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date: 29 May 2017

Religion in Space: Spatial Approaches to American Religious Studies

Summary and Keywords

Space is a basic yet complex dimension in American religion. Historically and historiographically, conceptually and in practice, it has been central to believers’ experiences of what they consider “sacred” and to the models that scholars have developed to understand religious practices in the United States. First assumed as an unexamined given by 19th-century scholars, it became recognized as an explanatory factor in its own right during the 20th century and was the focus of ongoing modern and postmodern attempts at conceptualization from the mid-20th century into the early 21st.

Until the late 20th century, work in American religious studies conceptualized space as an objectively existing container for human activity, and scholars considered a presumed abundance of it a defining determinant of American religious experience. Church historians prior to the mid-20th century typically argued that the vastness and relative isolation of American space, initially subsumed under the historiographic idea of an American “frontier,” allowed the development of uniquely American religious freedom and revivalism. Although the frontier thesis was challenged during the latter half of the 20th century, the concept of space persisted and proved useful as U.S. religious historians gave increasing attention to pluralism, urban experience, transnationalism, and everyday practice.

Religion scholars and anthropologists, meanwhile, proposed from the early 20th century that religious practice involved fundamental spatial distinctions between sacred and profane, inside and outside, center and periphery, and up and down that provided believers with a sense of social, geographic, and cosmic orientation. By the 1970s and 1980s, cultural theorists began conceiving of space as a subjective experience, a situationally located social and cultural construction “produced” through active efforts at definition, appropriation, and control by human beings. According to this newer conceptualization, space comes into being as an inherently contested medium as believers make specific and concrete the meanings of their beliefs through rituals, relationships, and symbols and create distinct physical and geographically located manifestations of their belief systems.

This new approach sparked a “spatial turn” that extended across the humanities and social sciences and moved spatial analysis to a central position in American religious studies. Attention to the spatial dimensions of religious practice generated fruitful research on and new studies of churches and other built environments, American “civil religion,” domestic religious practice, urban religion, the dynamics of pluralism, immigrant communities, and global diasporas. The spatial turn has also generated new concepts of space as scholars attuned to postmodern and transnational experiences have rejected standard emphases on spatial separation and fragmentation in favor of an emphasis on continuity and interconnection.

Keywords: sacred space, spatial turn, geography and religion, anthropology and religion, frontier thesis, postmodernism, ethnicity and religion, diasporic religion, globalization, mapping religion

Historiography: Religion, Space, and the Frontier Thesis

Spatial awareness characterized U.S. religious historiography from its inception. Clergyman Robert Baird’s Religion in America (1842), the first published history of American religion, significantly opened with a lengthy description of the North American continent that emphasized its vastness. Spatial abundance, he argued, allowed ample room to spread out for the “diffusive kind” of Christianity that European colonizers brought with them to North America. Competing groups could take root and grow with a minimum of conflict, allowing for the development of toleration and religious freedom, and the “voluntary principle” that had replaced Europe’s formal religious establishments had a wide field of play. But Baird’s work was an overtly providential interpretation of American religious history in which space functioned as an assumed though critical environmental factor rather than as an explicitly acknowledged explanatory concept. It was a container to be filled with congregations, a setting for “the extension of the kingdom of God,” and the scholar’s task was the largely quantitative, institutionally oriented one of counting the growing number of churches in that space.1

U.S. historians of the late 19th century, seeking scientific grounding for their field, and in light of Darwinism’s emphasis on the causal agency of environmental factors, began approaching the concept of space more directly. A key figure in this development was Frederick Jackson Turner, whose 1893 essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” attributed American democratic institutions to a “frontier” environment. Turner’s notion of a frontier, though vaguely defined, was premised on if not actually synonymous with an abundance of geographic space through which people were free to move (typically westward). This “frontier thesis” powerfully influenced scholarship on U.S. history for over a half century, and historians of American religion, looking to move beyond narrow institutional “church history” and denominational particularism, found it useful. The concept became for several decades the prevailing interpretive theme in the study of American religious life and was a key vehicle by which the “church history” of the 19th century became the methodologically more sophisticated “religious history” of the 20th and 21st.

At the forefront of this transition were the “Chicago school” of “environmentalist” historians, who examined religious groups not simply quantitatively, as denominational or institutional entities, but qualitatively, as historical movements shaped by their environments. University of Chicago professor Peter G. Mode’s The Frontier Spirit in American Christianity (1923) first applied Turner’s thesis to American religion. Mode argued that the American spatial environment had “frontierized” Christianity, particularly in the West, producing revivalism, an emphasis on personal experience over theology and formalism, a missionary thrust, sectarian proliferation, and alternating cooperation and competition among religious groups. But the historian most closely associated with the frontier thesis in American religion was Chicago’s William Warren Sweet, a Methodist clergyman whose The Story of Religion in America (1939)—the standard work on the subject for the next three decades—argued that churches’ “continuous contact with frontier conditions and needs” was the single most important influence on American religion. For Sweet, Darwinian competition among denominations prompted Protestant religious leaders to adapt belief and practice to the vast space of the frontier environment. Those groups that adapted most effectively—the Methodists, with their circuit system, and the Baptists, with their decentralized, lay-centered structure of authority—were most successful in achieving numeric dominance and pervasive geographic distribution.2

As U.S. historians began challenging the frontier thesis during the 1950s, Chicago’s Sidney Mead distilled from it a more specific conceptual focus on space. In “The American People: Their Space, Time, and Religion” (1954), he referred to “space” almost precisely as Sweet had referred to the “frontier”—a passive but crucial environmental presence. Mead argued that Americans had historically been “a people in movement through space” and that the replacement of Europe’s “traditional sense of confinement in space” by “the possibility of unconfined movement in space” was the necessary condition for American religious freedom. Freedom “has always had for Americans a primary dimension of space” because “space relative to people that mattered was practically unlimited.” Mead not only isolated but also developed the concept of space, proposing that geographic space had generated “social” space—a “theoretical average distance between individuals”—the immensity of which allowed the “possibility of escaping the physical proximity of [one’s] fellows.” Recognizing this social dimension led Mead to acknowledge that space in a competitive religious culture might sometimes be politically contested. Because religious freedom was “possible only in space so great that each could live . . . without having to impinge upon the life of others,” Americans “have seldom been notably tolerant when confined in limited space with those they disliked.”3

Another prominent University of Chicago religious historian, Martin E. Marty, turned Turner’s frontier thesis in a new direction and advanced Mead’s incorporation of spatial politics into the history of American Protestantism. As the anti–Vietnam War, civil rights, and identity politics movements of the 1960s and 1970s prompted U.S. historians to highlight unequal power relations in the nation’s domestic politics and imperial ambitions in its foreign policy, Marty interpreted Protestant America as a Righteous Empire (1970) and began his argument by observing that “Empires occupy space.” More specifically, Marty argued in the book’s opening chapter that Protestant leaders had supported whites’ occupation of the North American continent by offering religious rationales for federal policies that first removed Native Americans from the East and then spatially segregated them on reservations. His point was clear: religiously driven spatial claims and appropriations constituted a primary dimension of Euroamerican power.4

Meanwhile, spatial awareness stimulated interest in geography and early attempts at mapping among historians and other scholars eager to locate and visually depict fundamental spatial relationships—patterns of concentration, proximity, dispersal, and separation—in American religious life. Region in particular emerged as a key organizing concept. In 1961, geographer Wilbur Zelinsky identified several distinct American religious regions and subregions, each grounded heavily in census data and defined largely in terms of the institutional numerical dominance of a particular Christian denomination or group of denominations. Historian Edwin S. Gaustad followed up the next year with a full-scale Historical Atlas of Religion in America (1962), using similar data and proposing a similar regional schema.5 This approach, which scholars of the 1960s and 1970s attempted to flesh out through the elaboration of qualitative regional cultural features, has remained influential among scholars interested in the geographic and spatial dimensions of American religion.

