Secular Church Place (Miniaturized Religion in the Information Age)


I read this piece a week or two back in the NYT about changes in evangelical institution building. It seems that now the mega-church is out, as evangelical Christians seek to claim more user-friendly forms of place. It suggests at least three  interesting things about religion. [1] No static thing, religions  are adaptive vis-a-vis their environment. [2] When religions, even faith-based ones like Protestant Christianity, need to re-group they have to do so spatially. [3] Religions are secular. These experimental forms of Christian religious place remind me of the ancient synagogue, which, scholars surmise, was more like a community center than a place of worship per se. The religious function is embedded in the secular one.

In this case, religion forms inside the space made possible by art, coffee, yoga studios and business incubators. Is this part of the new urbanism, this thing they are calling “the emergent church movement” and “missional churches”?  It’s all too early to say. It could just be a trend and nothing more. Here today, gone tomorrow, unlike the large church edifices built in this country between 1880s and 1960s, which almost by definition are made to last and even have to last, if not doctrinally or even institutionally than at the very least architecturally.

I’m of two minds about all this. Is this spatial regrouping and re-purposing part of the “solution” to the new religious malaise, which, it seems, is now threatening to take over conservative religion as it once did liberal religion? O does this attempt to revive Christian religion in the information age just reek of desperation? As always, one will have to look for the proof in the pudding, and only time will tell.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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