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Space, Architecture, and American Religious Diversity

Summary and Keywords

Religions are fundamentally spatial, as they require space in which to assemble, to engage in ritual practices, and to form community. Every religious group that has existed in the United States has made a spatial imprint on the country, and that spatiality—that physical character—is also a constitutive component of religious experience. Spaces not only host religious practices but also contribute to their meaning and salience. Thus, understanding religious life in America includes understanding the spaces in which it occurs.

The diversity of religious life in America is apparent from the countless religious spaces and buildings that have occupied the national landscape, including Native American earthworks and burial mounds, Catholic and Protestant missions and churches, Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and Sikh gurdwaras. But how are we to understand these diverse buildings and spaces?

The location of built spaces and the totality of the landscape in which they exist constitute a religioscape, within which they provide information about their religious communities through their size, location, and architectural style. The internal organization and spatial plans of these built spaces also provide information on liturgical and congregational functions and efforts to facilitate religious experiences and establish and maintain authority or power. Considering both these aspects of religious space and architecture provides insight into how religious diversity functions in the United States and how groups have expressed their religious beliefs and interests and interacted with others to cooperate and compete within the American landscape.

Keywords: church, gurdwara, liturgy, meetinghouse, mission, power, religioscape, revival, synagogue, mosque, temple, liturgy, power, Native Americans

Nothing demonstrates the diversity of religions in America more than the countless religious spaces and buildings that have occupied the national landscape, past and present. Churches, meetinghouses, synagogues, temples, gurdwaras, storefronts, landscapes, mounds, grottos, cemeteries—the list of religious spaces is seemingly endless. This is because religions are fundamentally spatial, requiring spaces in which people can assemble to engage in ritual practices and form community.1 This spatiality—this physical character—is in turn a constitutive component of religious experience. The spaces in which religious practices occur are not simply settings; they also shape religious experience and contribute to its meaning and salience. Thus, to fully understand religious life in America, we must understand it within the spaces in which it occurs.

The notion of religious space can be understood in two central ways. First, it points to a collective of religiously significant places—buildings or other sites—within a circumscribed area or landscape that associate that locale with specific religious meanings. This essay uses the term religioscape to refer to this presence of multiple religious assemblies within a specific area, such as the three churches that stand on the New Haven Green. In some cases, landscapes carry both religious and non-religious meanings and usages, as in cityscapes commonly perceived as secular that also include religioscapes comprising the many religious buildings they encompass. In other cases, a landscape can be more exclusively religious in character, such as the Great Medicine Wheel in Wyoming or Temple Square in Salt Lake City. This first sense of religious space, then, understands it on a macro scale. In the second sense, religious space refers to the spatial volumes circumscribed within religious buildings or sites. This type of religious space refers more specifically to the delimited interior rooms of religious buildings, with their specific organizations or plans, materials, ornamentation, and associated meanings. This use of the term thus refers to religious space on a micro scale. Religious architecture, understood as human constructions or built spaces, intersects with both of these conceptualizations of religious space: collections of buildings or other built sites and built environments that enclose or otherwise create internal spaces for specific uses, functions, or purposes.

Space and architecture provide material evidence of (and windows into) the beliefs, practices, identities, communities, and worldviews of religious groups. By constructing and using the buildings and spaces they need, religious groups demonstrate and reify those needs and infuse them with meaning. From this evidence, we can learn much about those religious groups, and several scholars of religion have used religious architecture and space to do just that. Scholars such as Kim Knott and Thomas Tweed have examined how the formation of religious space orients groups within specific locations and reinforces group and individual identity within both cosmic and human/social contexts. Others see religious spaces functioning to ground relationships within the religious community, with external groups, and with divine or supernatural beings. Following the insights of Michel Foucault pertaining to the social construction of power, authors such as Jonathan Z. Smith have examined the spatial relationships that instantiate and maintain power relationships within buildings, and others, such as David Chidester and Edward Linenthal, have focused on religious sites that have been contested in the courts or even fought over. Yet the power relationships examined by these scholars include situations of conflict as well as cooperation, for, as we will see below, while some religious sites have been heatedly contested, others have participated in networks of cooperation.

The present discussion of religious space consciously avoids using the term “sacred space,” which often connotes a particular understanding of religious space as infused with a specialness, with a supernatural presence or transcendent quality. Spaces in which a divine being manifests itself, which religious scholar Mircea Eliade has termed “hierophany,” are understood as ontologically different from ordinary, “profane” spaces.2 While this category and understanding of religious space is significant for believers or followers of specific traditions—that is, people with a subjective, “emic” or insider perspective on the tradition—this essay takes an outsider or “etic” perspective that focuses on human processes and experiences in making and using religious spaces. Focusing on how religious groups sacralize certain spaces through their actions, it explores the function of religious architecture and space as a salient component of religious practice and experience rather than of belief.

Pre-Columbian and Post-Contact Native American Religioscapes

The formation of religioscapes in North America preceded the incursion of Europeans on the continent by many centuries. Indigenous groups shaped the landscape as they constructed villages and towns, ceremonial sites, and burial spaces. Thousands of such sites remain evident in the landscape and meaningful to contemporary Native American groups. Among these are earthworks consisting of round or cone-shaped mounds and effigies in the shape of animals or serpents that dot the American landscape from coast to coast. Indeed, Native American mounds dating from the pre-Columbian period to the 16th century have been found in thirty-three states. Most are attributed to the Adena (1000–200 bce) or Hopewell (200 bce–500 ce) cultures, including the most visible and well known, the Great Serpent mound in Ohio, which stretches over a quarter of a mile. Burial mounds of much later construction are ubiquitous in many regions, however, such as Wisconsin, which has more than 15,000 mounds, 3,200 of which are animal-shaped, that were constructed between 700 and 1100 ce. The purpose and meaning of these and many other Native American sites, like the petroglyphs of people and animals at Jeffers, Minnesota, and the Great Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, are still subjects of scholarly investigation. Archaeologists in the past have analyzed their ceremonial, cultural, sacred, or symbolic uses, but more recent Native American and academic approaches have explored the cosmological worldviews as well as religious beliefs and social practices embodied in them.3

Indian mounds and other sites imbued with sacred meanings by Native Americans have and continue to be among the most contested religious spaces on the North American continent. Plundering of mounds was common in the 19th century, and in the 20th century many mounds across the United States were destroyed for agricultural, mining, and commercial uses; others remain under threat in Iowa, Wisconsin, California, and other states to this day.4 For contemporary Native Americans, the scarcity of remaining mounds and other sacred sites that constitute important, ongoing connections to ancestors, histories, practices, and beliefs has made their preservation all the more crucial.