The spatial emphasis proposed by Mead and furthered by Marty, Gaustad, and Zelinsky remained generally unheeded amid the broader challenge to the frontier thesis. In the meantime, that challenge carried important implications for later spatial approaches to American religion. Historians of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Whitney Cross, Timothy Smith, and Winthrop Hudson, concluded from their examinations of religion in urban and other institutionally developed settings that the frontier was not the primary driver of national religious development—that American religion took form in many different kinds of environments.6 Similarly, as the identity politics of the 1960s and after revealed the United States to be a multicultural and multireligious place driven by unequal power relations and social-cultural conflict, historians increasingly understood a “frontier” itself—and the United States more generally—not as an empty space entered and Christianized by white Euroamerican Protestants but rather as a religiously heterogeneous and contested space characterized by intercultural and interracial contact and exchange. Growing immigration, late-20th-century economic trends, and advances in communication technology, meanwhile, prompted new attention to transnational forces in U.S. history and undercut both older notions of American exceptionalism and the conventional narrative focus on east-to-west directional flow in national development. New atlases of American religion appearing at the end of the 20th century—particularly Edwin S. Gaustad and Philip L. Barlow’s New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (2000) and Bret Carroll’s The Routledge Historical Atlas of Religion in America (2000)—attempted to convey these new spatial understandings of American religion by considering not only the statistically and denominationally defined religious regions that dominated earlier atlases but also non-Christian religions, noninstitutional religious expressions, movements across space, and international linkages.7 In short, by the late 20th century, historians of religion increasingly conceptualized the American spatial context not as monolithic, unidirectional, or unique but instead in terms of kaleidoscopic manyness, multidirectional movement, perpetual dynamic tension, contests for power, and transnational and global interconnectedness.

Theory: Religion, Space, and the Sacred

While historians of American religion were considering space as a key environmental factor, philosophers and theorists of religion, similarly seeking scientific grounding, conceptualized space as a fundamental category of human experience. Like the historians, they assumed space as a given in the early part of the 20th century, then they isolated and explicitly acknowledged it as a discrete concept around midcentury. Determined to theorize what they considered the core of religion—human experience of “the sacred”—they turned to spatial analysis as they came to recognize religious practices of sacralization as themselves fundamentally spatial.

Spatial approaches to religion usually begin with the distinction between sacred and profane made by French philosopher and sociologist Émile Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912). He considered religion humanity’s most basic social institution and societies’ means of achieving and sustaining coherence. Societies, Durkheim argued, objectify and render tangible their collective power by creating representations of themselves and, through ritual, periodically reaffirm the sacredness of these representations and thus of the society itself. Religious rituals consistently and absolutely identify perceived loci of power—objects, foods, places, activities, or words—deem them “sacred” (from the Latin secare, “to set apart”), and set aside particular spaces or fanum (Latin for “temple”) for them. The things of ordinary existence are, by contrast, “profane” (from the Latin pro fanum, or “outside the temple”). Durkheim’s terms suggest the spatiality of religious practice: Because the sacred and the profane cannot coexist in the same place, he said, the distinction between them implies spatial separation. The practice of spatial demarcation, in his view, was of religious and therefore social origin.8

Romanian philosopher and historian of religion Mircea Eliade made explicit and developed the spatial implications of Durkheim’s theory in The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1959). Like Durkheim, he believed that people experience and practice religion in terms of spatial distinctions between sacred and profane. He identified as the basis of religious experience a hierophany—an “irruption” of a transcendent reality into the “profane” world of ordinary experience—that structured space by establishing an “axis mundi” or sacred center around which people orient themselves. Religious systems, Eliade said, generate a common organization of space: Around a group’s sacred center lies their known world, the site of their established order, beyond which lies an alien and chaotic realm. A hierophany “results in detaching a territory from the surrounding cosmic milieu and making it qualitatively different,” and “since religious man cannot live except in an atmosphere impregnated with the sacred, we must expect to find a large number of techniques for consecrating space.” A group ritually sacralizes particular spaces in order to reenact their defining hierophany and reaffirm their spatial orientation, usually designing their temples or other ritual sites to symbolize and imitate their cosmic center. Eliade’s notion of religion as a process of drawing spatial distinctions between sacred and profane made “sacred space” a central concept in religious studies.9

Eliade’s powerful influence through the second half of the 20th century drew geographers into discussions of religion and alerted religion scholars to the relevance of geography. But it has been challenged since the 1970s by approaches that emphasize human rather than suprahuman agency in understanding and interpreting religious experience and spatialization. A key figure in this shift was geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, who, dissatisfied with the quantitative research then dominating his field, considered the human experience of space in his seminal Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (1977). Interested in how human beings move through, organize, and interact with their environments, he distinguished space, an unorganized realm of motion and freedom, from specific places, “functional nodes in space” and “centers of felt value” that people distinguish from surrounding space by assigning meanings and forming emotional attachments to them. Humans first experience and organize space pragmatically in relation to their bodies, he said, then proceed to develop symbolic and conceptual constructions of space and place through social relations and, eventually, political and mythic experiences. Tuan’s human-centered approach to space marked a decisive shift away from Eliadean assumptions.10

Other challenges to Eliade followed. Religion scholar Jonathan Z. Smith was perhaps the most prominent. He understood Durkheim to suggest a spatial approach to religious practice, but his To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (1987) critiqued Eliade’s concept of hierophany as essentialist—theological rather scientific or academic—and simplistic in its focus on ritual’s socially integrative functions. Tapping anthropologist Victor Turner’s suggestion that religious ritual often demarcates socially and culturally liminal spaces, he contended that sacred places often develop on social and geographic peripheries rather than at symbolic centers and function politically to interrogate, disrupt, and escape the hegemonic power of the center. Smith interpreted ritual sacralization of places as human cultural work intended to control those places—to exert this-worldly power and stake spatial claims—in specific historical situations. The spatial distinctions Eliade had attributed to an absolute preexisting reality were for Smith human-driven processes of constructing reality. Studying religion in society, then, meant approaching space as contested rather than consensual; recognizing that space consisted of multiple, shifting, and even conflicting nodes of power, and understanding that religious activity was as likely to blur as to reinforce spatial distinctions between “sacred” and “profane.”11

By the late 1980s, Eliade’s “substantial” or essentialist approach to sacred space, and the assumed sacred-profane dichotomy at its core, had been largely eclipsed across the humanities and social sciences by a “situational” approach that looked to Durkheim and Smith for inspiration and considered sacred space an often-contested result of “profane” political, cultural, and social endeavors. French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre articulated the new approach most influentially in The Production of Space, published in English in 1991. Space for Lefebvre was not a neutral container or environment for human activity but a subjective construct “produced” by humans in the interest of contending social and cultural forces. Social and cultural groups define themselves and assert their existence by inscribing their vision of reality ritually on particular spaces, such as buildings or territories, as tangible expressions of their collective identities and sense of home. This appropriation of space often brings them into competition and conflict with other groups, making space a primary dimension of an ongoing lived political dynamic of production, appropriation, and redefinition. Scholars influenced by Lefebvre approach the study of religious space as an analysis of competing discourses, conflicting territorial claims, and contests over the meanings of place. Lefebvre’s theories were reinforced by geographer Edward W. Soja, who insisted that “there is no unspatialized social reality” and “there are no aspatial social processes,” and by philosopher and social scientist Michel de Certeau, who defined space as “practiced place” in his influential The Practice of Everyday Life (1984).12

