SAECULUM. Jahrbuch für Universalgeschichte

Volume 71 (2021), number 2

Cover SAECULUM 2022/1

Contributions Special Issue “Sacred Spaces: Cultural Dynamics, Interdisciplinary Perspectives”

Kerstin P. Hofmann/Asuman Lätzer-Lasar: Archaeology and Sacred Space: On Ancient and Contemporary Practices of (De-) Sacralization of the Palatine in Rome
Archaeology, as a modern social practice for the analysis of historical processes on the basis of material remains, plays an ambivalent role in the (de-)sacralization of ancient remains. On the one hand it provides evidence for the deep history of human communities; on the other it often destroys our illusions about the past. Inspired by the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre our aim is to analyze the production of sacred spatiality, respectively the process of the sacralization of (social) space, by investigating the interplay of the perceived material space with the conceived space of representation, and finally with the lived social space of practices. We adopt a practice-theoretical approach for our case study, namely the Palatine in Rome, to analyze the diachronic transformations of a sacred space. The Palatine is an appropriate example for this purpose, as it is considered a significant heritage site and sacred space, both in ancient and in present times. The article addresses specific practices of the (de-)sacralization of space – repeating, spatial marking, aligning, naming and mapping, reifying as well as maintaining and protecting – and discusses the possibilities but also the limitations of a praxeological approach in analyzing sacred space.

Christian Stadelmaier: Sacred Space and Its Implications in the Works of Walahfrid Strabo
This article analyzes the meaning of sacred space in selected works by Walahfrid Strabo, drawing particular attention to the depiction of a church dedication in a passage of his Vita Galli. Besides the hagiographic source focused on here, attention is also given to Walahfrid’s Libellus de exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum. Through an intertextual approach, this article examines the significance and implications of sacred space in Walahfrid’s texts. In the first step, Walahfrid’s texts are analyzed in their historical context. Here, the process of the church dedication and therefore the creation of sacred space in the Vita Galli are central. On this basis, the article focuses on questions concerning the concept of sacred space, asking for its deeper contents and implications in Walahfrid’s works by integrating a concept of historical spatial analysis. In doing so, methodological aspects are duly considered. It is shown that sacred space in the examined works of Walahfrid incorporates contemporary discourses and is of didactic value. The sacred space is also the environment where correctio is realized, and where the development and representation of Christian identity take place.

Nenette Arroyo: The Shifting Sacred: Architecture and Ritual in the California Missions
Franciscan missionaries founded twenty-one missions in Alta California between 1769 and 1823, in the closing decades of the Spanish empire in America. Missions were spiritual-industrial enterprises established for the purpose of gathering the Indigenous population into Christianized agricultural settlements which could provide economic support for military forts on the northern frontier of New Spain. Art historical scholarship on these California sites has been largely formalist, focusing on mission church architecture and religious art. The ritual aspect of sacred placemaking, while integral to the experience of these spaces, has received little attention from historians of visual culture. Architectural survival and preservation have also obscured the contested nature of sacred space, which was an ongoing negotiation between Christianity and Indigenous religions, and between the spiritual and industrial agenda of the mission. This essay examines how sacred spaces were created on both sides of an uneven power relationship through the interplay of the built environment and faith practice. It argues that while the holiness of place can be signaled by architecture, social spaces of sacred meaning can be variably created by spatial practice and cultural memory.

Todd Klaiman: Stakeholder Relations and the Production of Religious Space in a Transnational Chinese Community
This article discusses imaginings of and claims over sacredness as they pertain to the making, unmaking, and remaking of Chinese religious space on Penang Island, Malaya during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The discussion focuses on the fascinating history of the establishment of Chinese monastic Buddhism on Penang. This momentous event involved a network of diverse stakeholders who cooperated and in some cases competed to define as well as significantly alter religious space across Southeast Asia and Southeast China. The findings presented in this article support the view that sacredness and religious space are contingent on external actors for their existence. The discussion of these findings brings to light the pervasive interrelation of cultural, economic, religious, social, and political processes in the production of sacredness and religious space. The extensive commingling of these spatially as well as historically situated processes suggests a challenge to the conventional framing of religious space in terms of a profane-sacred dichotomy. The diversity of actors, whether stakeholders or processes, involved in making claims over sacredness and the production of religious space in the case study presented in this article expands the challenge to include a questioning of the interpretive potency of presuming discrete, impermeable boundaries between religious and non-religious spaces or fields.

