Politics From Space: Building Church in Fourth Century Milan and the Modern U.S. Strip Mall

O'Neil, Harrison, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Shuve, Karl, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Flores, Nichole, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Often times, descriptive and normative approaches to religious studies get pitted against one another. This project attempts to uncover methodological common ground between these two types approaches by exploring the concrete ways in which seemingly neutral church spaces can promote prescriptive political programs. I ground my work in two very different areas of study. First, working in a primarily descriptive, historical mode, I examine Ambrose’s descriptions of virginal bodies that prescribed a position for the virgin within the church hierarchy and for the church within the larger Roman society. I focus on how the virgin’s location in sacred space helped generate her distinct identity and how Ambrose’s spatial rhetoric of virginity aided the production of the sacred space of the church. Second, I look at several modern prescriptions for the relationship between space and politics and use these resources to describe the position of an evangelically oriented mega-church, which now hosts its worship services in a converted strip mall. Drawing out contemporary theoretical connections between church space and politics and applying these resources to a concrete test case will show both the dangers and possibilities of a place-based politics. In both parts, I examine the manner in which church spaces were constructed and the stances toward society they promoted. On the whole, this is a descriptive project that attempts to make the normative point that scholars should explore new avenues of overlap between descriptive and normative approaches to the study of religion.

MA (Master of Arts)
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