Colonial Religioscapes, Spaces, and Buildings

For some Christians, America itself is a religioscape, a place divinely ordained as an exemplary location and society—a “city upon a hill,” as Puritan minister Jonathan Winthrop called it in a sermon aboard the Arabella as this early Christian group was poised to set foot on the continent in 1630. These Puritans viewed the religioscape of the Native Americans as the work of the devil and strove to replace it with Christian space and architecture.

As the European colonization of North America proceeded, it resulted in the erecting of Christian, and eventually Jewish, buildings. Like Native American religious sites, these religious buildings were intentional efforts to engage in practices linking human and transcendent realms while at the same time demonstrating the presence and power of the community within the region. The first Christians to establish a settlement in North America, the French Huguenots, may have erected a Protestant religious building on the coast of what is now Florida in 1564, but their settlement was demolished after a little over a year by Spanish explorers, who later erected the first documented Christian church on the continent in St. Augustine. This modest Roman Catholic church, made of straw and palmetto, burned to the ground in 1586 during an attack on the settlement by Englishman Sir Francis Drake. A second church erected on the site was also destroyed by fire in 1599. Spanish Franciscans also established several missions in the region of northern Florida and into Georgia, Christian religioscapes composed of a church, a council house, and other buildings intended to convert the Native population to Christianity and substitute a European village-based lifestyle for their semi-nomadic one.5

Over the next two centuries, the development of English colonies on the Eastern seaboard transformed the landscape and created a new religioscape that bore witness to diversity as a fundamental characteristic of Christianity in North America. Churches were erected by Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Anglicans, all claiming authority within growing communities. Although each promoted its own theological claims, these denominations adopted fairly similar religious buildings.

The New England Puritans termed the buildings they constructed to house religious practices “meetinghouses” to disassociate them with more traditional (and in the Puritans’ view, papist) “churches.” For Puritans and other “low church” or anti-formalist groups such as Baptists, Quakers, and Presbyterians, the human connection to the divine was mediated only by the Word of God—the Bible and its exegesis—rather than priestly action. As a result, the sermon was of central importance during services, and the place in which the sermon was delivered was understood within a utilitarian framework rather than a sacramental one. Meetinghouses were not deemed holy; they were simply meeting places. Anglicans, on the other hand, retained some of the ritual and sacramentalism of pre-Reformation Christianity. Their services focused on the Eucharist celebration as well as the sermon and were more liturgically scripted in The Book of Common Prayer and thus are generally labeled “high church” or formalist.

These anti-formalist and formalist worship styles required different spatial organizations. Puritan and Quaker meetinghouses, based upon secular meeting halls, were designed to facilitate delivering and hearing the sermon. These buildings featured a large rectangular room for services, with a prominent pulpit located either in the middle of the long wall in what is called an “traverse” spatial plan or in the middle of the short wall in a “longitudinal” plan, in both cases directly across from the entrance door. While anti-formalist groups frequently, though not exclusively, adopted the traverse plan, Anglicans and other formalist groups such as Lutherans adopted the longitudinal plan within a rectangular or cruciform (cross-shaped) spatial footprint. These spaces were organized into two distinct areas: the nave filled with pews for the laity and the chancel or sanctuary for the altar and clergy. In both low and high church examples, box pews separated by one or more aisles (a center aisle in the longitudinal plan or two side aisles in the traverse) faced the liturgical focal point: the pulpit or altar.

The liturgical stations within these rooms varied with worship style. For the formalist Anglicans and Lutherans, the primary liturgical station was the altar, located at the termination of the axis, often in an apse at the east end of the nave. A secondary station, the pulpit, was typically elevated on the south wall of the room with a sounding board above, and the third, the baptismal font, stood to the side at the front of the room. In contrast, anti-formalist meetinghouse axes terminated in a pulpit, elevated several feet above the main floor and reached by means of the stairway at the back or side. Because Communion was understood by these congregations as a memorial service and thus performed infrequently, a modest table was placed at the base of the pulpit when needed for the service and moved away when not.

Spatial arrangements within both meetinghouses and churches separated congregations into specific areas that denoted their relative social power, authority, or influence. In meetinghouses, the elevated pulpits signaled the considerable status of the clergy. Their height allowed the minister to view all within the room easily and required the worshippers to “look up” to the minister, literally as well as figuratively. Congregants’ proximity to the pulpit also designated their status: families of particular wealth or spiritual authority were seated closer to the pulpit, while those of lesser social standing sat farther away. In churches, the altar and chancel area similarly housed clerical authority, and pews nearest it indicated broader social authority. In both meetinghouses and churches, servants and slaves were relegated to the back pews or galleries, if allowed to attend at all.

Churches of the colonial and early republic periods also figured in the development of American religioscapes that stamped a Christian identity onto the landscape. Images of cities, villages, and rural landscapes dotted with the spires of churches illustrated the religious presence and, supposedly, attested to the character of the place, conveyed a positive message regarding its success, and were useful in attracting new residents of distinction. But as immigration from the British Isles, the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe increased, the diversity of religions became visible in village and city landscapes. Although Sephardic Jews arrived in the mid-17th century, the population was small, and it was nearly a century before the first synagogue, the Mill Street Synagogue in Lower Manhattan, was erected by Congregation Shearith Israel in 1730. This small building, with its pointed-arch door and windows, was one of the first on the continent to reflect the emerging interest in Gothic architecture in Europe. Just why the congregation chose these features is lost to time, but the architectural choice clearly placed them on the cutting edge for the period. In 1763, descendants of those earlier settlers along with recently arrived German-speaking Ashkenazi Jews commissioned architect Peter Harris to design Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. This elegant classical building in the Palladian style echoed another emerging architectural trend, one that connected classical Greek and Roman forms to the growing republican movement. The synagogue featured a two-story assembly room with central bema and benches for male congregants on the main floor and an encircling gallery for women.

