Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2021) | Viewed by 31966

Special Issue Editor

McEwen School of Architecture, Laurentian University, Sudbury, ON P3E 2C6, Canada
Interests: gender and sacred space; architecture of Islam, in particular contemporary mosque design; approaches and practices to architectural education; vernacular design and sustainability

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Sacred spaces are both the container and facilitator for framing transcendental or spiritual experiences, often in conjunction with liturgy and ritual. The qualities of the sacred space are choreographed, curated and crafted at all scales to emphasize and express this, from the selection of the site to the design of the smallest elements. The experiential qualities of a sacred space are directly connected to the craft of every detail, every sequence of space, every material and every governing geometric system of organization. Sacred spaces can inhabit a spectrum of buildings from large complexes to an individual room, and can also be specific landscapes and outdoor spaces.

How and where we find the sacred in today’s world sometimes draws inspiration from historical spaces but is also found in many new types of spaces and landscapes. The sacred may be found in both religious and non-religious environments, and the search for experiencing the transcendental and the design of spaces that allow this is a difficult task for architects, designers and users, as quite what makes a space sacred is difficult to articulate. The importance of spaces, both indoor and outdoor, intentionally designed for experiencing the sacred or transcendent, is of mounting relevance in today’s world as people navigate daily struggles and crises.

While many publications exist that focus on the aesthetics of historical sacred places, there is a small growing body of research documenting the lived experiences in historical and contemporary sacred places and some on the architectural and construction processes involved. However, much more research is needed to expand understanding in this often neglected subject in design practice and education.

This Special Issue of Religions invites researchers, architects, landscape architects, artists, students and scholars to consider the experience of sacred spaces, historical or contemporary. Designers are especially welcome to share insights in the process behind the design of sacred spaces they were a part of. Submissions may consider phenomenological and hermeneutical approaches as well as analysis utilizing methodological lenses to address the experience of sacred spaces, and are encouraged to include visual materials. Reflections and analysis of sacred spaces from all of the world's faiths are welcome as well as multi-faith spaces and non-religious contemplative and meditative spaces.

Key areas of focus may include (but are not limited to):

  • Analysis of historical spaces/landscapes framing sacred/transcendental experiences;
  • Analysis of contemporary spaces/landscapes framing sacred/transcendental experiences;
  • Analysis/reflection on the relationship of liturgy/ritual to space;
  • Analysis/reflection on the design and/or construction process of a sacred space;
  • Analysis/reflection on pedagogical exercises related to the design of sacred spaces;
  • Analysis/reflection on the lived practice of faith in a sacred space and/or the lived practice of design process;
  • Analysis/reflection on the overlap between the lived practice of faith and design of a sacred space;
  • Analysis/reflection on other aspects of sacred/ transcendental spaces.

Please submit an abstract of 300–500 words with your proposed area of research including the space(s) you are discussing, by April 30, 2021. Authors will be notified of acceptance by August 2021 for full paper submission (minimum 5000 words and 5 images) by December 1, 2021.

Dr. Tammy Gaber
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sacred space
  • sacred landscapes
  • design for the sacred
  • worship spaces

Published Papers (10 papers)

