Digitizing Rochester’s Religions (DRR) charts Rochester, N.Y.'s religious evolution from 1850 to 2020. We provide new historical essays, an archive of digitized sources from religious sites, and supplementary materials for researchers and teachers. As a pilot project, DRR does not tell the story of every religious site in Rochester. Instead, we focus on sites in the city’s southwest quadrant. When read together, the essays of DRR tell a story of initial prosperity, urban collapse, and tentative revival. Beginning in the 1960s, the loss of Rochester’s industrial base exacerbated racial and economic segregation. Religious organizations in economically distressed neighborhoods worked to fill the gap in social services by using their resources to support their neighborhood.
Subjects or Themes
Religion--19th century, Religion--20th century, Urban History, Modern History
Essays, Images, Artifacts, Sound, Text, Teacher Resources, Mapping, Film
Margarita Simon Guillory (Associate Professor of Religion, Boston University) and Daniel Gorman Jr. (History PhD Candidate, University of Rochester).
Host Institution / Affiliation / Project Location
University of Rochester
Labor and Support
DRR was inspired by Dr. Guillory’s undergraduate seminar “iReligion: Religion in the Digital Age,” which explored how religious life has changed as the result of digital technology and Internet communities. Working under Dr. Guillory’s supervision, a team of undergraduate and graduate students collaborated with Rochester residents and clergy to document historic places of worship. In 2016–18, the DRR team profiled sites located in southwest Rochester, with the intention of expanding to the other three quadrants of the city, as well as the suburbs. Undergraduate researchers Madeline Blackburn, Sophia McRae, Sarah Ogunji, Seyvion Scott, and Courtney Thomas, Jr. wrote essays and produced reference materials about religious sites, the surrounding neighborhoods, and important archival documents.
Dr. Guillory moved to Boston University in 2018. This meant that, without a faculty investigator and additional funding, DRR could not easily expand beyond southwest Rochester. As a result, Gorman oversaw the completion of DRR as a pilot project. In 2018–19, Gorman met with the undergraduate researchers, who volunteered their time to finish their essays. Once the essays were edited, Gorman built the WordPress website with the assistance of the Digital Scholarship Lab staff, secured permission from community partners to reproduce archival sources online, and integrated DRR into HIS 191, a summer 2019 course on new religious movements. The HIS 191 students wrote about religious sites on Rochester’s Park Avenue and in the southeastern suburb of Palmyra.
With further funding and a larger team of researchers, DRR could be scaled up to cover religious sites in the entire city of Rochester, the suburbs, and the surrounding countryside. By continuing to document religious communities throughout the city, new themes would emerge to complement and complicate the stories we told about southwest Rochester’s religious sites. The essays written for HIS 191, for instance, address the introduction of new religious movements — specifically the immigrant religions of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism — to Rochester.
Above all, DRR is intended as an example of community-based religion scholarship and public history outreach. We could not have done this project — studying 180 years of urban religious life — without the support, feedback, and expertise of individuals from Rochester’s religious communities. They welcomed us into their houses of worship, opened their archives, and consulted with us as the project came together.
Partnerships, funding sources, or grant-funding acknowledgement
A University of Rochester PumpPrimer II (PPII) grant, which Dr. Guillory received in June 2017, funded DRR for the 2017–18 academic year. This grant provided a salary for the student researchers and covered start-up costs.
The Andrew W. Mellon Digital Humanities Fellowship, which Gorman received in summer 2019, provided financial support and digital humanities training sessions. This fellowship enabled the completion of DRR during the 2019–20 school year and the public launch of the website in the spring 2020 semester.