By the early 18th century, the Spanish began to colonize territory in what would eventually become the southwest and western regions of the United States. Strings of missions built in conjunction with military posts became central to the presence and power of Spanish colonizers from Texas to California. In 1716, Franciscan friars in East Texas established one example, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepción de los Hainais, to convert the native Hasinai people to Christianity. In 1731, the mission was moved to San Antonio and renamed Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepción de Acuña in honor of Juan de Acuña, the Marqués of Casafuerte, who was Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) at the time, its name change attesting to the close relationship between the political presence and the religious one.6 The surviving stone church, dedicated in 1755, exhibits an eclectic architectural program typical of Spanish Colonial building, combining Renaissance, Romanesque, Moorish, and Native American elements. An oculus lined up with the evening sun on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, to allow light to pour onto the altar tabernacle is an architectural strategy that demonstrates the designers’ knowledge of (and the Catholic Church’s interest in) astronomy and was repeated in several missions in the Americas. Native American influence is seen in the shining sun fresco in the convento, or monks’ quarters, of this mission.

Spanish missions stretched from Texas across Arizona and New Mexico and up through California as far north as San Francisco. Although strong symbols of Christian colonization and imperial power, many mission churches also exhibit evidence of Native America influence in their building design, construction techniques, and ornamentation. Examples including the kiva-like churches erected for Franciscans in New Mexico and the recently discovered Native American murals in Mission Dolores in San Francisco.7

Nineteenth-Century Innovations

The 19th century would be marked by two new types of religious space inspired by the mid-18th-century development of Christian “revivalism,” emotion-packed preaching aimed at bringing sinners to Christianity: camp meetings and evangelical summer villages. Revivalists, preaching out of doors to crowds of poor laborers or urban dwellers, used the landscape to accommodate their audiences and deliver their message but in so doing also challenged earlier understandings of religious space. Whereas the colonial Puritans saw the American wilderness as the home of the devil, revivalists transformed the outdoors into a liminal place in which the Holy Spirit could be directly experienced. Presbyterian Communion Meetings spanned three or four days, much of which was spent out of doors to accommodate large crowds.8 In 1801, thousands of Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists met at an outdoor meeting in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, raising the popularity of outdoor preaching and worship on the frontier. Camp meetings became yearly events, with organizers creating semi-permanent campgrounds featuring rings of tents and multiple preaching stands. Although the ground plans of these camps varied, some with radiating rings of tents and others with rectilinear arrangements, all were understood as cosmogonies—as models of heaven.9 Even the buildings erected in these sites and in the later evangelical (predominantly Methodist) summer villages that grew from the phenomenon (such as Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and Chautauqua, New York) carried holy meanings for those who visited or owned property in them.10

The first half of the 19th century brought a surge of Catholic immigrants from France, Germany, and later Ireland to the newly founded nation. Anti-Catholic sentiment was strong, however, and early efforts to build Catholic churches met with Protestant resistance. Under pressure from anti-Catholic Protestants, Catholics abandoned plans to build a church in the heart of New York City in 1785. Yet Protestant–Catholic cooperation also existed, and a year later St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church was erected outside the city limits on land leased from the Corporation of Trinity [Episcopal] Church.11 This modest building was replaced in the late 1830s with a new church designed in the Greek Revival style by architects John R. Haggerty and Thomas Thomas. The choice of this style, used also for civic buildings, was significant, referencing the classical roots of republican government—“of the people, by the people, for the people”—and thus indicating the Catholic commu commitment to democracy, a message intended to counter Protestant fears that Catholics put allegiance to Rome above that to the United States. In this and other cases, not only location but architectural style carried meanings related to religious diversity.

New York Catholics also adopted another architectural movement that gained followers during the period, the Gothic Revival, when they selected this medieval style and architect James Renwick to erect a new cathedral in 1858. The resulting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a brick structure clad in marble, featured a cruciform plan with a vaulted ceiling, stained glass, exterior buttressing, and a balustrade around the roof. Later additions to the building included a Lady Chapel and twin towers at the front. A rectory (also called a parish house) for community gatherings and a house for the archbishop were also added. These, along with an orphanage already on the site, created a localized Catholic religioscape that, although originally founded outside the city limits, was soon enveloped by the expanding city. The cathedral’s imposing presence broadcast the growing influence of the Catholic population and indicated that the spiritual needs of the wave of new immigrants would be served.

The Gothic Revival architectural style was also enthusiastically adopted by Episcopalian congregations, who similarly abandoned the clean lines of the neo-classical Georgian style, associated with the early 18th-century Christopher Wren churches in London that they had previous favored. Like the Catholics, the Episcopalians associated the Gothic style with a uniquely pietistic Christian faith that resulted in and was expressed through the dramatic cathedrals and picturesque parish churches of medieval Europe and England.12 By the 1870s, Gothic Revival elements were adopted by other Protestant groups as well, from Presbyterians and Congregationalists to Baptists and Methodists, despite the anti-formalism of these groups and their continued suspicion of the Catholicism in which the style originated. Gothic Revival architecture instead had come to signal a generalized piety and experience of a transcendent god.13