By the early 1990s, the impact of Tuan, Smith, and Lefebvre had helped to spark a “spatial turn” as scholars in religion and related disciplines reached across disciplinary lines and used spatial analysis to pose new questions, to develop and apply new theoretical frameworks, and to offer new insights into the nature of religious practice. Much of that work used ethnography and related methodologies to examine the seemingly “ordinary” human activities and experiences, the “lived religion”—sights, sounds, scents, tastes, bodily gestures, and other performative acts—by which people sacralize space and order their worlds.13

The spatial turn generated new theories of religion. Regarding Eliadean essentialism as inimical to Durkheim’s scientific program and seeking to understand the generation of religion in everyday human activities and social life, Veikko Anttonen used anthropological methods—particularly ethnographic data and linguistic analysis—to ground religion in culturally conditioned human spatial cognition. Citing Tuan’s point that humans orient themselves by posing elementary distinctions between up and down, left and right, front and back, and so on, Anttonen argued that people have a “general mental capacity” to “make distinctions between spaces, mark them for specific use, create visible and invisible boundaries, and establish cultural conventions of behavior to deal with those boundaries.” His reading of Durkheim’s work, ethnographic accounts, religious texts, and etymologies of the term “sacred” convinced him that the sacred is a “category boundary” humans apply to boundary zones of space, territory, and the body, “generated . . . in situations when the focus of a community or a person shifts from the inside to the outside,” and used to make normative distinctions—such as that between inside and outside—in the course of everyday life.14

Thomas Tweed proposed a broader theory in Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion (2006). Though wary of the implication of stasis in spatial metaphors, Tweed consciously “appropriat[ed] the recent ‘spatial turn’ in cultural theory.” Having earlier argued in Our Lady of the Exile (1997) for a “diasporic religion” through which Cuban Catholic political exiles in Miami imaginatively appropriated Cuban space, Tweed now defined religion as a complex, dynamic, and fundamentally locative process “about finding a place and moving across space,” whose key themes are “movement, relation, and position” and whose purpose is “to make homes and cross boundaries.” Religion for Tweed involves both “dwelling” or “homemaking”—a neurophysiological and cognitive process that orients individuals and groups in four scales or “chronotopes” of body, home, homeland, and cosmos—and a series of corporeal, territorial, and cosmic boundary “crossings.” Tweed’s theory addresses space itself only indirectly but, couched in scientific metaphors and focused on the “kinetics” of religion, points to space as a dynamic field of action and tension. Homemaking “exerts power as it makes meaning” and religions “reinforce socially constructed spatial codes.” Tweed uses a wide range of examples, but cases from the U.S. setting—particularly Cuban Miami—figure prominently.15

The new importance of space in religious studies is especially evident in Roger Stump’s The Geography of Religion: Faith, Place, and Space (2008), which poses as its fundamental premise the “inherent spatiality” and cultural contextuality of religious systems. “Religious groups do not simply exist in space,” according to Stump; rather, seeking “spatial realization of their beliefs,” they imagine, construct, and use it as “the medium within which . . . meanings become specific and concrete.” Sacred space means to Stump “not . . . the expression of some universal archetype” but “a religious component of the spatial imagination of believers that takes different forms in different contexts.” His typology of sacred space includes both Eliadean categories, such as “hierophanic” space, and situational ones such as “authoritative” space, which considers space as a function of power. Spatial contests, Stump argues, result from “religious territoriality”—a “cultural strategy through which individuals and groups seek to exert control over the meanings and uses of particular portions of geographical space.” He distinguishes between “sacred” and “secular” space, but as analytic tools rather than an expression of substantial Eliadean categories.16

The Spatial Turn: New Perspectives on American Religion

American religious studies incorporated the spatial turn amid three converging developments that made its arrival propitious. First, expressions of religious territoriality since the late 20th century have become more overt and have increased in frequency and intensity, as have conflict and controversy over the uses and meanings of space. This is because social change in modern and postmodern settings has challenged traditional practices once taken for granted, religion has become more privatized, and many political states have adopted secular or pluralistic identities. Second, scholarly interest in religion has surged since the 1990s as a new emphasis on cultural studies eclipsed an older one, dominant since the 1970s, in which religion had appeared to be merely a byproduct of presumably more-fundamental social and economic forces. Third, the situational approach to space that energized the spatial turn meshed well with revisionist interest in transnational and global contexts, the practice of everyday life, and the politics and power dynamics of race, gender, class, and ethnicity. Sharpened awareness of the spatiality of human activity and the use of spatial analysis has offered American religion scholars new and fruitful approaches to religious movements and practices. Their work is reinvigorating many well-established research areas and advancing many newer ones.

David Chidester and Edward T. Linenthal heralded the spatial turn in American religious studies in American Sacred Space (1995). Scholarly inattention to space and place in American religion and a felt need for revisionist updating motivated this edited anthology’s determination to move beyond Eliadean “analytical naivete” and to challenge “the Eliadean notion that the sacred is necessarily the opposite of the profane or absolutely separate from the profane.” The editors insist that “sacred space is inevitably contested space, a site of negotiated contests over the legitimate ownership of sacred symbols.” The essays examine symbolic and material conflicts over property, land use, the environment, and patriotism, suggesting that sacred space is made, claimed, appropriated, owned, and operated by people advancing “profane” entrepreneurial, social, and political interests. The contributors see in acts of sacralization and defilement symbolic attempts to reify or challenge existing class, racial, and ethnic power relations. They locate their spatial analyses in such specifically American historical contexts as frontiers (as tension-filled zones of intercultural contact), the U.S. Constitution and legal system, a managerial approach to preservation and control of natural and historic sites, a culture of commodification, and efforts to create and enforce a national patriotic orthodoxy. Their message is that American space is best understood not as an objective setting for Protestant expansion but as “an arena of multiple centers, changing environments, shifting geographical relations, and ambivalent symbolic orientations, all contested and at stake.”17

Louis Nelson responded in 2006 with American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces, an anthology that stakes out a middle ground between the substantialist and situationalist positions. Like Chidester and Linenthal, he sought to expand spatial studies beyond built environments and institutionally sanctioned practice, including essays on New England churches, Hindu temples, African American yard displays, Jewish homes, urban parks, and national memorials. Nelson agreed that Eliadean essentialism could produce “monolithic and immutable interpretations” that slighted human agency and historical, cultural, and social contexts, but he also thought that cultural historians were too inclined to explain space making in terms of “some larger sociopolitical enterprise” while eliding “questions of transcendence, awe, or spiritual power.” He begins with three theses: that belief and practice inscribe places as sacred, that sacred places are linked to sociopolitical identities, and that the meanings of sacred spaces are unstable. People make and remake space, and its meanings change both over time and due to differences of perspective, sociopolitical identity, or belief; however, the sacred “emerges from within the common or everyday landscape,” and while divine indwelling is not essential to sacrality, such places as Hindu temples are “certainly sacred as a result of the substantial presence of the divine.” Together, American Sacred Space and American Sanctuary have established Eliadean and post-Eliadean approaches in American religious studies.18

