Pandemic Religion Project to Document Changes in American Religion

As the world undergoes wrenching changes—some temporary, some permanent—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, religious communities in the United States have also been deeply affected. Many have hastily moved services online: a change which has been influenced by the hugely varying liturgical, theological, legal, and financial resources available to different groups. Of course a few religious groups have made it into the news by challenging government-mandated shutdowns. Some people are attending online services at communities that are not local and of which they are not members, perhaps to share an experience with family from whom they are distant. Others are finding their religious community in relatively new forms, such as Facebook groups. As the pandemic more seriously affects older people, religious communities have grappled with their ministry to the elderly and to the sick. The pandemic has disproportionately killed racial minorities and left them disproportionately unemployed: Black religious traditions are no exception. These changes have happened at the same time that Jews have celebrated Passover, Christians have celebrated Easter, and right before Muslims celebrate Ramadan.

To document these changes, today the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is launching Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive. This project will collect and preserves experiences and responses from individuals and religious communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screenshot of the Pandemic Religion website

We invite contributions from people of any religious tradition, community, or perspective. We encourage contributions either from your individual perspective, or documenting what is happening in your religious community. We hope you will contribute items like these:

  • Stories about how your religious practice has changed
  • Photos of you or your religious community practicing your religion
  • Communications within your religious community
  • Documents about decisions or changes your religious community has made
  • Links, recordings, or screenshots of religious practice moving to online spaces, such as video and social media
  • Stories about how you or your community is helping during, or being hurt by, the pandemic

You may wish to browse some of the items that have already been contribute:

We are undertaking this gathering of materials in partnership with other institutions. The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI has generously agreed to partner with RRCHNM to help disseminate the project among their scholarly network. A group of advisors, both scholars and leaders of religious communities, have given counsel and helped share the project. For example, the Rev. Mary Anne Glover of the Virginia Council of Churches has distributed the project to their member churches. We hope to strike up other such partnerships in the coming days.

Collection is only the first stage. As we gather these materials and reach out to religious communities, we will also begin work on interpreting the experiences of American religion during this time. The questions listed above only scratch the surface of what can be learned about American religion during this time. Working with CSR&AC, we will be exploring how best to organize this interpretative effort.

This project stands in a long line of digital history projects aimed at collecting and preserving materials for the use of future historians. RRCHNM pioneered some of these early efforts with the September 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. Other institions have often followed this playbook. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, some notable collecting projects have included A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19 from Arizona State University, COVID-19 Memories from the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History, and many more local projects, such as the COVID-19 MKE: A Milwaukee Coronavirus Digital Archive project from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. Pandemic Religion is RRCHNM’s effort to help preserve the past about an area of study in which we specialize, and by doing so to give back to the scholarly and local communities of which we are a part.

We invite anyone who is interested in the project to make a contribution, or to offer suggestions and raise questions. You can contact John Turner (the project director) and Lincoln Mullen (the project co-director) via email at pandemicreligion@gmail.com.