Perhaps the most profound change within Christian architecture in this period, however, was the development of a new type of Protestant worship space. The interior spaces of most Christian churches up to this period were arranged to face the altar or pulpit on one wall, emphasizing the power and authority of the clergy and providing processional space and a metaphorical “pointer” to the most powerful places: the altar and pulpit. Protestant revivalism, however, began to generate different requirements. In the 1830s, “new measures” developed by revivalist Charles Grandison Finney not only freed preachers from the restricting pulpits and gave them a stage or “preaching platform” on which to perform but also required that worshippers be able to easily see and hear the preacher on the stage and have direct access to an “anxious bench” placed front and center below the stage. Inspired by then-current changes in theater architecture, Finney and later church designers developed the auditorium church, a plan that featured a large square room with a pulpit stage occupying either one wall or a corner, ranks of curved pews radiating out from the pulpit stage and up the raked (sloping) floor of the room, and a shallow dome in the ceiling to enhance acoustics. In many auditorium churches, a gallery curved around three sides of the room, with a large pipe organ and choir seating occupying the wall behind the preaching platform.14

This innovative plan directly addressed the physical needs of worshippers to see and hear and thus encouraged their participation in services. Preachers also adopted a new role, becoming something akin to actors or entertainers on the stage and to some extent beholden to their audience for approval. As the modern middle class emerged and expanded during the middle decades of the 19th century, Protestant congregations also incorporated features from their homes into their churches, including central heating and cooling systems, upholstered seating, carpeting, and organic ornamentation. Interior church design flourished under the influence of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. Congregations also insisted on new rooms—closets, lounges, bathrooms, kitchens, and dining halls—to accommodate the social activities and events pursued by these middle-class congregations, and particularly women members. Catholics, in contrast, continued to erect separate parish halls for these activities, preferring to keep the churches themselves devoted solely to worship.

Exterior architectural vocabularies grew more eclectic as the growing cadre of trained architects looked to Europe and various historical periods for inspiration. Most church architects favored Romanesque, Egyptian Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, Byzantine, and Queen Anne styles. The Moorish Revival style, featuring onion domes, intricate exterior patterning, and minaret-like towers borrowed from Islamic sources, was occasionally used in churches but was widely favored for synagogues, in part because the style reflected Jewish origins in the Middle East. Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati, the home of one of the first Reform Jewish congregations in the United States, featured Moorish and Byzantine elements designed by architect John Keyes Wilson.

Additional groups of immigrants added to this transformative mix by the 1890s. Orthodox Jews arriving from Russia, Lithuania, and Romania eschewed the established Reform synagogues and gathered minyans in homes and rented rooms. As they gained greater economic security, they bought or leased buildings, often former churches. Eventually, many of these groups erected new synagogues, such as the modest brick Romanesque B’nai Abraham, built in the small town of Virginia, Minnesota, in 1910. This synagogue attested to the presence of this religious community within the predominantly Christian Iron Range region of rural northern Minnesota. The rectangular interior was arranged longitudinally, with the Torah ark and bema on the far wall opposite the entry. Stained glass windows featuring the colors of nature include Hebrew inscriptions along with symbols such as the menorah, a priest’s crown, Torah scroll, and the six-pointed Star of David.15 Small synagogues like this were erected around the nation. In addition to synagogues, Orthodox Jews erected eruvs, or spatial boundaries, around their neighborhoods, within which some rules of Sabbath observance, particularly the prohibition against carrying things, were relaxed. Eruvs in New York, St. Louis, and other cities—marked by wires, walls, posts, and other landmarks—continue to be important elements of the religioscape for Orthodox communities.

Immigrants often contributed architectural forms from their homelands to American religioscapes. Catholic immigrants—German, French, Irish, Polish, and Italian—settled into neighborhoods designated as ethnic parishes by local dioceses and erected churches that demonstrated their ethnic heritage. Germans in St. Paul, Minnesota, for instance, erected the Church of the Assumption in 1874, importing the architect Josef Reidel and the architectural style of the building, with its Romanesque features and twin towers, from Bavaria. Another German church in the city, St. Agnes’s, echoed the features of the Abbey Church of Kloster Schlägl in Austria, and in 1906, the Russian Orthodox community in Minneapolis replaced their earlier church with a new building reminiscent of churches in Omsk, Russia.

As new groups arrived and erected new buildings, the religioscapes of cities and towns were transformed. Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish buildings were erected in close proximity to one another in neighborhoods of mixed ethnicities. In Cincinnati, for instance, the central Fountain Square, originally the site of a Native American burial mound, was developed in the 1870s and became home to four churches: St. Peter in Chains Roman Catholic Church, the Plum Street Temple (aka B’nai Yeshurun), First Congregational Church (Unitarian), and Covenant-First Presbyterian.16 Similarly, nine churches and synagogues within a ten-block stretch of Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis represented six different ethnic groups. In these religioscapes, people of different backgrounds mingled on the street, encountering religious “others” as neighbors. In the volatile economic context of the period, however, congregations were anything but stable. While some grew, others declined, and houses of worship became properties that were sold and bought, leased, lent out, and even exchanged by congregations of all stripes. Just as the country was changing, so too were religious architecture and space.

Twentieth-Century Innovations and Transformations

Non-Christian groups have also reshaped the American religioscape, and like earlier groups their religious buildings have not only housed worship practices but also embodied and articulate important meanings for both the communities that created them and the broader public. Chinese immigration began during the Gold Rush in 1849 and continued until the Chinese Immigration Act of 1884 severely curtailed movement between China and the United States, and these immigrants practiced their Daoist and Buddhist traditions as best they could in the new land. In Mendocino, California, a community of several hundred Chinese immigrants erected the Kwan Tai Temple some time before 1883, perhaps as early as 1854. The carefully articulated entryway of this small wood-frame building, with steps leading up to a door sheltered by a pitched roof and porch, indicates the temple’s importance. Inside are living quarters for the temple keeper and a worship room with an altar beneath a portrait of the saint Kwan Tai, a Han dynasty general, located on the wall opposite the door.17 Small temples like this, derogatorily called “joss houses” after the incense used within them, were frequently targeted by those who opposed Chinese immigration. Of the dozens of Daoist and Buddhist temples erected in the 19th century, only a handful remain in existence.