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27 pages, 8931 KiB  
Article
The African American Church House: A Phenomenological Inquiry of an Afrocentric Sacred Space
Religions 2022, 13(3), 246; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030246 - 12 Mar 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 3648
Abstract
The institution of the black church in America is centered around two things: the people and their events. Very little scholarship has been documented about the physical buildings that became homes for the people and host to their events. These early church houses [...] Read more.
The institution of the black church in America is centered around two things: the people and their events. Very little scholarship has been documented about the physical buildings that became homes for the people and host to their events. These early church houses became the first evidence of a constructed material culture for formerly enslaved persons in America. The design and construction of black church houses provided enslaved as well as free persons of color the opportunity to physically create buildings that would become the center of African American life, beginning as early as the late 18th century and reaching to the present. Coupled with this exercise of the creation of architectural placemaking is the defining and application of the term “sacred space”. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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35 pages, 7915 KiB  
Article
Beyond the Veil of Form: Developing a Transformative Approach toward Islamic Sacred Architecture through Designing a Contemporary Sufi Centre
Religions 2022, 13(3), 190; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030190 - 23 Feb 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 4415
Abstract
By examining the relationship between sacred space and spiritual experience through practice-as-research, a methodology for reclaiming the wisdom embodied by transformative examples of classic Islamic sacred architecture in the design of a contemporary Sufi Centre in London, UK, is developed. The metaphysical and [...] Read more.
By examining the relationship between sacred space and spiritual experience through practice-as-research, a methodology for reclaiming the wisdom embodied by transformative examples of classic Islamic sacred architecture in the design of a contemporary Sufi Centre in London, UK, is developed. The metaphysical and ontological roots of universal design principles and practices are explored in order to transcend mimetic processes and notions of typology, location, time, style and scale in the creation of context-sensitive meanings and manifestations. An ontological hermeneutic approach was followed that utilises mixed methods underpinned by direct engagement, collaboration and a willingness to examine personal transcendent experiences and spiritual practices. By conducting practice, the effects of prioritising unseen dimensions (bātin), which enfold visible dimensions (zāhir), on understanding and designing Islamic sacred space are examined. The role of the imaginal realm, the imagination (khayāl), the spiritual heart (qalb) and spiritual inter-pretation (ta’wīl) are explored. Through a contemplative process, forms are perceived as conduits between the physical and spiritual realms and space as a symbol of presence (wujūd). Seen and unseen (zāhir wa bātin) converge into one continuum, potentiating an experience of Oneness (Tawhīd). A transformative approach to practice emerges that integrates a designers’ creative and spiritual practices, cultivates the capacity for transformation and helps to mitigate some of the challenges faced when designing sacred spaces in conventional settings today. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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15 pages, 4810 KiB  
Article
The Holy Light of Cyberspace: Spiritual Experience in a Virtual Church
Religions 2022, 13(2), 121; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020121 - 26 Jan 2022
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 3442
Abstract
Digital technology became a substantial component of daily life activities where people grew less dependent on the constraints of the physical world. Recent developments of new media platforms have led to important changes in religious practices, resulting in digital religion. However, there is [...] Read more.
Digital technology became a substantial component of daily life activities where people grew less dependent on the constraints of the physical world. Recent developments of new media platforms have led to important changes in religious practices, resulting in digital religion. However, there is a lack of empirical research assessing the effect on the spiritual experience. Some elements of sacred architecture, light for instance, influence the perception and experience of space. Light is a symbol of the sacred as it uplifts the worshiper’s soul and contributes to the transcendental experience. This paper proposes an analysis of a contemporary space, cyberspace, in framing the sacred experience. The focus is on light and its effect on the spiritual experience in a virtual church. The method employs an empirical approach, adapted from the social sciences scholarship, to examine the extent of the spiritual experience(s) manifested by the participants as emotional responses to the sacred space. The findings highlight people’s experiences of the cyber-sacred space and offer insights into the design of those spaces. This spiritual event could be considered a spiritual appreciation of architectural elements translated as subjective emotional responses to virtual sacred architecture. Such study bridges the research of architecture and social sciences in creating a platform for the empirical exploration of virtual ‘built’ environments. It provides a quantitative approach to a phenomenological concept of digital religion and the future of spiritual practices related to virtual sacred architecture. The importance of the study lies on the designed methodology to assess the effect of light on the spiritual experience in virtual sacred architecture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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15 pages, 2452 KiB  
Article
Cosmology, Faith, Architecture—A Temple under the Sky: The Church of Saint Maximilian Kolbe in Varese
Religions 2022, 13(2), 111; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020111 - 24 Jan 2022
Viewed by 3782
Abstract
