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George, Mark K., and Daria Pezzoli-Olgiati [Eds.]
Religious Representation in Place. Exploring Meaningful Spaces at the Intersection of the Humanities and Sciences.
Basingstoke u. a.: Palgrave Macmillan 2014. XVIII, 286 S. = Religion and Spacial Studies. Geb. £ 63,00. ISBN 978-1-137-37133-1.
Although the significance of investigating space and place within the humanities in general and in theology and religious studies in particular is often highlighted, the lack of qualified reflections, including concrete case and place studies, is still obvious. As the dimension of spatiality in analogy to time and historicity represents an existential, publications such as the current edition of fifteen essays are more then welcome to further accelerate what I have earlier called »theology (and religious studies) in its spatial turn«. The authors are at home in a wide range of disciplines, such as religious studies, theology, geography, cultural studies, pediatrics, astrophysics, and architecture, demonstrating a breadth that decidedly increases the book’s depth. All chapters in this rich book are solidly and carefully crafted; interconnections between them appear clear and thought-provoking in spite of the volume’s wide range of approaches.
The chapters have their origin in a conference in Zürich on the theme of »meaningful spaces«, a tricky formulation that also ap-pears in the subtitle. Even if the first section and several other chapters offer an extensive theoretical reflection about »approaching space«, it is not clear whether it is the significance of spatiality as an impacting force on social life or the production of meaning for and within space and place that is at the scholars’ core. Most of the authors focus mainly on »religious representation« as it takes place in different contexts, buildings and media while some experiment with a more complex understanding of spatiality and reciprocal interaction where space can produce life and humans at the same time can produce space.
Three sections offer theoretical frameworks and representations of space in ancient/medieval and in contemporary contexts. Not only built environments but also paintings, clothes and cities are analyzed. Not only Christian scriptures and buildings appear but also sites shaped by the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths. Not only traditional religion is emphasized but interesting insights are also revealed by spaces of ridicule in caricature, cinematic spaces. One might wonder if the many concepts of space in use throughout the work are overmuch, but together they compose an inspiring image of the complexity of what one might call the Sacred in space. The authors move along a scale from the individual child’s development of spatial skill and consciousness to the cosmic and astrophysical universe that offers the conditions also for life on Earth; and they move through history from ancient Israel through Andalusian medieval times until a time »beyond the modern.« Themes such as cultural preservation at world heritage sites, embodied space in Israel’s wilderness tabernacle, ornaments in different Abrahamitic sacred places, journey motifs in film, and the philo-sophy of dwelling are treated concisely but at an impressive depth.
One of the most touching reflections was offered in geographer Franco Farinelli’s exploration of the metaphysical nature of visual spatial representation in the map, where faith in the truth of the map reveals a deep spiritual foundation of the political, cultural and economic construction of Europe. In times where refugees from regions of war and impoverishment are radically questioning the meaning of borders and gated lands, the remembrance of the history of religious belief mapping territories of power should be able to unfold a sound critical antidote. Furthermore, I would like to highlight the enchanting significance of apocalyptic spaces and visualizations of the afterlife, which is brilliantly explored and interpreted by Katherine Rousseau and Daria Pezzoli-Olgiati in the frame of the cathedral of Chartres and in selected artworks from medieval Germany. The material production of space not yet seen in our common future with its ability to impact on our moral, social and spiritual present reveals the rich skills of religious belief systems and their representational power in place.
Even if the editors’ introduction tries hard to keep the diverse contributions together and to offer a loose but clear set of concepts of space, one can wonder about the need to strive more for a common more differentiated concept of religion that allows one to connect different concepts of space and place with different concepts of (contextual) religion. The general hermeneutical approach to un-derstand religion as some kind of meaning-making activity is combined with a loose idea about religion as »orientation«, an expres-sion that might either serve as a simple metaphor and synonym for meaning or provide a deeper spatial ecological understanding, a path that unfortunately is not investigated here.
In all its inspiring diversity this volume, due to its loose struc-ture, also indicates that the scholarly spatial turn in the human-ities still is a fresh yet somehow immature process. This is not meant as a criticism of the work but rather as an observation to catalyze future events and publications on the theme. Another indicator of the premature status of this discourse is the lack of balance between the authors’ theoretical preferences on the one side and the lack of attention to already available important contributions to the field on the other (such as for example Tuan, Knott, Gorringe, Bergmann, Inge, Buttimer, and those following Soja).
Nevertheless, George and Pezzoli-Olgiati provide a rich, thought provoking and highly valuable contribution to the accelerating discourse on how space/place and religion interact in an excitingly complex way. The publisher (who should lower the price and heighten the graphical quality) seems to have understood the potential in this new field by establishing a series on »Religion and Spatial Studies« where this volume is located. May further series and journals on the theme come into the world!