Although I’m only a few weeks into my project, I’ve already been quite surprised and inspired by the direction it has taken. To review, I have been creating a photojournal of New York City’s places of worship and interviewing people about what these spaces mean to them, with the hopes of examining how these spaces reflect the communities around them, how their location in such a multicultural city shapes them, and how they in turn shape the city.
My first discovery has been that the diversity of New York City has given its places of worship not only variety, but a unique sort of intersectionality as well. Before this process began I read books about the effects that religion and immigration have on each other and this, combined with my previous experiences living in the city, imbued me with an expectation that each place of worship I would visit would be completely distinct just like each neighborhood that it occupied. What I discovered instead was an overwhelming sense of pride that so many of these spaces had in the unique blend of cultures and backgrounds that made up their congregation. For example:
St. Malachy’s- The Actors’ Chapel
239 W 49th St
“With this particular chapel, it’s a very liberal minded Roman Catholic Chapel, so it fits in all the amazing things that I grew up with, all the beliefs that I grew up with, but has evolved with the ever-changing social conformities. And the things I heavily believe in, it seems they don’t discriminate against, which I love.”
I met a Catholic who prided herself on attending the most open, accepting, and liberal-minded Catholic Church either of us had ever heard of…
Union Square South & University
“This mantra method that we’re doing is a sublime way for reviving consciousness and inner love by nature. So basically by us coming here, we’re actually rarifying the atmosphere. This sound vibration, it comes from the transcendental realm, so what it does is actually purifying the air so people walk by here and go hey, where’d my stress go?…
What is so nice is that we see people from all different ethnicities, races religions, and we come together. And we can all relish in this lovely meditation together.”
…I met a Hare Krishna who was excited to tell me about the variety of other religions that his comrades also practiced…
Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church
152 W 66th St
“I don’t really sense the connection between God and humanity all the time…but as a child I became very close with a Father- a Catholic priest, who was a monsignor, and he was like a member of our family, even though we weren’t Catholic. And he leaves a lot of good beauty in my heart. His energy, and his enthusiasm.”
…and I met a Protestant whose biggest positive religious influence growing up was a Catholic priest (and, by the way, we met in a Presbytarian Church whose mass times were posted in Korean on one side of the front door and Spanish on the other).
My experience may be biased by the fact that people who prefer to worship in diverse congregations are more willing to speak to me about their religious practices, but in any case, I plan to explore this idea further in the coming weeks.
I came across my second discovery in a book called Religions in the City by Tony Carnes and Anna Karpathakis. When defining religion in the sense of gaining identity through worship, Carnes and Karpathakis argue that “In New York City, power, fame, money and sex are, in this sense, also time-tested popular religions.”
That got me thinking about what other things people tend to worship in New York. While mulling this over I went to see a short play showcase in a theatre called the Actor’s Temple (previously an actual Jewish Temple) which made me contemplate even more what can be defined as a religion. An actor I met there confirmed this idea:
The Actors’ Temple
339 W 47th st
“Theatre for me is religion. Theatre is a sacred place. I almost find it more sacred than churches, not for the blessed sacraments there, but for the fact that so many great things are created there and people feel safe, where people feel open, where people feel free to express certain things and there’s a sacredness about that openness, which I really love about the stage.“
My goal in the coming weeks is to see what other hidden “religions” I can find… perhaps on Wall Street there’s some secret shrine made of money…
Feel free to follow my project on Tumblr (http://nycworships.tumblr.com), Twitter (@nycworships) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nycworships)!