Religion 498 W: Senior Seminar—Sacred Space                                revised: August 26, 2005

Samford University, Department of Religion, Fall 2005

Mon., Wed. 2:15-4:05, 320 Chapman Hall


David R. Bains, Associate Professor
  325 Chapman Hall, phone: 726-2879, email:
Office Hours:  Mon., Wed., Fri., 8:30-10:30am.  Other times available by appointment.


Course Description:


This seminar focuses on sacred space.  For the purposes of this course a "sacred space" is a place, building, or landscape that is either charged with a surplus of meaning or used for ritual activity.  These definitions include all buildings dedicated to religious ritual (churches, temples, mosques, monasteries, etc.), all places where the divine is thought to manifested itself (Sinai, Jerusalem, Palmyra, N.Y.), but it also may include places charged with a "surplus of meaning."  That is places that are very meaningful.  Places whose significance extends beyond themselves.  They are regarded as symbolic of values and events that transcend their immediate bounds ("ground Zero," battlefields, monuments, etc.).  Some seemingly secular places might be regarded in sacred as sacred in this regard.


Our readings will focus on sacred spaces that are either American or Christian.  Your senior paper may focus on any sacred space, or some aspect of the approach to sacred space of one religious tradition.  If you are focusing on a non-American or non-Christian topic, however, you must have some prior background in the topic you are undertaken. The first part of the class will be devoted to common readings and visits.  The second part to your research and writing.  You will, however, begin to gather ideas and bibliography early in the semester.


Required Texts:

Chidester, David, and Edward Tabor Linenthal. American Sacred Space.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Kieckhefer, Richard. Theology in Stone: Church Architecture from Byzantium to Berkeley. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Lane, Belden C. Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality. Expanded ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

reading packet


Course Requirements:

Student presentations of readings & Participation (attendance, preparedness, contribution to class): (25%)

Students will be responsible for leading discussion on the readings several times during the term:

Two students will be assigned for each set of readings.  You should work together to present the readings as a team.  Obviously there may be some subdivision of initial labor, but you should meet together and work on a joint final product.

Discussion leaders must:

·        Search on line and assemble a list of links to images of places being discussed.  This should be emailed to the class and posted on the WebCT discussion board for the course by the class meeting before your readings will be discussed.

·        Introduce the readings in a brief presentation (10 minutes) and a written document of not more four double -spaced pages.  Bring enough copies of this for all seminar members.  (Copies for students may be double-spaced to save paper.)  You will have much more than 10 minutes of stuff to say, but you need to prioritize and present the most important information in the first 10 minutes.  You will make your other contributes in the general discussion.

Your presentation should:

·        Identify the major arguments of the reading.  Including the general perspective on sacred space presented.

·        Discuss the significance and validity of the argument. (What support do the authors offer?  What payoff does their idea yield?)

·        Place the reading in dialogue with the other readings we have studied.  (What does this add to what we have read?  How does it support or challenge the work of other scholars?)

·        Take the lead in class discussion of the readings.

Senior Paper: 75%

Drafts and other assignments (10%)

If these are complete, on time, and demonstrate a good faith effort you'll get full credit (i.e., A+, 100%).

If they are on-time and incomplete etc. you'll get partial credit (i.e., B or C).

If they are not on time you will get no credit (0%).

Everyone should get 100%.

Final product (65%)—Due Thursday, December 15, 2005.  The final paper will be a significant piece of independent research that contributes to the scholarship on your topic.  It will be placed on permanent file in the religion department.  There is no set length, but most papers will be at least twenty pages.  Only in exceptional cases will they be more than forty.  (Most should be closer to twenty.)
An outsider reader may be involved in reviewing your work and determining the final grade.
It has been customary for the revising of the senior thesis to continue into the spring semester.  This year the paper submitted on Dec. 15 will be treated as final and graded.  HOWEVER, the instructor might allow the thesis to be revised and resubmitted for a possibly improved grade.  The due date for revisions will be Feb. 28.

Public Presentation (Spring 2006) Student Showcase or other venue

All students except December degree candidates should expect to receive the grade "IP"—"in progress" on their December grade reports.  This will allow for adequate time to grade your thesis and possibly for you to revise them.


National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Samford sends a number of students to this conference each year to present their own original research projects.  This year the conference will be April 6-9, 2006 at UNC Asheville.  If you are interested in presenting reasearch at this conference, I encourage submit your proposal.  You may submit any research project, but your senior thesis is an obvious candidate.  Samford's internal deadline for review of applications is pretty early in the semester.  I will require all students to prepare a proposal in time to meet this deadline.  If you are interested and I am willing to recommend your proposal, we can then submit it to the associate provost.  The important dates in the NCUR process are:

  1. October 26, 2005 (Samford review deadline)
  2. December 2, 2005 (NCUR national submission deadline)
  3. January 30, 2006 (NCUR acceptance notification)
  4. February 17, 2006 (NCUR registration deadline)

Full information on NCUR and Samford's review process is available at:


To have a successful proposal you will have to have a well-defined topic by October.  If I am unwilling to recommend you proposal it does not mean that your final project will not be outstanding.  There is a lot of time between mid-October and the end of the semester.


Academic Integrity:

"Students upon enrollment, enter into voluntary association with Samford University.  They must be willing to observe high standards of intellectual integrity; they must respect knowledge and practice academic honesty.  Those who cheat on an examination or class assignment are not only academically dishonest, but also completely deficient in the scholarly maturity necessary to college study.  Those detected in dishonesty are subject to severe punishment.  The more dependence on cheating, the more inevitable becomes ultimate failure, often accompanied by public disgrace.  Any act to obtain an unfair academic advantage is considered dishonest." Samford University Catalog 2004-2005, p. 36.


