Architecture and Religion

In the discussion just finished, I asked  if social and cultural differences can be seen in architecture and then rephrased this to ask if you can tell anything about a society from its religious architecture…. 

One student said “No”  (well, actually his answer was a bit longer than this one word..but the essence was ‘No’).
This is a fair answer.. and has caused me to think about the  role of architecture, indeed of material culture in general  plays in society – is it intrinsic, is it an emanation, an outgrowth of particular cultures… or is it merely different as a result of practical considerations – material available, the state of engineering knowledge, labour supply , and so on….

4 thoughts on “Architecture and Religion

  1. I sampled various discussions on this topic within a number of groups including my own.There is a relationship between culture and its material expressions, but these are never the full story because the context is not known completely. To know a culture requires immersion in it, or second best would be to experience primary oral or written sources on aspects of the culture.Comments?

  2. I had a really, really hard time with this question. One is because architecture just does NOT interest me in many respects. I like to look a the beauty and history of the particular building itself (for instance, when visiting the UK in 2001, I took a trip to Westminster Cathedral. It was the architecture of the building that interested me as much as the people that were buried under the floor and why they were there!)But religion in a lot of cases now transcends cultures, but the buildings that house those particular faiths don't necessarily change. Churches in Western Europe and Australia are physically much like churches in North America. Mosques in North America are essentially smaller versions of the large mosques in the Middle East. The new, very large, Hindu and Sikh temples recently built around Toronto could very easily be picked up and dropped in India and fit right in. So is the architecture to society or to the religion? Religion plays a large part in society, but particularly here in the west, we have many religions working alongside one another, so where does the culture fit into the architecture then? Or is it that the culture of the originating geography brought with the religion? (And I would have to argue that, for people such as myself, who try to avoid the originating culture in favour of practicing just the faith, no, it isn't. But I do know others would say yes it is.)Or maybe I just misunderstood the question. Again. 🙂

  3. Actually no, you did not misunderstand. The point of the question is to cause you to consider the possibility – and at an more fundamental level, to think critically. I do not believe I am the smartest, or ever best read of persons! I read all well-thought out opinions with interest and care – I learn a lot that way! If the study of history teaches anything, it is critical thought – to observed, to look for linkages, to bring a critical assessment to linkages! As John Henry Newman said in his 19th century book, 'The Idea of a University' (and I paraphrase here): education is not about memorizing reams of facts… it is about thinking about those facts…Ted

  4. And to reply to Edmund: Indeed! But too often in academic studies of religion, it is assumed that a study of doctrine and of historical events affecting doctrine is the whole story. I tend to come at the the study of religion from the level of experience – that religion is understood best as an experience – an individual experience and a social group experience – which would include doctrine, but also the material expression, music, mysticism and so on….If religion is an element of culture ( a statement to which anthropologists would shout shout, 'of course'), then the scholar must immerse him or herself into the multivalent cultural contexts of each era and place to begin to comprehend. I admit here I am a unregenerate follower of Collingwood's thoughts in 'The Idea of History' and Michel Vovelle's Ideologies and Mentalities…. that is the historian must to the greatest extent possible be immersed in the period and place being studied.ted

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