The diverse topics addressed in these volumes suggest the wide applicability and enormous potential of spatial analysis in research on American religion. One obvious beneficiary is the study of church architecture. Jeanne Halgren Kilde’s early-21st-century analysis of evangelical church architecture in 19th-century America, for example, hones in on its politics of space, interpreting its increasingly theater-like sanctuaries as “places in which social power and authority are asserted, tested, and negotiated.” She sees in their spatial arrangements—radial seating, lowered pulpits, and Gothic and Romanesque forms—mechanisms for democratic lay participation, the performative authority of ministers, and the power of a rising middle class. Kilde later extended this analysis to early-21st-century suburban Protestant megachurches, whose large auditoriums, suburban and exurban locations, ordinary exterior appearance, spacious lobbies and concourses, and incorporation of nurseries and food courts signify the assertive presence of evangelical Protestantism, the social and economic power of middle-class evangelicals, and an attempt to incorporate religion into everyday life. Meanwhile, the reintroduction since the late 20th century of traditional architectural and iconographic features into minimalist “modern” Catholic churches now appears to scholars to reflect disagreement between supporters of Vatican II’s communalizing and egalitarian thrust and white ethnic traditionalists coming to grips with perceived Protestantization, the decline of old national parishes, and a “postethnic” American Catholicism. Joanne Punzo Waghorne reads the organization of space at Sri Siva Vishnu temple, near Washington, DC, as an attempt to proclaim a distinctively American Hindu identity: unified and multiethnic in its inclusion of separate shrines for each of several ethnically associated deities; traditional in its orthodox exterior facade and upstairs worship and meditation spaces; and democratic and communal in its informal basement-level community hall. Other work in this vein explores Jewish synagogues, Christian Science churches, liberal Protestant churches, and Muslim mosques.19

The spatial turn has called attention to other kinds of built environments as well, enlarging the range of recognized American religious spaces. The home has attracted considerable attention. Colleen McDannell sees in the churchlike Gothic revival architecture, domestic rituals, and interior artifacts of mid-19th-century northeastern U.S. homes a Christian ideology through which Protestants and Irish Catholics expressed middle-class spiritual identities and women established a locus of religious authority rivalling that of male-dominated churches. She observes this ideology as well among modern homeschooling conservative Protestants, who are erecting boundaries against secular humanism and are fashioning an alternative Christian culture outside of churches while seamlessly blending sacred and profane in their everyday lives. Other work examines Philadelphia’s African American row houses as Muslim spaces distinguished by identifying signage, decor, and ritual practices. Arranged to allow for daily prayer, oriented toward Mecca, and located close to a masjid, these domestic spaces constitute clearly bounded zones of cultural control and serve to separate—even insulate—their inhabitants from perceived racism and religious intolerance. Similar research identifies the mezuzahs affixed to Jewish doorposts as a boundary marker between American Jewish homes—the site of most key Jewish ritual practices—and the non-Jewish world.20

Interest in religious space has also brought to scholars’ attention such large institutions and public places as hospitals, prisons, and even shopping malls. The questions raised about public hospitals and prisons have largely involved the ways in which such institutions design or adapt their chapel spaces—their use or removal of specific religious symbols and iconography, their location, and whether they are labeled “chapels”—to serve people from multiple traditions. The ambivalence and tensions accompanying this transition to interfaith or multifaith worship spaces appear as well in public airports, universities, prisons, and military installations. Studies of hospitals operated by specific religious groups address other kinds of questions. Catholic hospitals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—their names, employment of nuns as nurses, appeals for miraculous healings, and incorporation of prayer, relics, shrines, and chapels or basilicas—now appear as preserves of Catholic practice amid the challenges of Protestant hegemony and modern medical science. Even shopping malls, according to Ira Zepp, are not simply spaces of economic exchange but also centers of community orientation and ritual regeneration similar in organization to the ceremonial centers of ancient civilizations.21

Another area of inquiry invigorated by spatial analysis is the dynamics of American religious pluralism. Bret Carroll has interpreted religious pluralism in the United States as fundamentally a system of spatial interaction driven by social and cultural power struggles. Contests over the definition, control, and ownership of space, often heard and resolved in zoning boards, city councils, and courts, have been the very stuff of American pluralist interaction. Especially amid the expanding religious and ethnic diversity of the late 20th century, the increasing public visibility of identity politics, and the “active” style of pluralism that resulted, American religious groups have interacted spatially, sometimes cooperatively and sometimes controversially. Carroll proposes a model in which pluralism operates differently at different spatial scales—local, regional, and national—and he considers such examples as court-mediated disputes among Orthodox Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, and non-Jews over eruv construction in Tenafly, New Jersey; Unitarians’ legal attempts to establish and maintain visibility in Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City; tensions in Mission Viejo, California, eventually resolved in the town council, among multiple groups seeking representation in the annual holiday display at the town gateway; a Jewish congregation in densely developed New London, Connecticut, that allowed a newly opened Islamic center, seeking space of its own, to use its building temporarily; a symbolic expression of friendship in Fremont, California, in which a Methodist church and an Islamic Society held a joint groundbreaking as they prepared to erect buildings side by side; and tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as among Muslims themselves, over the proposed construction of a large Muslim community center near the site of the September 11 attacks.22

Other work has similarly, and fruitfully, applied spatial analysis to church-state controversies. Disestablishment almost immediately generated spatial issues—in late-18th-century New England, for example, where churches seeking to project their presence in a religiously neutral nation abandoned the dual-use town halls of the colonial era in favor of separate buildings with naves and spires. Late-20th- and early-21st-century controversies, usually involving the definition and disposition of such public spaces as city parks, town squares, and state buildings, have attracted much more attention. One often-examined set of controversies centers on efforts by conservative Protestants, anxious about a secularizing and multireligious America, to mark public spaces with crosses, creches, and other Christian symbols—such as Judge Roy Moore’s planting of an imposing granite monument of the Ten Commandments at the Alabama state courthouse, an action imitated and contested in several other southern states. Another focus of spatial inquiry is Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where historical Mormon dominance has been symbolically challenged by minority religious groups. A controversy there involved the city’s Main Street Plaza, a public area between church headquarters and Temple Square, where a Unitarian-led effort in the 1990s to assert free speech rights ended in 2003 when the city ceded the site to the church, which thereby consolidated control of its worldwide symbolic center.23

Spatial study is also illuminating the nature—and interrogating the viability—of attempts by the federal government, operating through organizations such as the National Park Service and supported by private patriotic organizations, to set apart and take control of specific places in the name of a nationalistic “civil religion” that celebrates U.S. history, political ideals, and natural landscapes. Research since the late 20th century interprets such landmarks as Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the National Mall in Washington, and Ground Zero in Manhattan not only as centers of patriotic sacrality but as politically charged spaces whose meanings have been multiple and contested as different constituencies seek visibility and resist perceived desecration. For instance, Jeffrey Meyer uses Eliadean concepts of myth, ritual, and sacred center in examining Washington, DC, but also argues that ritual events at the Lincoln Memorial—Marion Anderson’s 1939 concert, Martin Luther King’s 1957 prayer rally, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Million Man March of 1995—transformed it from designer Henry Bacon’s temple-like expression of national unity and strength to a symbolic locus of political activism and an icon of human rights and social justice. Work on Mount Rushmore, meanwhile, demonstrates that, while it was for sculptor Gutzon Borglum and remains for the Mount Rushmore National Monument Society a shrine to patriotism—a meaning annually reasserted through July 4 rituals there—it was resisted at the time of its creation by local defenders of the natural landscape and represents to many Sioux, who occupied and ritually reclaimed it briefly in 1970, a defilement of the Sacred Paha Supa (Black Hills). New York City’s Ground Zero and the surrounding space are being examined not only or simply as a focal point for spiritually infused nationalism, but also as the subject of emotionally charged claims and counterclaims by Muslims seeking to build a community center to project an image of moderation, by Christians sensitive to an Islamic building there, and by atheists opposed to any religious marker at the site. Such historic “battlefields become shrines” as Lexington and Concord, the Alamo, Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, and the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor likewise appear to Edward T. Linenthal and other scholars both as centers of power, awe, and reverence in the American civil religion and as intensely contested sites charged with multiple contending spiritual, political, and commercial meanings and mediated by the National Park Service.24

