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  Photo courtesy @Rockefeller_Chi  

This is How...To Use Art to Build Interreligious Understanding

Welcome to the first post in our new blog series "This is how...", an opportunity for Arts Alumni to share their experiences and inspire others to explore their own creative endeavors.

Today's author is Matthew Dean, Director of Chapel Operations at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.  Enjoy!

This is how we used art to build interreligious understanding. While working as a fundraiser, I was introduced to Dr. Shakeela Hassan in 2006. A retired, big-hearted, well-traveled UChicago anesthesiologist, she was then working on a documentary film project on sacred sounds from around the world. When the economic downturn hit, we decided to reinvent the concept as a concert through her Harran Productions Foundation. From around the city, we invited presenters and sounds not normally heard in one space - recitation of Qur'an, shofars, Gregorian chant, Sufic devotional music, Gospel choir, Jewish cantorial pieces - to a first concert at Rockefeller Chapel in November 2009. Over one thousand people attended, and the resulting recordings were broadcast on WTTW and WFMT.

YouTube trailers for the broadcast were picked up by Jewish and Muslim students at the University of Miami, who put on the second "Sounds of Faith" presentation in 2010, which we visited. In 2011, we built a program in partnership with the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, and brought local imams, rabbis and cantors, clergy, and even politicians together. Shakeela presented for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Pre-Forum in Qatar, and by early 2013 I was in Jerusalem working towards an event there, put on hold because of recent conflict. We've had programs in churches, synagogues, and Islamic centers and created lasting friendships and many short films and web interviews.

This year we celebrated the fifth anniversary and 15th event in the series with an amazing concert back at Rockefeller, involving Hindu and Buddhist sounds along with traditional and rock settings of sacred music. With minimal funding, partnership from Hyde Park institutions LSTC and CTU, and much goodwill from musicians and thinkers in my network, I have been able to help Harran Productions change minds and hearts about what really constitutes understanding "The Other," for some greater measure of mutual respect through this shared experience of sounds important in all of our cultures. Want to help? Write, or visit

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