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Conceptualizing Sacred Space/s



Conceptualizing Sacred Space/s

Sacred Space/s

Conceptualizing Sacred Space/s: Perspectives from the Study of Culture

May 23-25 2018


Justus Liebig University Giessen

Recent events such as the political struggle and legal disputes over the construction of the Dakota
Access Pipeline in the United States have powerfully moved the issue of the “sacredness” of space/place/territory into the center of public attention in America and beyond. Raising awareness about the “desacralization” of “sacred sites” as well as the potential contamination of water, Native American groups were joined by environmental activists worldwide in their public fight against the pipeline’s routing over the territory of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This nexus of collective imagination, space and social praxis invites a series of key questions concerning the construction and deconstruction of “sacred space” as well as notions of “the sacred”. Moreover, struggles over spatial configurations of the sacred are often closely related to key concerns in the study of culture and connected to issues of power, ownership, authority, identity, mediation, political claims over territory and/or social practice(s).

This symposium promotes the concept of “sacred space(s)” as a point of entry for bringing together recent theoretical work on space and place with the study of culture and the study/anthropology of religion. Furthermore, the symposium explores the changing, and at times conflicting, imaginations of the “sacred” and their role in the making and unmaking of specific spatial configurations and features in past and present contexts. The goal of the symposium is twofold: first, it aims at fostering an interdisciplinary dialogue in the study of spatial(izing) formations of the “sacred” and its cultural dynamics. Second, by focusing on the multiple layers, inner frictions and dynamics of “sacred space(s)”, it attempts to challenge an analytical vocabulary that is based on conventional dichotomies such as religious/secular, traditional/modern or sacred/profane.

Placing “sacred space(s)” at the center of our symposium allows us to study religious phenomen awithin concrete spatial configurations from several disciplinary angles (e.g. archaeology, art history, study of religion, ethnography, theology, history, study of literature, social sciences, economics) and to address a broad range of subjects. Making theories of space fruitful for the study of religion and vice versa allows us to develop fresh analytical perspectives on established fields of study, such as pilgrimages, sacral architecture and buildings, ritual places and the mediation of the “sacred”. At the same time, however, it also enables us to develop new questions with regard to issues such as the (contested) place of religion(s) in colonial spaces, power and access to the “sacred”, imagined (religious) geographies, religion and migration, aesthetics and experience of space in sacral buildings (temples, churches, mosques, synagogues, etc.), religious spatial imagination and spatial concepts such as hell or underworlds.

Among the topics we would like to discussare the following:

  • Imaginations of the “sacred” in specific places/spaces
  • Production of “space” through specific notions of the “sacred”/”sacredness”; production of “sacredness” through specific spatial configurations
  • Emergence, transitions, transformations of “sacred spaces”
  • Desecration, destruction, conflict and “sacred space/s”
  • The “aesthetics” of “sacred spaces” across various religious, cultural and social contexts
  • Media and “sacred space/s”
  • Representations of “sacred space/s” in literature and film
  • The politics of “sacred space/s”; gender and “sacred spaces”
  • The role of (religious) communities in the production of space (public space, “sacred” space, memory sites)
  • The roles of “sacred space/s” in contemporary societies
  • Processes of (de-)sacralization beyond (institutionalized) religion (for instance in the field of sports), the notion of a “return” of the “sacred”, politicization of “sacred spaces”, fundamentalism, “public religion”
  • Heuristic value of the concept of “sacred space” for the study of culture
  • History and meaning of the concept “sacred space” in individual disciplines and interdisciplinary scholarship
  • Heuristic tools and methodologies for the study of “sacred space/s” (e.g., scholarship in sound studies, material culture, art history, architecture, design studies, etc.)
  • The concept of “sacred space” and its relation to other notions such as “lieu”, “espace”, “ritual site”, “Kultplatz”, “Sakralraum”

Please register via E-mail. Thank you!

Organized by the GCSC research group "Culture & Religion".



Day 1, Wed, 23 May 2018

14:30 Welcome & Opening Remarks (Doris Bachmann-Medick, Mina Ibrahim, Jens Kugele, Katharina Stornig)

Ritual, Power, Performativity, and the Politics of Sacred Space

Beatriz Catão Cruz Santos (Rio de Janeiro): From the Dances to the Awnings and Arches. The Corpus Christi Procession of the Portuguese Empire in the Eighteenth Century

Nadezhda Rychkova (Moscow): Strastnoi Monastery vs. Pushkin Square. Struggle for the Sacred Space

| Response: Diana Hitzke (Giessen)
| Chair: Katharina Stornig (Giessen)

16:30 - Coffee Break -

Keynote Lecture I

Birgit Meyer (Utrecht): Religious Matters in Urban Environments. Space and the Study of Co-Existence

| Chair: Jens Kugele (Giessen)

