It almost goes without saying that religion has played a very important role in Pennsylvania’s (and America’s) history, a role that is illustrated not only by overtly religious resources (churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, etc.), but also by other, societal resources (hospitals, schools, orphanages, community centers, etc.) that are guided by theology. The purpose of this website is to demonstrate how religion is reflected in the built environment and what the built environment can tell us about a specific religion.
Resources Associated with the Practice of Religion
While all religions share the same general purpose, to provide one framework for understanding the world and humanity’s place within it, they each approach that purpose in different ways. While Buddhism stresses meditation and reflection as a means to achieve Enlightenment, many sects of Christianity focus on developing a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Even within closely-related religions, there can be vast differences. For example, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all worship the same God, but they each do it in different ways; even the different sects of Christianity worship in different ways. These differences, whether large or small, are reflected in the built environment. There is a reason why there are two separate seating areas in Orthodox synagogues. There is a reason why every mosque faces the same direction. There is a reason why cushions in a Buddhist center are arranged in a certain way. What follows is a brief description of the ways in which theology is reflected in the architecture and arrangement of space of sacred resources.
Resources Associated with the Social Aspects of Religion
Since their founding, many religious groups have been concerned not only with their members' spiritual well-being, but also with their members' mental and physical well-being. The latter, more secular concerns can be seen in Catholic primary and secondary schools, Quaker academies, religious hospitals, Jewish community centers, orphanages, old age homes, and so forth. The connection of these secular institutions to a particular denomination or sect is not necessarily readily apparent from exterior or interior finishes. While there may be some exterior detailing (such as a cross or Star of David or crescent) or interior finishes or spaces (such as a chapel or synagogue), the function of these institutions generally dictated their architectural form. In fact, religious groups sometimes adaptively re-used older buildings to serve their purposes. Because of the importance of function, more in-depth research may be required to establish a link to a specific denomination. What follows is a brief description of several (not necessarily all) social issues with which religion has been concerned in the past.