Goal: 1) To broaden understanding of religious traditions and consider the ways in which religions are practiced in everyday life. 2) To think analytically about what can and cannot be learned about religion by listening.



Preparation: Before class, students choose a sound type and find 3 clips in the ARSP Archive from different religious traditions that are tagged with that sound. 

During class: Students write for about 10 minutes comparing the sounds in each clip keeping in mind that they are from different religious traditions. Pair and share. Prompt students to discuss what kinds of similarities and differences among religious traditions they can find by listening to their sounds. Do these sounds occur in similar contexts? What additional information would the students need to answer that question? The class might also discuss whether sound operates in the same ways as other mediums used in comparisons (e.g. texts, architecture). 

Goal: Discussion of the limits/possibilities of comparative study of religion and the use of sound in analysis.



Preparation: Before class, students record a sound that they think is religious (on phone or other device) and bring it with them to class. The instructor makes copies of the metadata form to hand out in class. 

During class: Hand out metadata form. Ask students to listen to their religious sound and fill out the metadata form, checking the appropriate tags for each category. Pair and share. In pairs discuss: 1) what sound did they choose to record and why? 2) where did they go to record the sound? 3) were they surprised by what they heard or where they heard it? 4) did the tags work for their sound? Why or why not? Open the discussion to the entire class.  

Goal: To initiate thinking and conversation about where we expect to hear religious sound and where we find it. To reflect on the value and limits of classifying religious sounds in particular and the challenges of classifying religious practices in general. 



Preparation: Before class, the instructor chooses a recording from the ARSP Archive that is tagged as ambient.

During class: Ask students to close their eyes and play the selected recording. Lead a conversation that begins with the question: is this a religious sound? During the conversation, ask students to identify what else they would need to know about the recording to decide whether it is religious.

Goal: Discussion about definitions of religion and the scholar’s role in creating definitional boundaries.



Preparation: Before class, the instructor chooses a recording from the ARSP Archive tagged as civic for religious tradition. 

During class: Play chosen recording. Ask students to write a list of all the reasons why they think this recording belongs in a religious sounds archive and all the reasons it should not be included. Pair and share. Have each pair report back to the group and create a comprehensive class list on the board. Engage the students in a debate about what can be crossed off the list and what must remain. At the end of the class session, encourage students to reflect on where they see the line of demarcation between religious and civic sounds. If there is time, ask if they can think of examples of when that line is blurred. 

Goal: Introductory conversation of the relationship between religious and civic life in the US through the medium of sound. 



Preparation: Before class, the instructor chooses a recording from the ARSP Archive. The instructor also makes copies of the ARSP Explore toolbar (with metadata categories) to hand out in class. 

During class: Divide the students into groups. Play the selected recording and ask each group to fill out the metadata form for it, checking the appropriate tags for each category. When they complete that work, prompt them to discuss the following questions: Which tags were easy to apply, which ones were more challenging, and why? What additional information might they need or want? How would they go about finding that information? Who might they speak to, where might they go, or what other kinds of sources might they utilize? What new tags or categories might they want to add to the existing list, and why? Have the groups report back to the class and create a list of their answers, noting commonalities and differences. You can also show the class how the ARSP team tagged the recording and discuss what might account for discrepancies between their tags and ours. End the session by asking students to reflect on the following 2 questions: 1) Is tagging these recordings an objective exercise or an interpretive one? 2) What kinds of ethical issues does tagging entail? 

Goal: to produce hands-on approach to discussing questions of classification and the production of knowledge in the study of religion.