Dr. S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate

Dr. Brent Plate is visiting professor of religious studies at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. He is author of several books and co-founder and managing editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. He is on the board of the Interfaith Coalition of Greater Utica. In 2014, Plate collaborated with photographer and video artist Robert Knight to produce In God’s House, a documentary about the religious history of Utica. A portion of this project was transformed into an online mapping and city profile of Utica on the Pluralism Project’s website.

In 2015-2016, Dr. Plate and a team of students worked with the Pluralism Project and the World Faiths Development Dialogue on a pilot study exploring the religious and interfaith experiences of Burmese and Bhutanese refugees living in Utica, New York and Greater Manchester, New Hampshire.

In God’s House (2014)

In God’s House explores the sacred spaces of the rustbelt city of Utica, New York, once a thriving port on the Erie Canal and now a key refugee relocation center. The project is a collaboration between photographer and video artist Robert Knight and religious studies scholar S. Brent Plate. The work has resulted in a 50-minute documentary film that has been screened at conferences and institutions, and a series of photographs that Rob Knight exhibited at several galleries.

In the midst of changing demographics, the buildings of bygone eras continue to be adapted by the current users that embody them. The goal has been to demonstrate that the current shifting demographics, which are the result of a mass stream of refugees, are part of a much longer trend of immigrant religion that has been in flux for the two centuries of the city’s existence. This includes documenting a Methodist church that became a Bosnian mosque, an Episcopal church that was converted into a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, an African-American church that congregates in the midst of Utica’s former Jewish quarter, and two Jewish congregations (one reform and one conservative) that now share one building.

The work shows how religious groups have and have not changed as they settle in new places and new buildings, and reveals a resiliency across religious communities and a surprising flexibility with regard to the nature of each group’s notion of “sacred” space. Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists have worked with each other in the transformation of spaces, and this ability to adapt in the face of significant adversity ties together these diverse groups, and seems to stand as a hallmark essential for their survival.

Selected Links and Publications