Sacred Space in Protestant North America

Over the past four centuries, Protestants have employed a variety of types of spaces in North America for religious activities. An image recently used to promote the Duke Divinity School suggests their variety. It features a skyscraper, Duke’s chapel, a government building, a factory, a water tower, and a small church. Each is a space for Protestants’ mobile and expansive religion.

Promotional Image for Duke Divinity School by Rev. Amy Scroggin Armistead.
Credit: Courtesy Duke Divinity School, Duke University.

Thus begins my essay on “Protestant Spaces in North America” in The Oxford Handbook of Religious Space published last year by Oxford University Press. The handbook was nine years in the making and covers the whole gamut of human religious life. You can survey its contents here.

My essay shows that Protestants’ sacred or religious spaces are well understood in terms of one or more of four activities

encountering God, enacting Christian community, forming Christians, and redeeming the world. Understanding Protestants’ spatial practices thus entails examining, not only church architecture, but also how other spaces are incorporated into Protestant ritual. With their focus on faith and scripture, Protestants have often been resistant to locative approaches that identify certain places as sacred, preferring instead utopian approaches that affirm God is not bound to space but can be accessed in most places. They have sought to unite the religious and secular by investing all spaces with religious meaning.

The whole essay is available online through many university libraries (including Samford University’s) at https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190874988.013.15. It is also available in the hardcover book. If you would like a copy of the essay and don’t have access to it, write me at drbains@samford.edu and I’ll send you as a PDF.

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