Religion Out Loud

Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism

Isaac Weiner
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Religion Out Loud
    Book Description:

    For six months in 2004, controversy raged in Hamtramck, Michigan, as residents debated a proposed amendment that would exempt the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer, from the city's anti-noise ordinance. The call to prayer functioned as a flashpoint in disputes about the integration of Muslims into this historically Polish-Catholic community. No one openly contested Muslims' right to worship in their mosques, but many neighbors framed their resistance around what they regarded as the inappropriate public pronouncement of Islamic presence, an announcement that audibly intruded upon their public space.Throughout U.S. history, complaints about religion as noise have proven useful both for restraining religious dissent and for circumscribing religion's boundaries more generally. At the same time, religious individuals and groups rarely have kept quiet. They have insisted on their right to practice religion out loud, implicitly advancing alternative understandings of religion and its place in the modern world.InReligion Out Loud, Isaac Weiner takes such sonic disputes seriously. Weaving the story of religious noise through multiple historical eras and diverse religious communities, he convincingly demonstrates that religious pluralism has never been solely a matter of competing values, truth claims, or moral doctrines, but of differentstylesof public practice, of fundamentally different ways of using body and space - and that these differences ultimately have expressed very different conceptions of religion itself. Weiner's innovative work encourages scholars to pay much greater attention to the publicly contested sensory cultures of American religious life.In theNorth American ReligionsseriesIsaac Weineris Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0806-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    It should have been a mere formality. In 2006, Steve Elturk, president of the Islamic Organization of North America, planned to convert an existing office building in Warren, Michigan, into a mosque and education center, but he first had to obtain a variance from the city’s zoning board of appeals. What should have been a relatively straightforward process dragged on for months as city officials manufactured a multitude of reasons to deny Elturk’s request. At a series of planning commission public hearings in March and April, standing-room-only crowds gathered to voice their opposition to the proposed center. Their objections ranged...

    • 1 From Sacred Noise to Public Nuisance
      (pp. 19-39)

      The gods were probably the first to complain about human noise. “The land had grown numerous,” we read in the ancient Akkadian epic poemAtrahasis, “the peoples had increased, / The land was bellowing like a bull. / The god was disturbed by their uproar. / He said to the great gods, / ‘The clamor of mankind has become burdensome to me, / I am losing sleep for their uproar. / Cut off provisions for the peoples, / Let plant life be too scanty [fo]r their hunger.’” Human efforts to regulate noise have never proven so destructive, but their complaints...

    • 2 Church Bells in the Industrial City
      (pp. 40-76)

      Philadelphians inaugurated America’s centennial year of 1876 with noise. On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1875, they rang bells, blew whistles, lit firecrackers, and played musical instruments in the streets. One visitor to the city described the celebration as the “most extraordinary noise ever heard.” On May 10, 1876, every bell in the city rang again to signal the opening of the Centennial Exposition, a world’s fair that would attract over ten million visitors during the next seven months, the first of its kind on American soil. The exposition showcased American invention and ingenuity for the world, but it also...

    • 3 A New Regulatory Regime
      (pp. 79-97)

      For years, Beaufort’s business owners and residents had not been able to do anything about the noise. A picturesque town located on South Carolina’s coast, Beaufort boasted a revitalized downtown that featured boutique shops, antique stores, art galleries, and ice cream parlors. The city had become a popular destination for tourists and retirees alike. But there was one problem. At the nearby Calvary Baptist Church, the Reverend Karl Baker operated a Bible Institute where he trained aspiring preachers. Every Saturday, the students would descend on downtown Beaufort and practice their oratory skills. They would take turns standing either on the...

    • 4 Sound Car Religion and the Right to Be Left Alone
      (pp. 98-136)

      On four consecutive Sunday afternoons in September 1946, Samuel Saia parked his 1935 Studebaker at the edge of a public park in Lockport, New York, affixed electro-acoustic loudspeakers to its roof, and broadcast sermons espousing the truth of God’s word to unsuspecting picnickers. A Jehovah’s Witness, Saia had been using his “sound car” in this way for well over a decade. But on each of those Sundays in 1946, Lockport police arrested Saia for violating the city’s anti-noise ordinance, which required a permit before operating a loudspeaker in a public park. Saia appealed his conviction all the way to the...

    • 5 A New Constitutional World and the Illusory Ideal of Neutrality
      (pp. 139-157)

      The Supreme Court’s decision inSaia v. New York, along with the other Jehovah’s Witness cases of the 1930s and 1940s, ushered in a new constitutional world. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, noise had primarily been regulated as a public or private nuisance. Complainants had to demonstrate that an offending sound interfered materially with their reasonable enjoyment of property or the ordinary comfort of life and that it could be expected to affect all ordinary hearers in the same way. By the middle of the twentieth century, most U.S. cities had adopted a more systematic approach to regulating...

    • 6 Calling Muslims—and Christians—to Pray
      (pp. 158-194)

      Caroline Zaworski was upset. “Muslims are allowed to pray in their mosque,” this eighty-one-year-old, Polish Catholic lifetime resident of Hamtramck, Michigan, declared at a contentious city council meeting in April 2004. “They are allowed to pray in their mosque, they can have their [call to prayer] in their mosque, … that’s their right. But why is the loudspeaker so important? A holy prayer is a holy prayer. God hears it whether it’s on a loudspeaker, whether it’s in your heart, whether it’s in a mosque. Why agitate? Why bring all these difficulties?” When the al-Islāh Islamic Center’s leaders petitioned Hamtramck’s...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-208)

    The Grand Rabbi Meshulam Feish Segal-Loewy, known to his followers as the Tasher Rebbe, leads one of the largest sects of Hassidic Judaism in the world. Born in Hungary in 1921, he immigrated to Montreal at the age of thirty, after having survived the Holocaust. There, he reconstituted his community, eventually moving with them to the suburban municipality of Boisbriand, eighteen miles north of the city. In 1963, the Rebbe and his followers founded Kiryas Tash, a self-sufficient enclave where they could live, worship, and study together, much as they had in Eastern Europe. Highly insular and isolated, the Tasher...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 209-244)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 245-250)
    (pp. 251-251)