Muslim presence in America dates to the 18th century and grew in the 19th century as the slave industry brought many Muslims to the continent. Prohibited from practicing their religion (as were slaves who followed other indigenous traditions), these people took Islam underground, practicing in the secret interstices of slave society. Consequently, Islam did not appear in the public religioscape until the early 20th century, brought by Lebanese and Albanian immigrants who dispersed to New England and the Midwest. Most of these then-called “Syrian” immigrants were Orthodox and Maronite Christians, but a group of Albanian Muslim men settled in Biddeford, Maine, as early as 1915, and others established themselves in Detroit, Michigan, and Michigan City, Indiana. Lebanese homesteaders in Ross, North Dakota, built a small brick mosque in 1929. Another small Lebanese group erected a mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1934 and later adopted the name the “Mother Mosque of America” because it was, to the congregations’ knowledge, the oldest existing building erected specifically as a mosque.18 These modest vernacular buildings, like those of immigrant Christian, Jewish, and Chinese groups, attest to the growth of these congregations and their desire to claim a visible place in their local religioscape despite having limited resources. The effort and commitment required to establish an architectural presence strengthened bonds within these religious communities, and erecting a church, mosque, synagogue, temple, Sikh gurdwara, or other religious building, or even buying or renting an existing building to house their religious practice, was a key sign of growing participation in American society for these immigrant groups.

Although the constricting of immigration in 1924, the Great Depression, and World War II curtailed religious construction for about three decades, increased suburbanization in the postwar period sparked a boom in church and synagogue construction. Modernist styles influenced by European architects such as Le Corbusier and Eliel Saarinen intentionally broke from the forms and spaces of traditional Christian architecture to advance a new aesthetic of clean lines, “honest” (unembellished) use of industrial materials, and spareness. Some traditionalists disparaged the resulting poured concrete construction techniques, fanciful rooflines, A-frame outlines, and Brutalist and International Style aesthetics that stripped away ornamentation of these new churches, while others, like theologian Thomas Merton, embraced Modernism, arguing that such changes were necessary for Christianity to remain relevant.19 Modernist buildings were also relatively inexpensive to build, resulting in new churches and synagogues springing up in suburban and urban neighborhoods across the country. One particularly iconic and innovative church, St. John’s Abbey Church at the Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minnesota, was designed by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer in 1954. At the entry to the building, a massive poured concrete bell tower in the shape of a sail makes a dramatic statement suggestive of a literal “prairie schooner” on the flat landscape. Visitors enter the church through a darkened baptistery, pass under a weighty concrete balcony, and emerge into the light-filled sanctuary with an oculus above the centrally placed altar. Side windows and a honeycombed back concrete wall with colorful stained glass provide additional light. The most innovative feature, however, is the sanctuary’s spatial arrangement featuring a center altar surrounded by seating for the monks and the congregation, an arrangement that grew out of a liturgical reform movement inaugurated by the Benedictines to encourage lay participation in the Mass. A few years later, this centralized spatial organization was embraced by the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council, which, embracing the goal of the earlier liturgical movement to foster lay participation, recommended a complete reorganization of Catholic space, moving altars from the apse wall so that priests could celebrate the mass facing the congregation. The theological ramifications of this spatial shift were highly debated, as priests addressed congregations rather than God during Mass.

The growth of evangelicalism and revivalism in the 1970s marked a renewed interest in auditorium-style churches among Protestants, resulting in the development of what has become known as the megachurch. Evangelists like Robert Schuller, the inspiration behind the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California, and Bill Hybels, who founded the non-denominational Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago, envisioned drawing together thousands of worshippers for services that would appeal to their contemporary sensibilities. For Schuller in the late 1970s, that meant relatively traditional services broadcast on television and throughout the worship room; for Hybels, it meant a new format of contemporary music, skits, storytelling, and congregational singing. Megachurches accommodate several thousand worshippers (4,500 in the original Willow Creek, and later 7,500 in the congregation’s new auditorium completed in 2005) in large auditoriums that feature a main stage, multiple seating tiers, and state-of-the-art sound and video technologies to enhance and broadcast the performances taking place on the stage. Megachurches also contain multiple auxiliary spaces including meeting rooms, Sunday school classrooms, recreational spaces, bookstores, coffee shops, and cafeterias. Frequently erected near exurban highway nodes for easy access, megachurches rarely sport steeples or Christian iconography and look akin to commercial office buildings with their massive parking lots and landscaped campuses. This everyday, secular appearance is intended to attract worshippers who might be alienated by or uncomfortable with traditional church architecture, stained glass, and iconography. The performance on stage and the community of worshippers gathered in the concourses constitute the religious experience in these spaces. Nevertheless, megachurches are occasionally “sacralized” by congregations who perform dedicatory rituals in them, such as reading the entire Bible within the newly completed building or, in at least one case, encasing prayer slips in the concrete foundations, practices that suggest a desire to make these spaces “special” or sacred despite their secular look.20

During the same period, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons, joined the late-20th-century church-building boom by launching an ambitious initiative aimed at reducing the distance that members must travel from their homes to temples. In the United States, this distance now averages about ninety miles. Distinctively monumental, Mormon temples make strong statements of their presence within religioscapes. While the exterior designs are varied, all sport white or light stone facades, and most include one or more soaring spires or towers, one topped by a statue of the angel Maroni, in reference to the Salt Lake City temple.21 The interiors contain a standardized array of rooms for specific rituals, called ordinances, that include a baptistery, a sealing room for marriages (understood as “celestial” commitments for eternity), and a Celestial room.22 Entry into dedicated temples is limited to professed Mormons who carry written permission from a bishop, and special white clothing is worn within the temple, all of which contribute to the sacredness of the temples. Weekly services, in contrast, are conducted in more modest meetinghouses within each “stake” or neighborhood and are open to all.

The American religioscape grew ever-more diverse in the closing decades of the 20th century after the 1965 Immigration Act allowed entry of greater numbers of immigrants into the country. As these groups grew, they too proclaimed their presence and participation in American society by establishing their own worship spaces in already diverse religioscapes, just as immigrants had done a century earlier. Hindus immigrating from India initially pooled their scant resources to rent or purchase existing buildings such as former churches to house their worship practices, but by the late 1970s, as these religious communities became larger and more affluent, they began erecting new temples that, like the religious buildings of earlier Christian and Jewish groups mentioned above, were architecturally reminiscent of those in their homeland. For instance, the Sri Venkateswara Temple outside of Pittsburgh and the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, New York, both erected in 1977, brought South Indian architectural forms to America, including the tall gopuram or carved tower that rises above each temple. These traditional-looking buildings publicly articulate the heritage of the Indian community, affirming its identity while at the same time demonstrating to the wider public its presence and participation in larger local community and American society generally.