In my article, I propose a reflection about the Catholic church of Saint Maximilian Kolbe in Varese, Italy, designed by the architect Justus Dahinden at the end of the millennium. Despite the fact that this original sacred space has been imagined by a [...] Read more.
In my article, I propose a reflection about the Catholic church of Saint Maximilian Kolbe in Varese, Italy, designed by the architect Justus Dahinden at the end of the millennium. Despite the fact that this original sacred space has been imagined by a well-known designer, it still remains a neglected case study. In detail, the present research is about the method by which the architect included the divine element into contemporary architecture and how he facilitated the encounter with the transcendent. The first step focused on the assessment of unpublished materials, such as the architect’s early plan drafts, the executive drawings and the correspondence between the client and the designer. The following study was on Dahinden’s scripts and publications. In the second stage, I analyzed the space under the lens of the hermeneutical approach to highlight the importance of the proven experiences in the building, which is distinguished for its holistic qualities. Furthermore, symbolism plays a relevant role in communicating the evangelical message here, and it seems that Dahinden brought it to the extreme consequence; the entire building, the sequence of its spaces and its details strongly evoke a universal dimension, which pretends to go beyond the dogmatism which marks the traditional religious architecture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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15 pages, 3085 KiB  
Article
A Place for All People: Louise Nevelson’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd
Religions 2022, 13(2), 99; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020099 - 20 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2090
Abstract
In 1973, a church and a bank joined forces to reimagine an entire block of Midtown Manhattan. The church was St. Peter’s, and the bank was First National City Corporation, or Citicorp. The Citicorp Center, now owned jointly by St. Peter’s and the [...] Read more.
In 1973, a church and a bank joined forces to reimagine an entire block of Midtown Manhattan. The church was St. Peter’s, and the bank was First National City Corporation, or Citicorp. The Citicorp Center, now owned jointly by St. Peter’s and the developer Boston Properties, remains an important nexus in Midtown. The following case study considers both the limitations of the site’s privately owned public spaces and how the Nevelson Chapel, a permanent public art installation located within St. Peter’s Church, operates as a counter-hegemonic form of privately owned public space—the sacred public space. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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28 pages, 12820 KiB  
Article
Blending the Subjective and Objective Realms of Sacred Architecture at the Pantheon: Creating a Comparative Framework for Evaluating Transformative Experiences in Ritual Contexts
Religions 2022, 13(1), 75; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13010075 - 14 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2922
Abstract
This paper seeks to create a comparative framework for evaluating transformative experiences for different types of ritual contexts found in sacred architecture by bridging the gap between the phenomenology of human experience and architecture’s built conditions. The methodology creates a framework for statistical [...] Read more.
This paper seeks to create a comparative framework for evaluating transformative experiences for different types of ritual contexts found in sacred architecture by bridging the gap between the phenomenology of human experience and architecture’s built conditions. The methodology creates a framework for statistical analysis, whereby evidence of people’s actual (i.e., real, lived) “subjective” experiences can be evaluated against the “objective” architectural conditions. The comparative framework is put to the test by comparing the experiential and environmental conditions found at the Pantheon in Rome. Experiential data for the Pantheon is extracted from Julio Bermudez’s large survey database (N = 2872) of “extraordinary architectural experiences” for this study. This data is compared against “objective” graphical architecture analysis using Lindsay Jones’ “morphology of ritual-architectural priorities” with a specific focus on ritual contexts. The quantitative and qualitative data reveals that the Pantheon produces transformative experiences for visitors that are related to the expected outcomes of specific design features. The percentages from the “objective” and “subjective” analysis both rank the priorities of theatre, contemplation, and sanctuary in the same order. This study concludes that built environments possessing a higher presence and quality of “ritual-architectural priorities” are more likely to be perceived as sacred and produce transformative experiences. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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24 pages, 12956 KiB  
Article
The Architecture of Eco-Theology: Towards a New Typology for Christian Sacred Space
Religions 2022, 13(1), 29; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13010029 - 29 Dec 2021
Viewed by 2030
Abstract
This paper will begin by exploring the underlying scriptural and theological foundations for a Christian response to the ecological crisis with particular focus on the writings of cultural historian, Father Thomas Berry, CP. It will then describe the first worship space in Canada [...] Read more.
This paper will begin by exploring the underlying scriptural and theological foundations for a Christian response to the ecological crisis with particular focus on the writings of cultural historian, Father Thomas Berry, CP. It will then describe the first worship space in Canada that attempts to embody the emergent “Eco-theology” to invoke both the transcendental and imminent presence of the divine by reconsidering every design decision from first principles. As articulated in its architecture, the traditional elements of Roman Catholic sacred space have been re-imagined and given unique expression to emphasize that when we gather for Christian worship, we do so within the greater context of creation. St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish church therefore represents a distinctly new typology for Christian Worship that contributes towards an understanding of early scriptural teachings which emphasized the sacredness of all creation and not just the sacredness of humankind. The new building as sacred space presents a “Gestalt whole”, and like the medieval cathedrals of Europe, becomes itself a form of Catechetical pedagogy, engaging the senses, demanding reflection, and inviting transformation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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17 pages, 270 KiB  
