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Posted by on Jun 11, 2009

Sounds of prayer

I was intrigued by the notion that prayer, assuming it is not translated into a local vernacular, would sound remarkably similar in most religions. That sound of prayer, sung prayer, is indeed universal at least in terms of register, pitch, and tone. Variations occur at a variety of levels, within subsets of religions, within regional influences, but the core sound of praise is highly predictable.

I am intrigued by the notion of prayer in general, especially academically. If one studies prayer in a purely detached fashion (as a subject and not the object), then there are some fascinating insights, such as:

  1. Health benefits (rhythms of repeated sounds, mantras, soothing stomach disorders, lowering blood pressure)
  2. Mental clarity (prayer as meditation, as therapy)
  3. Philosophy (prayer as exploration into humanity itself, our relationship with the larger environment, our relationship with abstraction (things we cannot experience on a sensory level))
  4. Faith (prayer as affirmation-intriguing as it is an affirmation of the positive. Prayer as belief in this or that, not a proof by the negative)

Focusing purely on the sound of prayer, one can see several similarities amongst all the religions. Below, I have several audio files from different religions in a non-English vernacular. With many thanks to the University of North Carolina School of Education, please give it a listen:

All are from Cambodia. All are similar in some fashion. All are prayer.

What about regional variations?

Well, the Muslim call to prayer (adhān or أَذَان) is different depending on where you hear it. I give you two more audio files, one taken from Wikipedia and the other from NUAMPS, Northwestern University Advanced Media Production Studio. The first captures the call to prayer in Mecca and the second in Timbuktu, deep in the heart of Mali.

If you want to see a video of the call to prayer in Tunis, Tunisia, that I took, please take a look at my Flickr page. Or just take a look below:

Notice the differences in the sound, especially in the Timbuktu version. I would love to get more examples of Catholic (and Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist (and any others)) prayers, so if anyone has any suggestions on where I can get audio files (perhaps some sort of Wikimedia-esque site)I would be happy to know.

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