In most parts of the world, religious activity is linked to specific places which have ritual, mythical, or historical significance. These "sacred spaces" become the focus of ritual activity, pilgrimage, and symbolism, and are usually endowed with buildings and art that celebrate the sanctity of the place, create a sense of awe, and accommodate the activities and people who travel to visit them. This course offers an introduction to a representative sample of significant sacred sites and shrines throughout the world. These holy places will be examined in terms of the festivals and religions with which they are associated: Egyptian, Greek, and Mesoamerican religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shinto.
We will look at why the selected sites became holy to certain peoples or civilizations, how the sites and structures convey a sense of transcendence and awe, how the structures were planned to accommodate assembled groups of persons and the attendant festivals and rituals, the nature of the processions of the faithful to them, the symbolic meaning of these sites, and whether their functions and significance have survived to the present day unaltered or in a reconfigured form.
Course requirements include five short (1-2 page) papers, a midterm, a final exam, and a final written project.