Research Matters

Research Matters

Religion as Oral History

Student researchers from the University of Kansas Department of Religious Studies are scouring Kansas to record oral histories of everyday people with recollections of a host of faiths. They are taking part in a new class led by Tim Miller, professor of religious studies, who hopes to collect memories of older Kansans' experiences in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples before such stories are lost to time.

Aired October 25, 2009

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Researchers seek out older adults with recollections of religion. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Student investigators are collecting memories of older Kansans' experiences in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples before such stories are lost to time. Tim Miller, professor of religious studies at KU, leads the project.

Tim Miller: We have a number of really unusual religious stories in Kansas that I'd like to try to capture. Religion is a huge part of the lives of a whole lot of people in Kansas - and preserving that for the future is great.

Miller's students are recording interviews, gathering documents and traveling the state to compile stories that otherwise would vanish. The materials collected will be made available to the public through a web site.

"Kansas really in many ways is the average center of America," Miller said. "When people selling consumer products have a new product they want to test market, our area is where a lot of the national test marketing is done because we're considered average America. And I think that's true for religion as it is for consumer products. We're pretty much a slice of the country."

In addition to finding people who grew up in the most common religions in Kansas - such as the Catholic and Methodist churches - Miller's also is interested in tracking down members of more obscure faiths, such as followers of Alfred Lawson, a baseball player turned spiritual leader with a following in Kansas.

"He attracted thousands of followers, particularly during the Depression. He had an economic theory that was going to solve the Depression. But it was metaphysical and it was religious. He had a very wide-ranging system. And out of his work came a few churches called Lawsonian churches, and one of them was in Wichita."

For more about the documentation and oral history project, log on to Research Matters dot K-U dot E-D-U. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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