Sound in Sacred Spaces

Sound in Sacred Spaces (co-sponsored by USC’s Levan Institute for the Humanities and the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture)

The Sound in Sacred Spaces working group intends to bring together minds from humanities, sciences, performing arts, and religious traditions to discuss the topic of sound and music in spaces considered sacred. Discussions of sound are as ethereal as the medium itself. Conversations about sacred spaces demand openness, listening, and cross-cultural understanding. The overarching topic will be approached through discussions with two guest speakers per semester, and conversations about shared readings representing a multitude of academic fields in both the humanities and sciences. The group will also engage with ideas from clergy, musicians, historians, and sound designers. To encourage common ground, all meetings will take place over shared lunches.

The group will tackle overarching questions such as:
Are genres of music composed for space, or a product of that space?
Does a sacred space imbue something to the music presented there?
How do we document and quantize a sonic experience?
Can acoustics elicit transcendence?
How could ethnography facilitate a better understanding of acoustic events?
Can one understand the role of sound cross-culturally or historically?
Is music a universal language?
How do we effectively write about the human experience with sacred sounds?

The group will meet roughly every three weeks over lunch, alternating between USC and UCLA.

Participants include academics from Music, Engineering, Art & Archaeology, History, Religious Studies, and Performing Arts, as well as clergy members, musicians, and acousticians.


Dr. Scott Spencer is an Assistant Professor of Musicology (World Music) at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

Dr. Sharon Gerstel is Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology, and Director of the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture.

Dr. Chris Kyriakakis is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (Signal Processing) at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.