These last-named examples point up the particular power of violent and tragic events, and historical memories of those events, to elicit sacralizing and space-making activities and rituals. Scholars are just beginning to discover the rich possibilities for religious studies and spatial analysis in commemorative acts in a variety of settings, ranging from the construction of public national or international monuments to the erection of more privately significant roadside shrines. Cultural historian Maria Tumarkin calls such places “traumascapes”—“a distinct category of place, transformed physically and psychically by suffering.” Scholars have reached no consensus regarding the relationship between religion and the acts of memorialization by which people set such places apart; some, such as religion scholars Oren Baruch Stier and J. Shawn Landres, argue for inherent ties between them, while others see the relationship as more fluid and contested. But they agree that space-making acts are often retrospective; that human beings commonly identify memories of trauma, as they do spiritual power, with particular spaces and places; that people repeatedly if not habitually invoke religious belief and engage in religious ritual to inscribe their memories of violence onto space; and that memories of violence, processes of sacralization, and formations and transformations of landscapes are often thoroughly interwoven and are articulated on different scales. Theoretically, some have defined memorialization in Eliadean terms—anthropologist Katharina Schramm, for example, commented that monuments “follow a spatial choreography that aims at the creation of a sacred center”—while others, such as geographer Kenneth E. Foote, identify it as a politically embedded “social production.” Still others appear to be staking out a middle ground: Stier and Landres have observed cases in which politically and ideologically driven “disputes arise over memories of violence at sacred places” and other cases in which “the memory of violence itself is what makes the place sacred.” Foote in particular has sought to further expand the theoretical underpinnings for this area of inquiry by proposing a categorized scale of memorial acts ranging from religious and quasi-religious “sacralization” (exemplified by the Gettysburg National Military Cemetery) through near- or pre-sacralizing “designation” (for example, the Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King’s assassination) to attempted “obliteration” of sites of particularly traumatic memories not easily reconcilable with religious perspectives. He also proposed a threefold typology of spatial sacralization: the public veneration of heroes and martyrs (the John F. Kennedy memorial in Dallas), community commemoration of victims of disaster (the Cherry Mine Disaster Memorial in Illinois), and the consecration of causes as being virtuous or just (the Bunker Hill memorial).25

The population density, demographic diversity, and concentration of built environments characteristic of American cities have made urban religion another promising ground for spatial investigation. Eliade considered cities profane spaces ravaged by “modern” secularization and spiritual alienation, but more-recent work approaches cities as protean and crucible-like social and material environments in which people laboring to establish identities and assert visibility engage in intensified processes of space claiming and place making. Robert Orsi’s edited anthology Gods of the City (1999) suggests the potential richness of urban religious spatial studies through essays on such topics as Italian Catholics, Haitian Vodou, and the Salvation Army in New York; Japanese Presbyterians in Seattle; and Hinduism in Washington, DC. Orsi and others now see in urban religious activities resourceful, innovative, and experimental efforts by different class, racial, and ethnic groups to affirm spatial presence and power. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, for example, white middle-class Protestants, serving industrial capitalism and fearful of working-class and immigrant populations, practiced a “distinct spatial politics” of religious reform to control and order city spaces. As architects and urban planners pursued order through geometric grids, dizzying skyscrapers, parks, and monumental buildings, religious reformers attempting “purification, discipline, and surveillance” created settlement houses, YMCAs, and service-oriented churches to remake urban space in accordance with the presumed moral influences of small-town environments. After World War II, city planners further reordered and reoriented urban space through inner-city highways and public housing projects, breaking up older ethnic neighborhoods and creating potentially alienating spaces. But examination of city people’s own religious practices is revealing their own spatial politics by which they re-place themselves in their cities, resist planners’ impositions and reorientations, and create their own forms of meaning and community. They sacralize such presumably profane and spiritually dead spaces as apartments, storefronts, rooftops, and street corners, sometimes forging spiritual connections within and among cities in complex “urban religious cartographies.” Studies of religion in postmodern urban settings—sprawling metropolitan corridors and “world cities” populated by new waves of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa—suggest that the diffusion and globalization of cities have extended rather than dissolved such urban religious networks. Spatial analysis of modern and postmodern American cities has shown scholars a spatially driven dynamism that generated Pentecostalism, Christian Science, the Salvation Army, and the Nation of Islam; encouraged and shaped American Catholicism; inspired ethnic street shrines and festivals; enhanced the vitality and relevance of revivalism and African American churches; prompted new forms of Judaism; and nurtured such international religious movements as Santería, Vodou, and Hasidism.26

Religion in the context of increasing transnational migration and immigration is a final area in which the spatial lens enhances our view. Global movements of people have to some extent disembedded traditional systems and rituals from specific place-centered meanings, but Manuel A. Vásquez and Marie F. Marquardt argue in Globalizing the Sacred (2003) that global migrations create new “globalizing, regionalizing, and localizing dynamics” that “generate new identities and territories.” Scholars in American religion now explore how displaced and dispersed peoples use “diasporic religion” to create such identities and spatial orientations in the United States. Their studies suggest recurrent spatial strategies: replicating a traditional sacred place in the new locale, co-opting a host community’s sacred sites, seeking traditional forms of sacred power in new places to generate new spiritual centers, establishing “movable” rituals, and preserving or re-creating spiritual links with native places. Early-21st-century studies typically interpret these strategies as assertions of cultural and social presence, often a matter of urgency for peoples experiencing displacement from perceived ethnic and spiritual centers, the dynamics of American pluralism, integrationist pressures, xenophobic hostility, and, in many cases, competition for urban space. Many of them see in religious practice attempts by displaced groups to erect boundaries to separate what they deem sacred from the perceived dangers and impurities of alien cultures. Studies of devotees of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the traditional garden at Sacramento’s Japanese United Methodist Church, and Korean Christians in Flushing, New York, argue that “peripheral” ethnic groups produce countercultural ritual centers to resist the dominant culture. Other scholars observe immigrants imaginatively collapsing spatial distance from native places. Cuban Catholic exiles in Miami, for instance, preserve their spiritual and emotional ties to Cuba in a shrine incorporating Cuban soil and a smuggled statuette of the Virgin Mary. Still other studies explore how American religious spaces supplement or supplant traditional ethnic and national boundaries with new transnational and global ones. Examples from the early 21st century include the Second Tepeyac of North America, a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe in suburban Chicago (which joins immigrants from several Latin American countries and other parts of the world under a single religious vision), and a Muslim World Day parade in New York in 1991 that juxtaposed a scale-model float of a planned new mosque in Queens with floats of traditional mosques in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Some early-21st-century scholars examine religious groups that use transportation and communication technologies to forge new “heterolocal” religious spaces connecting ethnic groups scattered across several cities or over large international domains. In many cases, such studies show, immigrant religious spaces serve “profane” as well as spiritual functions by helping immigrants address the quotidian challenges of finding employment, attaining citizenship, learning English, and combating discrimination. All these studies suggest that religious space is often, perhaps inherently, ethnoreligious space.27

