Musicians perform during the 2017 Spirit & Place Festival. This year’s festival, with the theme “identify,” features a number of music-based events, including “The Rhythm of Us: Interfaith Understanding Through the Art of Music,” on Nov. 10 at Franklin College. Submitted photo

Music connects us all.

Transcending language barriers, differences of race and gender, and physical distance, song is a universal way to relate to one another.

Such a medium makes it the perfect vehicle to examine religious identities and the similarities we all share.

“Music is so important to how religions convey their beliefs, but also how they celebrate, how they lament,” said David Carlson, professor emeritus of religions and philosophy at Franklin College. “Music is the soundtrack of all religions.”

Franklin College will host “The Rhythm of Us: Interfaith Understanding Through the Art of Music” on Nov. 10, part of this year’s Spirit & Place Festival. The event will feature musicians and performers from a variety of faith traditions, including a Christian vocalist and pianist, as well as chanters from the Hindu and Greek Orthodox traditions.

Bringing together different religions can only strengthen and support the ways people are the same, while helping convey the identities that these performers have carved out.

“We’re really happy that Franklin College, the past couple of years, have submitted events under this umbrella of ‘interfaith understanding through the arts.’ They seem really committed to using the power of different art forms to explore religious similarities and differences,” said Erin Kelley, event services specialist for Spirit & Place. “It’s so important to create these spaces to gather with people who may not be exactly like us, and we learn about and from each other.”

Spirit & Place is a yearly event focused on helping grow the human spirit. Developed as a community project managed by The Polis Center at IUPUI, it was established in 1996 to be a catalyst for community engagement.

This is done through creative collaborations. Dozens of area organizations, agencies, churches and other groups work together to put on more than 30 individual events as part of the festival.

“One of the things that makes the festival so unique is that it is community created, which means that Spirit & Place the organization are only responsible for the opening and closing night events,” Kelley said. “Everything else is created by the community — universities, libraries, museums, but also congregations and independent artists and even independent writers and scholars.”

Each year, a theme is chosen to tie the festival together. That central concept is broad enough to allow groups to interpret their own take on it, and submit proposed activities that can be featured during the festival.

Past festivals have looked at themes such as risk, play, growing up and origins. This year, the festival is built around the idea of “identify.”

“We always try to choose events that we think will resonate with people, particularly those who would be interested in creating an event. We want to spark their imagination,” Kelley said. “And we try to be responsive to what’s going on in the world. It really does seem like we are living in a period right now where, as a nation, we are really grappling with how we build common bonds of identity, and how we respect individuals’ identity.”

Events during this year’s festival approach that theme in a variety of ways.

People can hear from science fiction fans who have a nontraditional experience with their own gender identity or sexual orientation during “Jadzia, My Beloved Old Friend! Gender Representation in Science Fiction” at the Center for Inquiry in downtown Indianapolis.

The foods and flavors of Yemen, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Palestine and more help explain how food and identity are inextricably linked during “Tell Me What You Eat and I’ll Tell You Where You Are From” at MOTW Coffee and Pastries in Indianapolis. “Inking Identity: Indigenous Tattoo Practices” explores how tattooing shapes and reflects cultural identity.

“You turn the theme out to the community, and they come back with so much more. This year’s festival has everything from events exploring the idea of gender, the idea of race, the idea of food as a way to convey identity,” Kelley said. “It’s really amazing and humbling what people come up with each year.”

Key to the idea of how people identify is faith, and the interplay between different religious traditions, she said.

Interfaith dynamics have been a focus of Franklin for many years, and gave it a perfect approach when suggesting an event to Spirit & Place organizers.

Carlson and Hannah Adams Ingram, the college’s director of religious life and chaplain, worked together to plan an event centered on interfaith dialogue and understanding. The pair have both been active with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation based in Indianapolis and have represented Franklin College at various interfaith celebratory events and educational workshops.

“This really came from the numerous interfaith events that I’ve been involved with over the years. What I’ve noticed is that they tend to bring together people from other faiths, and they talk about their distinctive beliefs,” Carlson said. “It leads to a kind of information overload — it’s a lot of ideas and philosophies. So we didn’t think it was the most engaging way to encounter different faith traditions.”

In 2020, the college hosted its first annual Interfaith Understanding through the Arts event during the Spirit & Place Festival. Storytellers came together to share tales from their own faith traditions and share their own experiences.

The event was a success, spawning a second iteration of Interfaith Understanding through the Arts in 2021, this time using poetry.

“Instead of talking about what different faith traditions believe, we would bring performers and artists, and they’d offer something from their faith tradition that would be a different way to encounter a different religion,” Carlson said.

“The Rhythm of Us” features performances from vocalist Maegan Pollonais accompanied by pianist Chang Shen from the Christian faith tradition; chanter Vasanthi (Indu) Vasudevan from the Hindu faith tradition; and chanter Constantine (Dean) Maniakas from the Greek Orthodox faith tradition.

“The idea is to offer an encounter with different faith traditions, that would start with something that was unusual or maybe new to our ears,” Carlson said.

The event will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 10 in the Branigin Room in the Napolitan Student Center, with a “Meet the Artists” dessert reception at 6 p.m. prior to the performances. The event is free to attend but registration is required. Guests may register at


“The Rhythm of Us: Interfaith Understanding Through the Art of Music” 

What: Musicians performing across faith traditions and genres will engage participants in a broader conversation about how we convey who we are, as individuals and as groups, through singing, chanting and instrumental performances. The event is part of this year’s Spirit & Place Festival 

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 10. A “meet the artists” reception will be held at 6. 

Where: Branigin Room, Napolitan Student Center, Franklin College campus 

Cost: The event is free to attend but registration is required. Guests may register at 

For a full schedule of events at this year’s Spirit & Place Festival, go to