Drawing on the scholarly resources of Georgetown University and the documentary approach pioneered by StoryCorps, the American Pilgrimage Project will invite Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives.
Its goals are to deepen our understanding of the role of religious belief in the American pilgrimage, to bring out the variety and vitality of beliefs in individual lives, to attend to the experience of people who are often overlooked, and to preserve and share accounts of American beliefs as a precious resource for future generations.
The American Pilgrimage Project will be based in the university's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Paul Elie, Senior Fellow with the Berkley Center, is the director of the project and Georgetown's principal liaison with StoryCorps, which is based in Brooklyn, New York.
The Project will begin with events in Washington, New York, and elsewhere in America. In the years to follow, the Berkley Center and StoryCorps will facilitate several hundred person-to-person conversations among people of diverse religious beliefs in communities around the country. The conversations will be recorded digitally and archived in Georgetown’s Lauinger Library and in the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. In consultation with colleagues at the Berkley Center, Paul Elie will work with StoryCorps to select stories from the American Pilgrimage Project for sharing with a broad public. Possible venues for sharing the content include: a website, a regular radio broadcast or podcast, public events, and prospectively a book in which Elie will present the stories so as to offer a fresh and incisive account of American religious beliefs today.
StoryCorps, founded by MacArthur Award winner Dave Isay, seeks to collect, record, and share the stories of the American people as a public service. StoryCorps employs the “conversation approach”: two people who know each other sit together at a microphone and talk about topics of their own choosing. In the past eight years, StoryCorps has collected over 40,000 interviews, documenting the American experience and preserving with dignity those voices often excluded from the historical record.
The American Pilgrimage Project is StoryCorps’ first project devoted to religion, and the partnership with Georgetown is StoryCorps' first with a university. It is hoped that the project will deepen our shared understanding of the particularity of American religion; of the roles of narrative, conversation, and family ties in religious belief; and of the ways beliefs are transmitted and transformed from one generation to the next. Through the American Pilgrimage Project, the Berkley Center, StoryCorps, and Georgetown University hope to render the ongoing American pilgrimage in its considerable vitality and diversity.