The growing sophistication of spatial theory, the expansion since the late 20th century of cultural and humanistic geography, and the increasing proliferation of qualitative and cultural studies of the spatiality of religion have intensified among religion scholars an interest in maps—three atlases of American religion appeared in 2000–2001—while also piquing their awareness of the limitations of such visual representations. Edwin Gaustad and Philip Barlow began their New Historical Atlas of American Religion with the twin injunctions that “anyone hoping to comprehend religion in its historical context ignores geography at severe peril” and, sensitive to the challenges of representing religion statistically and two-dimensionally, that “all maps distort.”28 These developments have coincided with the advent and advancement of computer-based technologies and spatially oriented software, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to prompt a flurry of discussion and exploration of new approaches to mapping American religion. Much of this activity focuses on what scholars call “deep mapping”—multimedia representations of places through time that attempt not merely to depict their tangible and material topographical features but also to incorporate their ideological, discursive, social, and cultural dimensions, including their histories, peoples, politics, and folklores. Deep maps of American religion seek ultimately to use computing power to move beyond the traditional “thin” two-dimensional and static mapping of such quantitative data as demographic patterns and institutional distributions, beyond the empiricist and positivist epistemologies on which mapping has conventionally been based, and beyond the treatment of humans as data points to construct “spatial narratives” and to convey cartographically the spatial dynamics and expressions of religion’s experiential, emotional, behavioral, and other noninstitutional and qualitative aspects. Two early-21st-century essay collections edited by David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris—The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship (2010) and Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives (2015)—sketch out these new directions, while forays into digital and deep mapping of American religion include several of the atlases produced by the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, a digital humanities scholarly consortium established at the University of California at Berkeley in 1997, and the Digital Atlas of American Religion, a GIS website for study of religion in America launched in 2013 by the Polis Center at Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis.29

New Conceptual Directions: Theorizing Postmodern Space

Transnational movements of peoples, economic and cultural globalization, and the impact of electronic communication technologies make it increasingly problematic to identify particular peoples, cultures, and religious traditions with particular spaces and places, thus blurring spatial dichotomies often taken for granted—“here” and “there,” center and periphery, inside and outside. Scholars in several disciplines are developing new theories of space to address these new human experiences.

They typically begin with the observation that “modern” spatial experience is giving way to “postmodern” experience. Scholars of modernity associate particular religions, cultures, and peoples with particular geographical places and emphasize separations, divisions, distinctions, and “broken space” in their analyses. Émile Durkheim understood religion in terms of things set apart as sacred, Mircea Eliade assumed that religion generates spatial partitions between order and chaos or center and periphery, and Jonathan Z. Smith regarded the sacred as a category of emplacement. But philosopher and political theorist Fredric Jameson suggested that “late capitalism” is generating “postmodern hyperspace”: global, transnational, decentered, and densely interconnected economic, social, and cultural transportation and communication networks that annihilate standard spatial categories and boundaries. Studies since the late 20th century of migrants, displaced peoples, and diasporic populations, who are experiencing this phenomenon most completely, have sharpened scholars’ awareness that existing spatial theory does not adequately account for these emerging realities.30

They are therefore theorizing that space is being “reterritorialized” and reconceptualized—that identities are being either deterritorialized or differently territorialized—in ways that do not conform to “modern” experiences and assumptions. At the heart of this theoretical ferment is an emphasis on continuity and interconnection. Anthropologists Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson have urged scholars to abandon naturalized notions of spatialized cultures and to explore instead “the production of difference in a world of culturally, socially, and economically interconnected and interdependent spaces.” Anthropologists Ulf Hannerz and Arjun Appadurai likewise advocate an analytic shift from culture as spatially emplaced to a multifaceted trans- and supranational space generated by economic globalization and cybertechnology and constituted by borderless subspaces.31

Work on American religion is beginning to incorporate this postmodern turn by examining not emplaced difference but rather globalizing processes that shape belief, identity, and the production of religious difference in the context of interrelated spaces. Early-21st-century scholarship proposes a focus on “affect” or visceral religious emotion as a key to this respatialization effort. Affect theory in religious studies looks to Durkheim’s notion of “collective effervescence,” according to which emotion in religious ritual drives the identification of certain spaces as sacred and binds societies together. It suggests that politically charged differences between sacred and profane, purity and danger, us and them, inside and outside, or here and there are felt into existence, creating a range of spaces and spatial distinctions. Because diaspora, migration, and displacement tap deep emotional wellsprings, generate interstitial zones of deterritorialization and ambivalent identity, and accelerate and foreground processes of space making and place making, they provide useful research material for this approach.32

Belden Lane, meanwhile, responded to postmodernity by arguing for the continuing relevance of place, in a revised edition of his Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (2002). According to Lane, Eliade’s “ontological” theory and the “cultural” approach of David Chidester and Edward Linenthal are equally and oppositely inadequate: emphasizing the inherent hierophanic power of particular places goes too far in separating the sacred from profane cultural influences and removes the study of sacred space from the realm of social-science methodology, while overemphasizing human agency and culture discounts the participation of place itself in human experience. Lane draws on phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and on such ecological psychologists and philosophers as Edward Casey, James Gibson, and Tim Ingold to articulate a “phenomenological” position emphasizing “intersubjectivity” between the human and nonhuman (or “more-than-human”) worlds. According to this view, the integrity of a place—its sights, sounds, topography, and other material characteristics—must be considered in addition to the power of the divine and the influence of culture in interpreting the way in which a site is perceived and experienced as sacred. Conceptualizing perception as a purely cognitive process, Lane argues, reduces the world and its places to mental fabrications; perpetuates rigid dualisms of subject and object, mind and matter, or culture and nature; and slights human participation in “evocative” landscapes. As “place” becomes elusive and amorphous in a hyperspatial world, he asserts that a sacred site “speaks . . . with its own voice.” Lane applied this approach to the Vietnam War Memorial, interested less in its politically contested character than in its emotionally and spiritually suggestive qualities. This emphasis on the redolent power of particular places has proven especially appealing to scholars examining sites of violence and tragedy; Maria Tumarkin, for example, described traumascapes as “places that compel memories, crystallise identities and meanings, and exude power and enchantment.”33

Scholars exploring these new frontiers of spatial inquiry may prove important guides to religious experience as we move into an uncertain future.

Further Reading

Anttonen, Veikko. “Space, Body, and the Notion of Boundary: A Category-Theoretical Approach to Religion.” Temenos: Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 41.2 (2005): 185–201.authorFind this resource:

Bodenhamer, David J., John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, eds. Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives. Spatial Humanities. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Carroll, Bret E. “Worlds in Space: American Religious Pluralism in Geographic Perspective.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 80.2 (June 2012): 304–364.Find this resource:

Chidester, David, and Edward T. Linenthal, eds. American Sacred Space. Religion in North America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Corrigan, John. “Spatiality and Religion.” In The Spatial Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Edited by Barney Warf and Santa Arias, 157–172. Routledge Studies in Human Geography 26. New York: Routledge, 2009.Find this resource:

Corrigan, John. “Space, Modernity, and Emptiness: Some American Examples.” Church History 83.1 (March 2014): 163–174.Find this resource:

Corrigan, John. Emptiness: Feeling Christian in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Corrigan, John, ed. Religion and Space in the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Translated by Willard R. Trask. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1959.Find this resource:

Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson. “Beyond ‘Culture’: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference.” Cultural Anthropology 7.1 (February 1992): 6–23.Find this resource:

Jones, Lindsay. The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison. 2 vols. Religions of the World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 2000.Find this resource:

Kilde, Jeanne Halgren. When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Kilde, Jeanne Halgren. “Approaching Religious Space: An Overview of Theories, Methods, and Challenges in Religious Studies.” Religion & Theology: A Journal of Contemporary Religious Discourse 20.3–4 (2014): 183–201.Find this resource:

