Architecture for Worship: Re-thinking Sacred Space
in the Contemporary United States of America
RICHARD S. VOSKO
The purpose of this paper is to examine the symbolic value of religious buildings in the United States. It will focus particularly on places of worship and the theologies conveyed by them in an ever-changing socio-religious landscape. First, I will cite some of the emerging challenges that surface when thinking about conventional religious buildings. I will then describe those architectural "common denominators" that are important when re-thinking sacred space in a contemporary age.
Churches, synagogues, and mosques exist primarily because of the convictions of the membership that built them. The foundations for these spaces are rooted in proud traditions and, sometimes, the idealistic hopes of each congregation. In a world that is seemingly embarked on a never-ending journey of war, poverty, and oppression these structures can be oases of peace, prosperity, and justice. They are, in this sense, potentially sacred spaces.
The Search for the Sacred
The search for the sacred is fraught with incredible distractions and challenges. The earth itself is an endangered species. Pollution is taken for granted. Rain forests are being depleted. Incurable diseases kill thousands daily. Millions have no pure water to drink. Some people are malnourished while others throw food away. Poverty and wealth live side by side, often in the same neighborhoods. Domestic abuse traumatizes family life. Nations are held captive by imperialistic regimes. And terrorism lurks everywhere. What do religious buildings, particularly places of worship, have to say about all of this? Where do homeless, hungry, abused, and stressed-out people find a sense of the sacred in their lives? One might even ask, where is God during this time of turmoil and inequity?
By some estimates nine billion dollars were spent on the construction of religious
buildings in the year 2000. This is not a lot of money when you consider what
is spent on entertainment, cosmetics, and military defense. Nevertheless, this
is a large investment for faith communities who have to raise the money themselves.
Some would call it scandalous, suggesting that the money could be used to combat
social problems. The rationale for such expenditures, however, is age old. At
one time religious buildings towered over all structures in the civic and urban
landscape. They were symbols of the powerful place religion held in society.
All through the history of the United States immigrants have built places of
worship as an integral part of their assimilation process. It is a way of announcing
their arrival in a foreign land as they carry with them their customs, trades,
recipes, languages and music. These buildings are architectural and artistic
replicas of the spiritual places in their homelands. They are reminders of the
strong foundations upon which their value systems and dreams were built. These
places provide a sense of security and promise.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | Contents