Hindu temple construction is guided by a variety of ancient Sanskrit texts and architectural manuals, which provide advice covering a range of concerns, from the relatively simple—e.g., that the temple be built near a body of water or on an East–West axis—to the highly complex—e.g., interior plans based on complicated geomancy principles. Mastering this knowledge requires years of training available only in India, so temple design and construction in the United States is generally a cooperative venture between Indian masters focused on the religious requirements and American architects familiar with local building practices and codes. In Hindu practice, a temple is understood to be the house of God; the divine presence is invited into the temple through an ancient, multi-day consecrated process called kumbhabhishekham. Within the consecrated temple, murtis, or statues of the deities, are similarly consecrated to invite in the deity. Thus, within the temple, devotees interact with the divine presence through prayer, offerings, and prostrations, and other practices.23 Whereas temples in India typically house just one or two deities worshipped by the local community, in the United States, where members of local Indian communities have roots in many regions in India and are therefore devotees of a variety of deities, Hindu temples frequently house shrines for multiple deities. The Hindu Temple of Minnesota, for instance, houses twenty-one deities to accommodate the pan-Indian community. Within the temple, individual shrines for each deity are tended by priests and venerated by devotees who visit them to make offerings, pray, and circumambulate the deity. Like most religious buildings in the United States, these temples include classrooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, and dining rooms to accommodate a variety of community activities.24

Similarly, Sikhs from the Punjab and Buddhist immigrants from South Asia have purchased existing buildings or erected new ones to accommodate their practices. For instance, Sikhs near Minneapolis purchased a former Lutheran church in which to establish their gurdwara, while Cambodian monks south of the Twin Cities purchased a former farm for their monastery and temple, Wat Munisotaram. Worship rooms in gurdwaras, called darbars, and the sanctuaries of Buddhist temples are open expanses in which congregants sit on carpeted floors. In gurdwaras, men and women often sit on opposite sides of the room, while in Buddhist temples, the sexes may intermingle. The focus of a darbar is a shrine housing the holy book and eternal guru Granth Sahib, while that of a Buddhist prayer room is the Buddha statue, often surrounded by bodhisattvas. Both gurdwaras and temples also have kitchens, dining halls, and other rooms for community gatherings.

Immigration and the growing economic stability of second- and third-generation Muslims in the United States have brought a rise in the construction of mosques. Some of these, erected by congregations with significant resources, such as Al-Farooq Masjid of Atlanta, include architect-designed buildings with domes and minarets along with well-appointed outdoor spaces, accommodation for ablutions, and central worship rooms. Yet many “new” mosques, created by immigrant communities of modest means, are established in existing buildings, such as office buildings, houses, or former churches. In any case, mosques require a large open room, which not only accommodates the ritual movements and prostrations of prayer but also indicates the singular, oneness and unity of God, Allah.25 This room will include a quibla (niche) indicating the direction to Mecca and a minbar (pulpit) for sermons. Gender separation is traditional in mosques, but while men always worship on the main floor, accommodations for women vary widely. In some American mosques women worship on the main floor behind the men, but in many women are separated from men, accommodated either in galleries or behind partitions that vary greatly in height and transparency. Efforts by women to remove or reduce these spatial separations have met with mixed results.26 Like most houses of worship, mosques also generally contain rooms for community gatherings and classes.

Such changes in the American religioscape can raise challenges for local communities. New influxes of immigrants and declining Christian and Jewish populations are reshaping previous and existing urban and suburban religioscapes. Many Catholic parishes have closed or merged and decommissioned churches. Many Protestant and Jewish congregations have also grown smaller, variously merging, moving to more modest buildings, or closing entirely. Churches and synagogues, when not simply razed, enter the real estate market to be bought and repurposed for a variety of uses: community or arts centers, restaurants, condos, storage facilities, and so forth. Some are bought by congregations of recent immigrants whose traditions are quite different from those of the original owners. As noted above, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Muslims have all purchased former churches and synagogues, remaking them into functional and comfortable spaces for their own worship practices and community needs.27

In some cases, these real estate transfers have been cooperative and community building, but in many, attempts to convert existing buildings or erect new ones for non-Christian religions have been contentious flashpoints.28 Efforts to block the construction of mosques and temples using zoning regulations or other means of intimidation have resulted in federal legislation to ensure an even playing field for all religions, specifically the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000, which prohibits local municipalities from invoking zoning restrictions to curtail religious building. Under the Obama administration, federal oversight under this act was stepped up, and several communities, under the threat of prosecution, curtailed efforts to obstruct mosque, temple, and cemetery creation.29 Nevertheless, ongoing opposition to the construction of mosques, gurdwaras, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and religion-specific cemeteries demonstrates that the American religioscape reflects not only the religious diversity of the United States but also the struggles and contests over religion and religious pluralism broadly evident across the nation. As mentioned earlier in this article, other efforts to protect and preserve contested religious sites are growing as well. Preservation of Native American sites such as the Pipestone quarry and Jeffers petroglyphs in southwestern Minnesota indicates public acknowledgment of their ongoing meaning for Native Americans. Yet similar efforts to protect such areas as the San Francisco Mountains have not succeeded, as courts have frequently favored commercial and industrial uses over religious uses.30

In conclusion, religious architecture and space attest to the diversity of religious groups and experiences in America both past and present. With their built spaces, religious groups of all stripes have expressed their religious ideas and accommodated their worship needs, while at the same time demonstrating the desire to maintain their religious and ethnic communities and claim a presence in the public landscape. By approaching religious space and architecture through critical lenses focusing on religious experience, power, contestation, diversity, and religioscapes, we can better grasp the many ways in which space and architecture are integral components of both individual religions and the American landscape.