Attendance and Grading / Department of Religion:

Roll will be taken each day.  In a MW class a student may miss four classes without automatic penalty.  After the seventh absence, your final grade will be reduced one letter grade.  After the ninth absence the student will receive an FA for the course.  Three tardies count as one absence.  If you come in after your name is called, you will need to notify your professor at the end of the class period.  Otherwise the tardy will become an absence.  The Department of Religion grading scale is:

A= 100%-95%, A- = 94%-92%

B+ = 91%-88%, B = 87% - 85%, B- = 84%-82%

C+ = 81% - 78%, C = 77%-74%, C- = 73% - 70%

D+ = 69% - 66%, D = 65% - 63%, D- = 62% -60%

F = below 59%


Papers that are turned in after the set due date will be penalized one full letter grade for each week that they are late.


All students with disabilities seeking reasonable accommodation must register with Disability Support Services #726-4078 or #726-2105.  Thereafter, you are invited to schedule appointments with the instructor to discuss reasonable accommodation requests verified by Disability Support Services.


Inclusive Language

"Language—how it is used and what it implies—plays a crucial role in Samford University’s mission to "nurture persons." Because verbal constructions create realities, inclusive language can uphold or affirm those whom we seek to nurture, while exclusive language can damage or defeat them. We therefore actively seek a discourse in our university community that supports the equal dignity and participation of men and women; we seek to avoid verbal constructions that diminish the equal dignity of all persons. It is an affirmative—and affirming—part of our mission to educate students, staff and faculty in the creation of a community of equality and respect through language." Samford University Catalog 2004-2005, p. 2.

For information on the format of papers and citations see my handout "Guidelines for Essays in Religion."


Class Schedule: (Subject to Change)


August 29: Introduction


August 31:

Mircea Eliade, introduction and chapter 1, "Sacred Space and Making the World Sacred," in The Sacred and the Profane: The Naure of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1959), 8-67.


Assignment: Belden Lane relates the story of an Apache cowboy who quietly recited " a long list of place-names" while working.  When asked about this, the Apache "replied that the names were simply good to say.  Repeating them was for him almost a way of being there once again." Lane suggests that "all of us carry inside of ourselves a similar list of places."  Places that "at different times and in different ways" have mediated the holy.  Places that are sacred to us (xi).


Please think of 3-5 places that you find "good to say."  Places that carry significant meaning for you.  Prepare a short PowerPoint slide presentation, with a slide for each place listing the name and perhaps including a picture if you can conveniently include one.  Bring this to class on a USB drive or disk or email it to me and I'll have it ready to go.


September 5:

Jonathan Z. Smith, chapter 1 "In Search of Place," To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1-23.


foreword, preface and introduction in American Sacred Space, ix-xiv, 1-42

Peter W. Williams, "Sacred Space in North America," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70, no. 3 (Sept. 2002): 593-609.

Louis P. Nelson, "The Rediscovery of American Sacred Spaces," Religious Studies Review 30, no. 4 (October 2004): 251-57.


September 7: Analyzing a space: Samford

R. Kevin Seasoltz, chapter 1-2, A Sense of the Sacred: Theological Foundations of Sacred Architecture and Art (New York: Continuum, 2005), 1-65.

Bains essay on Samford--TBS

We will be outside for part of the class looking at buildings.  Come prepared.  I recommended a hat and perhaps sunglasses.


Preliminary Thoughts on Thesis topic due.


September 8-9: Individual meetings about possible topics


September 12:

Lane, 3-99 (Introductions and Native Americans)

American Sacred Space, 43-96 (Michaelsen on Indian Land Claims)


September 14:

American Sacred Space, 97-151 (Pagan Environmentalism)

Lane, 100-130 (Baroque Spirituality and Abbey)


September 19:

American Sacred Space, 152-186 (Mt. Rushmore)

Lane 131-161 (Puritan and Wisconsin)


September 21:

Kieckhefer, 1-62 (Intro and Spatial dynamics)

E. A. Sövik, Architecture for Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1973), 28-39.

Site Visit: Blessed Sacrament, St. Stephen, ???


September 26:

Kieckhefer, 63-134 (Centering Focus and Aesthetic Impact)

American Sacred Space, 187-219 (Home Schooling)


September 28:

Kieckhefer, 135-167 (Symbolic Resonance)

Site Visit: Downtown Birmingham (16th St., Holy Trinity, Holy Cross, ...)


October 3

American Sacred Space, 220-261 (Holocaust Museum)

Thomas Hummel, "The Sacramentality of the Holy Land: Two Contrasting Approaches," in The Sense of the Sacramental: Movement And Measure in Art and Music, Place and Time, ed. David Brown and Ann Loades (London: SPCK, 1995), 78-100.


October 5

American Sacred Space, 262-312 (South African vision of America)

Discussion of topics


October 10

Bibliography and topic due

Lane 160-214 (Shaker and Evangelical Revival)


October 12

Proposal 500-600 words due

600 word (2 ½ pages) abstract for internal review (3 copies). Within this abstract, address the knowledge produced, relationship to previous studies, discussion of data and methods, and a working bibliography.


October 17

Lane 160-214 (Shaker and Catholic Worker)


October 19

Kieckhefer, 167-194 (Late Medieval Beverley)


October 26

Kieckhefer, 195-264 (Chicago)


October 31

Kieckhefer, 195-264 (Schwarz)


November 2

Lane, 215-254

Kieckhefer, 265-292


November 7, 9,

Student research presentations / additional reading (TBA)


November 11 (Friday):  Partial draft due (at least 5pp including literature review / historiography)


November 14, 16

Student research presentations / additional reading (TBA)


November 18 (Friday):  Partial draft due (at least 10pp)


November 21, 28, 30; Dec. 5, 7 TBA