Knott, Kim. The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis. Sheffield, U.K.: Equinox, 2005.Find this resource:

Lane, Belden C. Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991.Find this resource:

Mead, Sidney E. “The American People: Their Space, Time, and Religion.” Journal of Religion 34.4 (1954): 244–255.Find this resource:

Metcalf, Barbara Daly, ed. Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe. Comparative Studies on Muslim Societies 22. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Nelson, Louis P., ed. American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

O’Neill, Kevin Lewis. “Beyond Broken: Affective Spaces and the Study of American Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81.4 (December 2013): 1093–1116.Find this resource:

Smith, Jonathan Z. To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Soja, Edward W. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. New York: Verso, 1989.Find this resource:

Stump, Roger W. The Geography of Religion: Faith, Place, and Space. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.Find this resource:

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.Find this resource:

Tweed, Thomas A. Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.Find this resource:


(1.) Robert Baird, Religion in America; or, an Account of the Origin, Progress, Relation to the State, and Present Condition of the Evangelical Churches in the United States (New York: Harper, 1844), 99, 182.

(2.) Peter G. Mode, The Frontier Spirit in American Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1923); William Warren Sweet, The Story of Religion in America, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 1939), 3; John B. Boles, “Turner, the Frontier, and the Study of Religion in America,” Journal of the Early Republic 13, no. 2 (Summer 1993), 205–216; and James L. Ash Jr., “American Religion and the Academy in the Early Twentieth Century: The Chicago Years of William Warren Sweet,” Church History 50, no. 4 (December 1981), 450–464.

(3.) Sidney E. Mead, “The American People: Their Space, Time, and Religion.” Journal of Religion 34, no. 4 (October 1954), 247, 248, 251.

(4.) Martin E. Marty, Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America (New York: Dial, 1970), 5.

(5.) Wilbur Zelinsky, “An Approach to the Religious Geography of the United States: Patterns of Church Membership in 1952,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 51, no. 2 (1961), 139–193; and Edwin Scott Gaustad, Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).

(6.) Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800–1850 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1950); Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War (New York: Abingdon, 1957); and Winthrop S. Hudson, American Protestantism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).

(7.) Edwin S. Gaustad and Philip L. Barlow, New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); and Bret E. Carroll, The Routledge Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Routledge, 2000). See also William M. Newman and Peter L. Halvorson, Atlas of American Religion: The Denominational Era, 1776–1990 (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 2000).

(8.) Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Joseph Ward Swain, trans. (New York: Macmillan, 1915).

(9.) Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, Willard R. Trask, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1961).

(10.) Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977).

(11.) Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). See also Smith, Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1978).

(12.) Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991) [originally published in 1974 as La production de l’espace]; Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), 46; and Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Steven Rendall, trans. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 117. John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow made an argument similar to Lefebvre’s, with specific reference to religious practice, in their edited volume Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage (London: Routledge, 1991). See also Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (New York: Verso, 1989).

(13.) On “lived religion” in the American context, see David D. Hall, ed., Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

(14.) Veikko Anttonen, “Space, Body, and the Notion of Boundary: A Category-Theoretical Approach to Religion,” Temenos: Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 41, no. 2 (2005), 185, 190, 198; and Anttonen, “Rethinking the Sacred: The Notions of ‘Human Body’ and ‘Territory’ in Conceptualizing Religion,” in Thomas A. Idinopulos and Edward A. Yonan, eds., The Sacred and Its Scholars: Comparative Methodologies for the Study of Primary Religious Data (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1996), 43. See also Anttonen, “Sacred Sites as Markers of Difference: Exploring Cognitive Foundations of Territoriality,” in Lotte Tarkka, ed., Dynamics of Tradition: Perspectives on Oral Poetry and Folk Belief (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2003), 291–305.

(15.) Thomas A. Tweed, Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 5, 9, 54, 59, 74, 112–113; and Tweed, Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

(16.) Roger W. Stump, The Geography of Religion: Faith, Place, and Space (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 6, 23, 26, 222; and Stump, Boundaries of Faith: Geographical Perspectives on Religious Fundamentalism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), 3, 207.

(17.) David Chidester and Edward T. Linenthal, eds., American Sacred Space (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 15, 17, 31.

(18.) Louis P. Nelson, ed., American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 2–3, 5–6, 6–7, 9.

(19.) Jeanne Halgren Kilde, When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Kilde, “Reading Megachurches: Investigating the Religious and Cultural Work of Church Architecture,” in Nelson, ed., American Sanctuary, 225–249; Paula M. Kane, “Getting Beyond Gothic: Challenges for Contemporary Catholic Church Architecture,” in Nelson, ed., American Sanctuary, 128–154; and Joanne Punzo Waghorne, “Spaces for a New Public Presence: The Sri Siva Vishnu and Murugan Temples in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” in Nelson, ed., American Sanctuary, 103–127. See also Thomas A. Tweed, America’s Church: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation’s Capital (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Paul Eli Ivey, Prayers in Stone: Christian Science Architecture in the United States, 1894–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); Joseph Siry, Unity Temple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Architecture for Liberal Religion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Gulzar Haider, “Muslim Space and the Practice of Architecture: A Personal Odyssey,” in Barbara Daly Metcalf, ed., Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 31–45; and David Kaufman, Shul with a Pool: The “Synagogue–Center” in American Jewish History (Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1999).

(20.) Colleen McDannell, The Christian Home in Victorian America, 1840–1900 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); McDannell, “Creating the Christian Home: Home Schooling in Contemporary America,” in Chidester and Linenthal, eds., American Sacred Space, 187–219; McDannell, “Parlor Piety: The Home as Sacred Space in Protestant America,” in Jessica H. Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth, eds., American Home Life, 1880–1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 162–189; Ann Taves, The Household of Faith: Roman Catholic Devotions in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986); Aminah Beverly McCloud, “‘This Is a Muslim Home’: Signs of Difference in the African-American Row House,” in Metcalf, ed., Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe, 65–73; and Erika Meitner, “The Mezuzah: American Judaism and Constructions of Domestic Sacred Space,” in Nelson, ed., American Sanctuary, 182–202.

(21.) Barbra Mann Wall, “Science and Ritual: The Hospital as Medical and Sacred Space, 1865–1920,” Nursing History Review 11 (2003), 51–68; Robert A. Orsi, Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 167; and Ira G. Zepp Jr., The New Religious Image of Urban America: The Shopping Mall as Ceremonial Center, 2d ed. (Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1997). On hospitals, see Wendy Cadge, Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); and Cadge, “Negotiating Religious Differences in Secular Organizations: The Case of Hospital Chapels,” in Courtney Bender, Wendy Cadge, Peggy Levitt, and David Smilde, eds., Religion on the Edge: De-centering and Re-centering the Sociology of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 200–214.