Review of the Literature

The vast majority of work on religious architecture and space in America has focused on Christian—and even more narrowly, Protestant—architecture. Significant attention has been paid to the churches of Puritans, Episcopalians, and Evangelicals from the colonial period to the present. The smaller corpus of work on Catholic architecture is primarily intended for practitioners and designers and focused on liturgical issues rather than cultural or social ones. Scholarship on Eastern Orthodox architecture has generally addressed buildings outside the United States, but Nicholas Denysenko’s 2017 book on American Orthodox churches is a ground-breaking foray into the subject. Historical scholarship on synagogues similarly tends to address buildings outside of the United States, although specific U.S. buildings are often discussed within general histories of Jews in America.

Scholarship on the religious buildings of non-Christian groups is even scantier. Although non-Christian groups have erected buildings or bought existing buildings and remodeled them throughout the 20th century, few studies of this architecture and their cultural contexts exist. Joanne Punzo Waghorne devotes a chapter to the Washington, D.C., Hindu Temple in Diaspora of the Gods and penned a groundbreaking article on the topic for Robert Orsi’s Gods in the City. Mahalingum Kolapen’s well-illustrated, large-format Hindu Temples in North America: A Celebration of Life contains reliable information on traditional Indian and contemporary America architectural practices. Jeff Wilson has written on Buddhist temples in the South, and Jiemim Bao has written on a temple project in the Silicon Valley. I know of no similar work on Sikh gurdwaras. Treatments of Asian religions in America, such as the Oxford University Press’s short history, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs in America by Gurinder Singh Mann, often contain general chapters on gurdwaras and temples. Scholarship on mosques and Islamic spaces in America is beginning to appear, led by architects and architectural historians like Hazem Ziada and Akel Kahera.

The corpus of theoretical and methodological work on religious architecture and space includes landmark work like Lindsay Jones’s comprehensive overview of methods in Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture and David Chidester and Edward T. Linenthal’s “Introduction” to American Sacred Space, which outlines the importance of contestation in religious space. The essays in Louis Nelson’s edited collection American Sanctuary examine socio-cultural contexts of religious space. Typologies of Christian spaces are offered by Mark Togerson, who poses two helpful categories (immanence and transcendence) to look for in religious space, and Richard Kieckhefer, who poses four (spatial dynamics, centering focus, aesthetic impact, and symbolic resonance). Jonathan Z. Smith offers a cultural approach to space and power in To Take Place, a method employed by Jeanne Halgren Kilde in Sacred Power, Sacred Space. Thomas Tweed and Kim Knott also offer sustained theories of religious space. Kilde’s “Approaching Religious Space” reviews much of this literature and contributions from outside the field of religious studies.

The religious landscape, or religioscape, is a conceptual category that is just beginning to be theorized and applied. Coined by Rachel Dwyer (Tweed uses the similar term sacroscape), the concept helps us focus on how relationships among religious groups are spatialized within specific urban and rural landscapes through the construction of buildings and other sites and through a variety of other real estate transactions (buying, selling, leasing, remodeling, and so forth).31 In so doing, it also draws attention to how religious diversity functions in the United States, revealing and socially and culturally contextualizing cooperation and contestation.

It is in this context of scholarly interest in religious diversity and interactions among religious groups, including contestation and cooperation, that attention to pre-European sites on the North American continent is gaining traction. Scholarship that purports to trace the long history of religious building in America must include burial mounds and other earthworks and sites constructed by the earliest inhabitants. Archaeologists like Robert Birmingham and Native American scholars and leaders are seeking to understand the meanings within such sites, and preservationists are tracing the history of the destruction of such sites and identifying continued threats to them. These sites constitute the deep history of the American religioscape.

Primary Sources

Buildings and landscapes are the fundamental primary sources for the study of religious space and architecture. Visits to extant sites are ideal, but contemporary and historical images, often available through Internet sources, are also useful. A number of websites sites now provide documentation of religious buildings in several cities, including Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota, New York, and Chicago.32 For historical buildings, the Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER), the National Register of Historic Places, and the Library of Congress provide reliable information, including plans and photographs in some cases, and newspaper accounts of dedication services often provide detail about both buildings and congregations. Congregational histories, anniversary books, oral histories, and archives also often include photographs or descriptions of historical churches and synagogues.

Further Reading

Bao, Jiemim. Creating a Buddhist Community: A Thai Temple in Silicon Valley. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

    Benes, Peter. Meetinghouses of Early New England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.Find this resource:

      Birmingham, Robert A. Indian Mounds of Wisconsin Spirits of Earth: The Effigy Mound Landscape of Madison and the Four Lakes. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.Find this resource:

        Buggeln, Gretchen Townsend. Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut’s Churches, 1790–1840. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2003.Find this resource:

          Buggeln, Gretchen Townsend. The Suburban Church: Modernism and Community in Postwar America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.Find this resource:

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

              Clark, Jennifer. “‘This Special Shell’: The Church Building and the Embodiment of Memory.” Journal of Religious History 31.1 (2007): 59–77.Find this resource:

                Denysenko, Nicholas. Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017.Find this resource:

                  Goldman, Karla. Beyond the Synagogue Gallery: Finding a Place for Women in American Judaism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                    Gulliford, Andrew. Sacred Objects and Sacred Places: Preserving Tribal Traditions. Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2000.Find this resource:

                      Howlett, David J. Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Space. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                        Ivey, Paul. Prayers in Stone: Christian Science Architecture in the United States, 1849–1930. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1999.Find this resource:

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

                            Kahera, Akel Ismail. Deconstructing the American Mosque: Space, Gender, and Aesthetics. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                              Kane, Paula. “Is That a Beer Vat Under the Baldochino? From Antimodernism to Postmodernism in Catholic Church Architecture.” U.S. Catholic Historian 15 (Winter 1997): 1–32.Find this resource:

                                Kieckhefer, Richard. Theology in Stone: Church Architecture from Byzantium to Berkeley. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