Benjamin Brendel: Modernity Built on ‘Indian’ Graves: Competing Visions of Sacredness and Power During the Construction of the Grand Coulee Dam (1933–1941)
Sacred Spaces can be connected with very profane places and things, like a dam. During the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam (1933 to 1941) in the US state of Washington, different conceptions of a ‘sacred space’ were brought into contact: of indigenous communities living close by and of different players connected to the government-run construction work. The concept of a sacred modernity challenged indigenous sacred concepts, the respective images of future and past being at odds with one another. This article reconstructs the resulting discourse, working mainly with media sources. At its core, the discourse bears upon questions about the interpretation of a sacred space, the possibility of coexistence, and participation in the promised salvation. The investigation of this conflict shows how the conception of a sacred space was connected to claims of power. Moreover, it reveals that the promise of salvation was only a limited offer for participation and that the benefit of the concept was based on the disadvantage of others. The focus on the conceptions of sacred spaces enables us to uncover the conflict over positive and negative impacts of a dam as powerful infrastructure.

Muhamed Riyaz Chenganakkattil: Conceptualizing the Invisible: Jinn Mosques and Sacred Space in India
Scholarly engagements with material religion are generally built upon ideas related to the materiality of objects and spaces. Research on sacred space, too, is predominantly conceptualized from such perspectives. In India, pilgrims visit sacred architectures, on a ritual basis, for religious and secular purposes. In this context, studies on sacred space have primarily focused on the phenomenon of visiting ‘visible sacred spaces’. However, the concept of ‘invisible sacred space’ has received less attention. This concept refers to a sacralized space associated with invisible beings who are venerated by people. This space is constructed around an ‘imagined sacredness’ through which various practices emerge. Jinn mosques are instances of such invisible spaces which are thought capable of acting on believers’ imaginations. This article analyzes the making of such space through different aspects of sacredness, ranging from various sensorial experiences to sacred objects and livings. Along with a discussion of the sufi-jinn amalgam, the contribution considers the practice of writing letters to jinns as a textual construction of sacred space. Discussing various aspects of jinn architecture, this article deals with new modes of constructing sacred space and suggests that the idea of invisible sacred space blurs the dichotomy between the concepts of the visible and the invisible.

Martin Radermacher: Religious Agency of Built Environments or Social Construction of Sacred Space? Socio-Spatial Arrangements and the Making of Religious Space
In the summer of 2013, Chaplain Christian Olding organized a Roman Catholic service in the movie theater of Kleve on the lower Rhine. Olding, then leader of the Catholic youth project “Veni!”, offered his congregation an unusual experience of Catholic liturgy: light shows, pop music, video clips, and fog machines combined to a multi-sensory experience in the auditorium. Though the service was also criticized, it was well received overall – a ‘blockbuster’, as it were. The event proved analytic distinctions of sacred vs. profane space wrong: Any place bears the potential of being used as a religious space, at least for a limited stretch of time; no space is inherently sacred. Nonetheless, certain spatial arrangements are more prone to attributions of sacredness, for instance church buildings. Other spaces – like movie theatres – are less likely to offer themselves religious ritual, and, if used for that purpose, are liable to controversy. The cases presented in this article allow analytic insights on how sacred space is established through both communicative attribution and the agency of material environments. The article starts from recent theoretical work on architecture and materiality in the study of religions and applies these approaches to empirical data, i.e. the socio-spatial configurations of Catholic youth initiatives. Moreover, it discusses methodological issues connected to the agency of built environments and the making of religious space: How is it possible to analytically reconstruct the materially encoded semantics of built environments? What does a socio-spatial arrangement ‘suggest’, and how does it ‘respond’ to social actions trying to reframe its semantic dispositions?

Michael Stausberg: Auschwitz and the Meta-Topography of the Sacred
This article proposes a distinction between the religious and the sacred. It treats the sacred as an analytical concept and seeks to demonstrate its effectiveness by using it as a lens through which to look at Mucha’s photograph of the gatehouse at Auschwitz-Birkenau. As an analytical concept, the sacred is disentangled into a series of master tropes: the sacred as the ineffable, the sacred as a binary/oppositional category, the sacred as contagion and transformative ambiguity, the sacred as a liminal category, the sacred as excess of meaning, the sacred as the non-negotiable and inviolable. The article seeks to demonstrate that some of the tropes related to the sacred yield meaningful analysis of this extraordinary space of memory as reflected and mediated through Mucha’s picture. Finally, the article addresses the interplay of the religious and the sacred by looking at religious and political claims, discursive and ritual appropriations referred to here as sanctifications of a sacred space.