Thursday, December 9, 2010

spatial non-homogeneity in eight cities

Religious people adhere to the concept of spatial non-homogeneity: secular space (and time) is interrupted by sacred space, marked off and sanctified. Spiritual groups construct architecture, landscape and interiors to constitute a kind of spiritual identity, to evoke identification and orientation. It is not common to think of this phenomenon as rhetoric, but what could be more rhetorical than providing an embodied experience with time and space in order to create a kind of soul?

PBS, in cooperation with Sacred Space International, has created self-guided tours of eight U.S. cities and their sacred spaces. You can be a sacred space tourist! How does that work, exactly? Is sacred space still sacred if you don't consider it sacred yourself---when the symbols and the order and the altars and visual culture don't speak to you as it does to adherents of that faith, when that space is a space like any other, when the threshold isn't really a threshold?

Though the pull of sacred space is limited in the experience of the nonbeliever, I think it's still there. When I visited Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, the 2nd most sacred place in all the world for Muslims, in 1998, I was completely floored at the transcendent feeling I got, a feeling I believe was engineered for Muslims by 7th century Muslim architects. Could it be argued that with the rhetoric of sacred space, identification is not necessary for the experience of the sacred?

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