Article
Landscape and Divinity Spoken in the Same Breath
Religions 2022, 13(1), 27; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13010027 - 29 Dec 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1265
Abstract
From where can we draw inspiration to cultivate an intimate sensibility into the spiritual nature of landscape, the foundation for designing gardens for meditation and healing? Through various spiritual lenses, this inquiry penetrates fundamental grounds for our subtle relationship with landscape. Beginning with [...] Read more.
From where can we draw inspiration to cultivate an intimate sensibility into the spiritual nature of landscape, the foundation for designing gardens for meditation and healing? Through various spiritual lenses, this inquiry penetrates fundamental grounds for our subtle relationship with landscape. Beginning with excerpts of a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Middlebury College, at which I present my proposed plans and designs for Milarepa Center in Barnet, Vermont, this inquiry looks into the profound links between spiritual inquiry and the practice of designing gardens, making design of landscape integral to a spiritual path, and the profound relationship between Landscape and Divinity. It is presented in three parts: (1) spiritual inspiration; (2) setting terms on the table; and (3) expressions of sacred landscape. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
32 pages, 6656 KiB  
Article
“‘But the Fountain Sprang Up and the Bird Sang Down’: Heidegger’s Gathering of the Fourfold and the Seven-Sacraments Font at Salle, Norfolk.”
Religions 2021, 12(7), 464; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070464 - 24 Jun 2021
Viewed by 2031
Abstract
My paper analyses the 15th-century seven-sacraments font at the medieval church of St Peter and St Paul at Salle in Norfolk (England). The church guides and gazetteers that describe the font, and the church in which it is situated, owe both their style [...] Read more.
My paper analyses the 15th-century seven-sacraments font at the medieval church of St Peter and St Paul at Salle in Norfolk (England). The church guides and gazetteers that describe the font, and the church in which it is situated, owe both their style and content to Art History, focusing as they do on their material and aesthetic dimensions. The guides also tend towards isolating the various elements of the font, and these in turn from the rest of the architectural elements, fittings and furniture of the church, as if they could be meaningfully experienced or interpreted as discrete entities, in isolation from one another. While none of the font descriptions can be faulted for being inaccurate, they can, as a result of these tendencies, be held insufficient, and not quite to the purpose. My analysis of the font, by means of Heidegger’s concept of Dwelling, does not separate the font either from the rest of the church, nor from other fonts, but acknowledges that it comes to be, and be seen as, what it is only when considered as standing in ‘myriad referential relations’ to other things, as well as to ourselves. This perspective has enabled me to draw out what it is about the font at Salle that can be experienced as not merely beautiful or interesting, but also as meaningful to those—believers and non-believers alike—who encounter it. By reconsidering the proper mode of perceiving and engaging with the font, we may spare it from being commodified, from becoming a unit in the standing reserve of cultural heritage, and in so doing, we, too, may be momentarily freed from our false identities as units of production and agents of consumption. The medieval fonts and churches of Norfolk are, I argue, not valuable as a result of their putative antiquarian qualities, but invaluable in their extending to us a possibility of dwelling—as mortals—on the earth—under the sky—before the divinities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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12 pages, 296 KiB  
Essay
Sites of Re-Enchantment: Sacred Space and Nature in Early 20th Century Europe
Religions 2022, 13(2), 110; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020110 - 24 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2562
Abstract
This essay analyses the relationship between healing, nature, and the sacred in the construction of “sacred space” or heterotopies at the beginning of the 20th century in Europe. Two examples of these spaces are provided: the Kurorte in Bad Reichenhall, Germany, and the [...] Read more.
This essay analyses the relationship between healing, nature, and the sacred in the construction of “sacred space” or heterotopies at the beginning of the 20th century in Europe. Two examples of these spaces are provided: the Kurorte in Bad Reichenhall, Germany, and the back-to-nature site Monte Verità in Ascona, Switzerland. The focus is on sacred space, alternative lifestyles, and the natural environment through the use of “light and air” cabins and community organization, as described by the founders of the colony at Monte Verità. The healing garden and the Gradierhaus—a special type of building designed for breathing salted air—in Bad Reichenhall are explored through the lens of “air cure” and “climate cures”, which became popular in Central Europe at the end of the 19th century. Such buildings and healing sites were designed for the express purpose of healing through disconnection from the chaos of the modern industrial world in order to reconnect with nature and the elements. Drawing on Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, a striking affinity between buildings and the natural environment at these sites is revealed, resulting in a “special” or “sacred” location that is somehow both “in” and “out” of everyday life, capable of ostensibly producing forms of healing in the visitors and inhabitants. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sacred Spaces: Designing for the Transcendental)
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