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Vernacular Religious Expression: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities related to vernacular religious expression as it is documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Amy E. Skillman, photographer. Obon Festival, Senshin Gakuin and the Dharma School of the Senshin Buddhist Church of Los Angeles, California. 1982. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to doing research on vernacular religious expression in the American Folklife Center collections. The Collection Policy Statement for the American Folklife Center identifies vernacular religious expression as an area of distinction for our collections, noting:

Religious folklife includes but is not limited to vernacular hymn singing recorded in homes, small churches, community centers, and at festivals; as well as documentation of wedding music and customs, funeral music; vernacular sermons (especially, but not exclusively, African American sermons); interviews with preachers and congregants, documentation of religious processions and material culture.

Many American Folklife Center collections include documentation of activities, practices, and traditions affiliated with vernacular religious expression. Examples include the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project and South-Central Georgia Folklife Project Collection, in which homecomings, revivals, and church services have documented through audio recordings and a series of photographs. Other collections contain documentation related to festivals, processions, and celebrations, such as the annual San Rocco procession, which is featured in the Working in Paterson Project Collection. These and other collections are more fully described in the Digital Collections and Searching the Collections sections of this guide.


The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.