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  • Columbia University School of Architecture
  • Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life
  • The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture
  • Maria Gonzalez Pendas
  • Whitney Laemmli
  • Registration required. See details.
  • Free and open to the public

For over a decade, scholars in sociology, anthropology, and religious studies have been engaged in a heated debate about the role of religion in modern politics and society, a discussion formerly absent from most canonical accounts of modernization and globalization. For too long, a simplistic view of the Enlightenment reigned: one in which religious regimes were quickly and completely displaced by new rational structures. The work of Charles Taylor, José Casanova and Talal Asad, among others, has been crucial in undermining such notions, revealing the religious as anything but absent from the public sphere, the secular as a notion all too intertwined with Christianity, and Western narratives about reason and progress as tenaciously—and at times violently—enchanted.

To better understand the secular, therefore, one must also understand the ways in which the religious has been historically transformed and dislocated. One powerful mode of analyzing the interactions of the secular and the religious is through the lens of the material world; historians have long recognized the ways in which physical spaces, technical objects, and bodily rituals both constructed—and were constructed by—religious systems. They have paid less attention, however, to the ways in which these same forms of cultural production were implicated in both the undoing and the resilience of religious projects, from cultural frameworks and imaginaries to biopolitical and ethical orders.

We seek to remedy that lacuna by gathering together historians of modern architecture, media, and technology whose work explores the ways in which religion has operated in the design of the spaces, machines and bodies associated with modernization. The conversation will draw from diverse geographic and historical contexts, tracing how religious values and spiritual techniques endured in and were produced by the very tools that were believed to have displaced them. From laboratories and corporate workspaces modeled on chapels to rocket engines and skyscrapers designed to “touch the face of God,” this workshop will present a series of case studies that invite historians of modernity to better see the gods in the buildings, spaces, cities, technologies, machines and bodies where religion had apparently ceased to operate.

Friday, October 13


Woods Auditorium, GSAPP

1:00 Introduction

1:15-2:25 MYTHS
Richard Wittman
, History of Art and Architecture, UC Santa Barbara
Architectural Historicism and the Secularization Thesis: The Case of Catholic Rome (1800‐1848)
Lucia Allais, History of Architecture, Princeton University
Grid and Church: George Kubler in Cusco, 1950
Respondent: Elayne Oliphant, NYU

2:35-3:45 MACHINES

Kendrick Oliver, History, University of Southampton
From ‘the shape of the future’ to the noise of creation: the strange career of the Holmdel horn antenna
Kathryn Lofton, Religious Studies, Yale University
Electric Amplification in the Twentieth-Century Folk Secular
Respondent: Reinhold Martin, History of Architecture, Columbia University

4:00-5:10 MEDIA

Peter Collopy, History of Technology, California Institute of Technology
Soul on Tape: Video, Ethereality, and Spirit
Irene Cheng, History of Architecture, California College of the Arts
“Angels in the Market”: The Architecture of Spiritualized Commerce in Nineteenth-Century America
Respondent: Erica Robles-Anderson, Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU

5:20-6:30 IDENTITIES

Nasser Rabbat, History of Architecture, MIT
The State Mosque: Identity Politics in the Age of Islamism
Brian Larkin, Anthropology, Columbia University
Media and the Production of Religious Ecologies
Respondent: Seth Kimmel, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Columbia University

Saturday, October 14


Heyman Center

The workshop is based on advanced reading of work-in-progress by workshop participants. Those who wish to attend must register and commit to reading the material in advance. Please note registration is now closed.


Courtney Bender, Religious Studies, Columbia University
Ecstatic Geographies? Feeling Spiritual in Broadacre City’s Horizons

Patricio del Real, Architecture History, Harvard University
Poetics of Architecture as Theology of Earthly Realities: The Secular Pedagogy of the Valparaiso School


Elayne Oliphant, Anthropology and Religious Studies, NYU
Contemporary Medievalism: The Instructure of Catholic Ambience in Paris

Maria Gonzalez Pendas, Society of Fellows, Columbia University
Silent Chapel: Opus Dei and the Evangelization of the Architectural Intelligentsia



Zeynep Celik Alexander, Architecture History, University of Toronto
Cleaning Up After the Fall: The Architecture of the Kew Herbarium

Maria Jose de Abreu, Anthropology, Columbia University
Iconic Economy: Oikos, Image, Circulation


Closing Reception

IMAGE REFERENCE: Feininger, Lyonel (1871-1956) © ARS, NY, Cathedral (Kathedrale) for Program of the State Bauhaus in Weimar (Programm des Staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar). 1919. Woodcut, composition: 12 x 7 1/2" (30.5 x 19 cm); sheet (irreg.): 16 1/8 x 12 3/16" (41 x 31 cm). Publisher: Staatliches Bauhaus, Weimar. Printer: the artist. Photo Credit: Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

  • Richard Wittman Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture UC Santa Barbara
  • Lucia Allais Assistant Professor, History and Theory of Architecture Princeton University
  • Respondent Elayne Oliphant Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Religious Studies NYU
  • Kendrick Oliver Professor of American History University of Southampton.
  • Kathryn Lofton Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, and History Yale University
  • Peter Collopy University Archivist and Head, Special Collections California Institute of Technology
  • Irene Cheng Assistant Professor, Architecture; Assistant Professor, Interior Design California College of the Arts
  • Nasser Rabbat Professor and Director of the MIT Aga Khan Program MIT
  • Brian Larkin Director of Graduate Studies Barnard College, Columbia University
  • Respondent Reinhold Martin Associate Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Columbia University
  • Zeynep Çelik Alexander Assistant Professor, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design University of Toronto
  • Patricio del Real Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture Harvard University
  • John Lardas Modern Associate Professor of Religious Studies Franklin and Marshall College
  • Maria Jose de Abreu Assistant Professor of Anthropology Columbia University
  • Respondent Seth Kimmel Assistant Professor of Latin American and Iberian Cultures Columbia University
  • Respondent Erica Robles-Anderson Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication NYU