(22.) Bret E. Carroll, “Worlds in Space: American Religious Pluralism in Geographic Perspective,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 80, no. 2 (June 2012), 304–364; Diana L. Eck, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 326; Richard D. Hecht, “Active versus Passive Pluralism: A Changing Style of Civil Religion?,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 612, no. 1 (2007), 133–151; Susan Slyomovics, “New York City’s Muslim World Day Parade,” in Peter van der Veer, ed., Nation and Migration: The Politics of Space in the South Asian Diaspora (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 157–176; Susan Slyomovics, “The Muslim World Day Parade and ‘Storefront’ Mosques of New York City,” in Metcalf, ed., Making Muslim Space, 205–209; and Chloe Anne Breyer, “Religious Liberty in Law and Practice: Vietnamese Home Temples and the First Amendment,” Journal of Church & State 35, no. 2 (Spring 1993), 367–401. See also Jay Johnson and Frank J. Costa, “Hindu Temple Development in the United States: Planning and Zoning Issues,” Journal of Cultural Geography 17, no. 2 (1998), 115–123; Myer Siemiatycki, “Contesting Sacred Urban Space: The Case of the Eruv,” Journal of International Migration and Integration 6, no. 2 (2005), 255–270; Edward W. Soja, Seeking Spatial Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Lowell W. Livezey, “Communities and Enclaves: Where Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims Share the Neighborhoods,” in Lowell W. Livezey, ed., Public Religion and Urban Transformation: Faith in the City (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 133–161; Robert A. Orsi, “The Religious Boundaries of an In-Between People: Street Feste and the Problem of the Dark-Skinned Other in Italian Harlem, 1920–1990,” in Orsi, ed., Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 257–288; and Joseph Sciorra, “‘We Go Where the Italians Live’: Religious Processions as Ethnic and Territorial Markers in a Multi-ethnic Brooklyn Neighborhood,” in Orsi, ed., Gods of the City, 310–340.

(23.) Gretchen Buggeln, “New England Orthodoxy and the Language of the Sacred,” in Nelson, ed., American Sanctuary, 17–36; Carroll, “Worlds in Space,” 330–331, 336–337; and Martha Sonntag Bradley, “Creating the Sacred Space of Zion,” Journal of Mormon History 31, no. 1 (Spring 2005), 1–30. See also Stump, Boundaries of Faith; Diana L. Eck, “The Multireligious Public Square,” in Marjorie Garber and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, eds., One Nation under God? Religion and American Culture (New York: Routledge, 1999), 3–20; and John C. Blakeman, “The Religious Geography of Religious Expression: Local Governments, Courts, and the First Amendment,” Journal of Church and State 48, no. 2 (2006), 399–422.

(24.) Matthew Glass, “‘Alexanders All’: Symbols of Conquest and Resistance at Mount Rushmore,” in Chidester and Linenthal, eds., American Sacred Space, 152–186; Glass, “Producing Patriotic Inspiration at Mount Rushmore,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62, no. 2 (Summer 1994), 265–283; Jeffrey F. Meyer, “Mythic Pieties of Permanence: Memorial Architecture and the Struggle for Meaning,” in Nelson, ed., American Sanctuary, 203–221; Carroll, “Worlds in Space,” 305–307, 337–339; and Edward T. Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991). See also Meyer, Myths in Stone: Religious Dimensions of Washington, D.C. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); and Jeanne Halgren Kilde, “The Park 51 / Ground Zero Controversy and Sacred Sites as Contested Space,” Religions 2, no. 3 (2011), 297–311.

(25.) Maria Tumarkin, Traumascapes: The Power and Fate of Places Transformed by Tragedy (Carlton, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 2005), 13; Oren Baruch Stier and J. Shawn Landres, “Introduction,” in Stier and Landres, eds., Religion, Violence, Memory, and Place (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006); Katharina Schramm, “Landscapes of Violence: Memory and Sacred Space,” History & Memory 23, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 2011), 6; Kenneth E. Foote, Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997), 332; and Stier and Landres, eds., Religion, Violence, Memory, and Place, 8. Paul Williams extends the analysis of memorialization to the particular space of the museum in Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities (Oxford: Berg, 2007). See also John Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).

(26.) Robert A. Orsi, ed., Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 29, 30, 52. See also Livezey, ed., Public Religion and Urban Transformation; Ulf Hannerz, “The Cultural Role of World Cities,” in Anthony P. Cohen and Katsuyoshi Fukui, eds., Humanising the City? Social Contexts of Urban Life at the Turn of the Millennium (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), 67–84; and Ulf Hannerz, “The World in Creolisation,” Africa 57, no. 4 (1987), 546–559.

(27.) Manuel A. Vásquez and Marie F. Marquardt, eds., Globalizing the Sacred: Religion across the Americas (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 45; Carolyn V. Prorok, “Transplanting Pilgrimage Traditions in the Americas,” Geographical Review 93, no. 3 (July 2003), 283–307; Elaine Peña, “Beyond Mexico: Guadalupan Sacred Space Production and Mobilization in a Chicago Suburb,” American Quarterly 60, no. 3 (September 2008), 721–747; Peña, Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); Courtney T. Goto, “Issei Garden as Performative Space,” Amerasia Journal 38, no. 3 (2012), 76–97; Keun-joo Christine Pae, “Negotiated or Negotiating Spaces: Korean Churches in Flushing, Queens of New York City,” CrossCurrents 58, no. 3 (Fall 2008), 456–474; Slyomovics, “The Muslim World Day Parade,” 205–209; Eck, A New Religious America, 87–94; Tweed, Our Lady of the Exile; and Wilbur Zelinsky and Barrett A. Lee, “Heterolocalism: An Alternative Model of the Sociospatial Behaviour of Immigrant Ethnic Communities,” International Journal of Population Geography 4, no. 4 (1998), 281–298. See also John Corrigan, ed., Religion and Space in the Atlantic World (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016); Waghorne, “Spaces for a New Public Presence”; Waghorne, Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); R. Stephen Warner and Judith G. Wittner, eds., Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998); and Peggy Levitt, “Redefining the Boundaries of Belonging: The Transnationalization of Religious Life,” in Nancy T. Ammerman, ed., Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 103–120.

(28.) Gaustad and Barlow, New Historical Atlas of Religion in America, xvii, xxi. On the pitfalls of mapping, see Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

(29.) David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, eds., The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010); Bodenhamer, Corrigan, and Harris, eds., Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015); Digital Atlas of American Religion, online at; and Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, online at William Least Heat-Moon’s PrairyErth: A Deep Map (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991) is usually credited for exemplifying and popularizing the deep-mapping process.

(30.) Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991). See also David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990).

(31.) Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, eds., Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997); Gupta and Ferguson, “Beyond ‘Culture’: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference,” Cultural Anthropology 7, no. 1 (February 1992), 6–23 [14 quoted in text]; and Ulf Hannerz, Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places (London and New York: Routledge, 1996). See also Elizabeth McAlister, “Globalization and the Religious Production of Space,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44, no. 3 (September 2005), 249–255; Vásquez and Marquardt, eds., Globalizing the Sacred; Levitt, “Redefining the Boundaries of Belonging”; and David Lyon, Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times (Cambridge, U.K.: Blackwell, 2000).

(32.) Kevin Lewis O’Neill, “Beyond Broken: Affective Spaces and the Study of American Religion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81, no. 4 (December 2013), 1093–1116. See also Gupta and Ferguson, “Beyond ‘Culture’: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference,” 6–23.

(33.) Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 38–61 [56 quoted in text; on the Vietnam Memorial, see 54–56]; and Tumarkin, Traumascapes, 13. See Edward S. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); Charlene Spretnak, The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World (New York: Routledge, 1999); James A. Swan, ed., The Power of Place: Sacred Ground in Natural & Human Environments (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 1991); Winifred Gallagher, The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions (New York: Poseidon, 1993); Tim Ingold, “Culture and the Perception of the Environment,” in Elisabeth Croll and David Parkin, eds., Bush Base: Forest Farm; Culture, Environment, and Development (London: Routledge, 1992), 39–56; and James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979). For examples of the appeal of Lane’s “phenomenological” approach to scholars examining sites of violence, see—in addition to Tumarkin—Foote, Shadowed Ground, 5; and Schramm, “Landscapes of Violence,” 6.