19:00 - Dinner -

Day 2, Thr, May 24 2018


Canon, Legitimacy, Order

Christian Stadelmaier (Giessen): Sacred Space and its Implications in the Works of Walahfrid Strabo

Margriet Hoogvliet (Groningen): Religious Reading and Sacred Books in the Late Medieval Household. An Approach to Religious Places and Spaces

Todd Klaiman (Hong Kong): Construction of Sacred Space and Religious Legitimacy. Enshrinement of a Qing Imperial Canon in Southeast Asia's First Chinese Buddhist Monastery, 1891-1906

| Response: Matthias Schmidt (Giessen)

| Chair: Elisabeth Engler-Starck (Giessen)

11:30 - Coffee Break -

Place, Site, Space, and the Location/Archeology of Sacred Space

Thomas Meier (Heidelberg) & Petra Tillessen (Bonn): Making Sites Sacred in Archeology

Ruth Beusing & Kerstin P. Hofmann (Frankfurt/Main): Archeology and Sacred Space: Modern and (Pre)historic Medial Practices in the Tara Landscape (Ireland)

| Response: Isabel Toral-Niehoff (Berlin)

| Chair: Doris Bachmann-Medick (Giessen)

13:30 - Lunch Break -
14:30 Secular/Urban and the Production of Sacred Space

Martin Radermacher (Bochum): Religious Agency of Built Space vs. Social Construction of Sacred Space? A Case Study on Catholic Liturgy in Familiar and Unfamiliar Places

Mina Ibrahim (Giessen/Beirut): My Parish, My Coffeehouse. The Making of a Christian Space in Egypt

| Response: Andreas Langenohl (Giessen)

| Chair: Nikola Baković (Giessen)

16:30 - Coffee Break -

Keynote Lecture II

Michael Stausberg (Bergen): Sacred Space(s) in the 20th Century

| Chair: Mina Ibrahim (Giessen)

19:00 Conference Reception

Day 3, Fr, May 25 2018


Visible/Invisible and the Imagination of Sacred Space

Johanna Scherb (Giessen): Gerhard Richter's "48 Portraits" and their Auratic Impact

Muhamed Riyaz Chenganakkattil (Delhi): Thin and Invisible Sacred Spaces. Obsession with Imagined Sacredness and Jinn Mosques in India

| Response: Doris Bachmann-Medick (Giessen)

| Chair: Jens Kugele (Giessen)

10:30 - Coffee Break -

Architecture, Infrastructure, and the Construction of Sacred Spaces

Nenette Marie Arroyo (Charlottesville): The Shifting Sacred. Ritual and Art in the California Missions

Benjamin Brendel (Giessen): Modernity Built on “Indian” Graves. Visions of Sacredness and Power During the Building of the Grand Coulee Dam (1933-1941)

Beate Löffler (Duisburg): Built Dreams. Architectural Spaces and the Promise of Immanent Transcendence

| Response: Katharina Stornig (Giessen)

| Chair: Marija Spirkovska (Giessen)


Concluding Discussion

13:45 - Lunch -



Nikola Bakovic / Marija Spirkovska (GCSC, Gießen),  Gerrit Lange (Philipp-Universität Marburg)

Review on the Symposium




Rathenaustraße 24A, 35394 Giessen


Alter Steinbacher Weg 38, 35394 Giessen

Find us by bus:

From Giessen railway station: bus route number 10 goes directly to Rathenaustraße (alternatively take the bus number 5 or 24 to Marktplatz  and then change to line 801 or 802 to Rathenaustraße). When you arrive at Rathenaustraße you will see the main buildings of the Philosophikum I.

Bus line number 2 in the direction of Eichendorffring stops at Graudenzer Straße

Please take a look at this map to find your way to the GCSC-building:

Or by car

If you are letting a route planner create the best route for you, or if you are using a GPS/Navigation system, simply enter the address: Rathenaustraße 24A, 35394 Giessen.


Registration and Deregistration (Conditions)



Registration for courses of the GGK/GCSC is done via stud.ip (with a password that will be sent to the members at the beginning of the semester) or by e-mail to the organizer.

Registrations will be considered according to the date of receipt. GCSC and IPP members get priority, GGK members are welcome to register as well and can participate depending on the capacity.

You will receive further information about the event approximately 10 days before the course.


Please note: Your registration is binding and commits you to full participation in the respective course.




If you are not able to attend a course due to illness, etc., we ask that you cancel your registration by email/on StudIp at least 7 days prior to the start of the course so that other interested parties can move up on the waiting lists.

In case of repeated absence without cancellation, we reserve the right to block persons for the course programme of the following year.