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Religion Out Loud

Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism

Isaac Weiner

Publication Year: 2013

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.
In Religion 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 different styles of 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 the North American Religions series
Isaac Weiner is Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

It turns out that when you write a book about noise, everyone has a story for you. Over the several years that I worked on this project, I gathered anecdotes from what seemed like nearly everyone I met. At conferences and weddings, reunions and dinner parties, family gatherings and children’s birthday celebrations, ...

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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. ...

Part I: The Sounds of Power

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1. From Sacred Noise to Public Nuisance

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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 poem Atrahasis, “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, / ...

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2. Church Bells in the Industrial City

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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.” ...

Part II: The Sounds of Dissent

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3. A New Regulatory Regime

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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. ...

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4. Sound Car Religion and the Right to Be Left Alone

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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. ...

Part III: The Sounds of Difference

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5. A New Constitutional World and the Illusory Ideal of Neutrality

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pp. 139-157

The Supreme Court’s decision in Saia 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. ...

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6. Calling Muslims—and Christians—to Pray

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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. ...

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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. ...


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pp. 209-244


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pp. 245-250

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About the Author

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pp. 251-266

Isaac Weiner is Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture in the Department of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814708064
E-ISBN-10: 0814708064
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814708071
Print-ISBN-10: 0814708072

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2013