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

                                    Kilde, Jeanne Halgren. Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                                      Kilde, Jeanne Halgren. “Approaching Religious Space: An Overview of Theories, Methods and Challenges in Religious Studies”. Religion and Theology 20 (2013): 183–201.Find this resource:

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

                                          Kolapen, Mahalingum. Hindu Temples in North America: A Celebration of Life. Orlando, FL: Hindu University of America, 2002.Find this resource:

                                            Lane, Belden C. “Giving Voice to Place: Three Models for Understanding American Sacred Space.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 11.1 (2001): 53–81.Find this resource:

                                              Loveland, Anne C., and Otis B. Wheeler. From Meetinghouse to Megachurch: A Material and Cultural History. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003.Find this resource:

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

                                                  Orsi, Robert A., ed. Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

                                                    Price, Jay M. Temples for a Modern God: Religious Architecture in Postwar America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

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

                                                        Stanton, Phoebe B. The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture: An Episode in Taste, 1840–1856. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

                                                          Torgerson, Mark A. An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture for Worship and Ministry Today. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.Find this resource:

                                                            Tweed, Thomas A. Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                                                              Waghorne, Joanne Punzo. Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                                                                Williams, Peter W. Houses of God: Region, Religion, and Architecture in the United States. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997.Find this resource:

                                                                  Wilson, Jeff. Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.Find this resource:


                                                                    (1.) Henri Lefebrve, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991 [1974]), xx; and Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), 46.

                                                                    (2.) Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, 1959), 10–13.

                                                                    (3.) Robert A. Birmingham, Spirits of Earth: The Effigy Mound Landscape of Madison and the Four Lakes (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), 10–12.

                                                                    (4.) See, for instance, Ryan J. Foley, “National Park Service Buries Report on Effigy Mounds Scandal”, The Des Moines Register, August 3, 2015.

                                                                    (5.) See Jon Butler, The Huguenots in America: A Refugee People in New World Society, Harvard Historical Monographs 72 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 41–42; Jerald T. Milanich, Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999); and Bonnie G. McEwan, ed., The Spanish Missions of La Florida (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993).

                                                                    (6.) The UNESCO World Heritage website for the San Antonio missions includes reliable historical information; see San Antonio Missions: World Heritage, Our Heritage. “San Antonio Missions History”.

                                                                    (7.) Don Hanlon, “The Spanish Mission Church in Central New Mexico: A Study in Architectural Morphology,” Anthropologica 34.2 (1992): 203–229.

                                                                    (8.) Leigh Eric Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

                                                                    (9.) Steven D. Cooley, “Manna and the Manual: Sacramental and Instrumental Constructions of the Victorian Methodist Camp Meeting During the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 6.2 (Summer 1996): 131–159.

                                                                    (10.) Troy Messenger, Holy Leisure: Recreation and Religion in God’s Square Mile (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

                                                                    (11.) St. Peter’s Church, “Mother Church of Old Catholic New York”; New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, “St. Peter’s Church,” December 12, 1965.

                                                                    (12.) See Phoebe Stanton, The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture: An Episode in Taste, 1840–1856 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

                                                                    (13.) On the anti-formalist embrace of this formalist architectural style, see Jeanne Halgren Kilde, “Church Architecture and the Second Great Awakening: Revivalism, Space, and Politics,” in Embodying the Spirit: New Perspectives on North American Revivalism, ed. Michael J. McClymond (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1999), 103–106.

                                                                    (14.) On auditorium churches, see Jeanne Halgren Kilde, When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Worship and Architecture in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 112–131.

                                                                    (16.) Peter Williams, Houses of Go: Region, Religion, and Architecture in the United States (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 173–175.

                                                                    (18.) Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, A History of Islam in America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 183–193; and Gregory Orfalea, Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab Americans (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988), 94–95, 262–276.

                                                                    (19.) See, for instance, Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1953), 77; and Michael S. Rose, Ugly as Sin (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2001), 136–142.

                                                                    (20.) Anne C. Loveland and Otis B. Wheeler, From Meetinghouse to Megachurch: A Material and Cultural History (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 257–259.

                                                                    (23.) Mahalingum Kolapen and Sanjay Kolapen, Hindu Temples in North America: A Celebration of Life (Orlando, FL: Hindu University of America, 2002), 13.

                                                                    (24.) Joanne Punzo Waghorne, “The Hindu Gods in a Split-Level World: The Sri Siva-Vishnu Temple in Suburban Washington, D.C.,” in Gods of the City: Religion and the Urban Landscape, ed. Robert A. Orsi (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 121–125.

                                                                    (25.) A good introduction to mosque architecture and meaning is Christopher E. Longhurst, “Theology of a Mosque: The Sacred Inspiring Form, Function and Design in Islamic Architecture,” Lonaard Magazine 8.2 (March 2012), 3–13.

                                                                    (26.) On recent challenges to gender separation in mosques, see Zarqa Nawaz, dir., Me & the Mosque, DVD, National Film Board of Canada, 2005. In the 19th century, similar challenges to gender separation occurred within synagogues; see Karla Goldman, Beyond the Synagogue Gallery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 40–50.

                                                                    (27.) Such repurposing is not unique to the United States but is widespread in England and Europe.

                                                                    (28.) See, for instance, Jeanne Halgren Kilde, “The Park 51/Ground Zero Controversy and Sacred Sites as Contested Space,” Religions 2 (2011): 297–311.

                                                                    (29.) See U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, “A Guide to Federal Religious Land Use Protections,”. See also, U.S. Department of Justice, “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” retrieved from

                                                                    (30.) See, for instance, Michael McNally, “From Substantial Burden on Religion to Diminished Spiritual Fulfillment: The San Francisco Peaks Case and the Misunderstanding of Native American Religion,” Journal of Law and Religion 30 (Feb. 2015): 36–64.

                                                                    (31.) Rachel Dwyer, “The Swaminarayan Movement,” in South Asians in the Diaspora: Histories and Religious Traditions, eds. Knut A. Jacobsen and P. Pratap Kumar (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2004), 180–199.