Religion Space & Place

Course Description

A common term in religious discourse is “sacred space.” One hears it used both in casual discussions and scholarly analysis. But what does this term actually mean? What constitutes the “sacred” as it relates to places and spaces? how does a place or space become and continue to be sacred? what sorts of rituals and religious practices are performed there? what are the mythological and social and historical particularities of a particular place or space? are all such places and spaces fundamentally the same or different?

These are only some of the questions that will inform our analysis and discussion of sacred space and place in this course. Through close readings and discussions of primary and secondary texts, we will attempt to articulate a comparative approach to sacred space and place; we will attempt to map out a basic theoretical and methodological approach to sacred space and place; and, finally, we will discuss what we get when we think compartively about such issues.

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of this course are to enable students to pursue in greater depth research into sacred space and sacred place, two concepts that are emerging areas of study in religious studies. The course seeks to enable students to develop their skills in comparative study, both by helping them gain a more sophisticated theoretical framework for such work and by working through specific religious sites that require critical spatial and social analysis.

Required Texts

- Tim Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction (London: Blackwell, 2004).

- Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) .

- Jacob N. Kinnard, Places in Motion: The Fluid Identities of Temples, Images, and Pilgrims (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014),


Weekly reading and class participation . All readings must be completed with sufficient time to allow each student to be prepared to discuss and engage the materials in class.

Essays . Two essays of 1500 words each.

Evaluation and Grading

Class participation and discussion............................................................................ 50%


About Plagiarism : Plagiarism is the use of another person’s distinctive ideas or words without acknowledgment. The incorporation of another person’s work into one’s own requires appropriate identification and acknowledgment, regardless of the means of appropriation. The following are considered to be forms of plagiarism when the source is not noted:

- word-for-word copying of another person’s ideas or word

- the mosaic (the interspersing of one’s own words here and there while, in essence, copying another’s work

-the paraphrase (the rewriting of another’s work, yet still using their fundamental idea or theory)

- fabrication (inventing or counterfeiting sources

- submission of another’s work as one’s own

- neglecting quotation marks on material that is otherwise acknowledged

I take plagiarism very seriously. If you plagiarize, you will receive a zero on that assignment. You should know that all essays will be checked; software is widely available, including on Canvas, that will allow you to check your own work to be sure you have not unwittingly plagiarized. Please use these tools.


12 September                    Place and Religions

1. Jonathan Z. Smith, “Map is Not Territory,” in Map is not Territory: Studies in the History of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 289-309; 2. Kim Knott, The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis (London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 11-34; Borges, "On Exactitude in Science." Preview the document

19 September                    What is Place?

Cresswell, Place: A Short Introduction (London: Blackwell, 2004).

26 September                     How and Why are Place and Space Sacred

1. R.A. Markus, “How on Earth Could Places Become Holy? Origins of the Christian Idea of Holy Places,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 2.3 (1994): 257-72 ; 2. Jonathan Z. Smith, "The Topography of the Sacred," Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 101-116.

3 October

First Essay Due 7 October

For this essay, I'd like you to take a place - any place that has religious associations, something you will need to argue for - and analyze that place using one or more of the sources we have read. So, for instance, you might analyze Devils Tower using Smith, or the Vietnam Memorial using Cresswell, etc. The more you limit the scope of your discussion, the better.

How you analyze is something you must decide; think about, say, our discussion about social construction vs. ontology, or power, or origin vs. use. There are lots of possibilities.

No Postings This Week

10 October Let’s Get Theoretical

1. Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angles and Other Real- And-Imagined Places (London: Blackwell 1996), 1-23 , 53-82 ; 2. Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 1-29.

17 October The Construction and Conception of Place

Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) .

23 October Shifting Places

Jacob N. Kinnard, Places in Motion: The Fluid Identities of Temples, Images, and Pilgrims (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), ix-79.

30 October Jerusalem

1. R. Friedland and R. Hecht, “The Politics of Sacred Place: Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/ al-haram al-sharif ,” in J. Scott and P. Simpson-Housley, Sacred Places and Profane Spaces: Essays in the Geographics of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), pp. 21-61 . 2. Karen Armstrong, “Jerusalem: the problems and responsibilities of sacred space,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 13, no. 2 (2002): 189-96.

6 November Shifting Places Part Two

Jacob N. Kinnard, Places in Motion: The Fluid Identities of Temples, Images, and Pilgrims (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 80-192.

13 November Secular Sacred Places

1. Gilmore, Burning Man, TBA; 2. Las Vegas, TBA.

18 November                   So "Where" Are We?

Second Essay Due

Sep 14, 2018FriThinking About Religion Spatially due by 05:59AM
Sep 21, 2018FriOn Cresswelldue by 05:59AM
Sep 28, 2018FriWhy Placesdue by 05:59AM
Oct 08, 2018MonFirst Paperdue by 05:59AM
Oct 15, 2018MonUsing Or Not Using Theorydue by 05:59AM
Oct 19, 2018FriOn Smithdue by 05:59AM
Nov 02, 2018FriJerusalemdue by 05:59AM
Nov 09, 2018FriPlaces in Motiondue by 06:59AM
Nov 16, 2018FriBurning Mandue by 06:59AM
Nov 19, 2018MonFinal Essaydue by 06:59AM