RELG 101 Religion and Sacred Space Paper

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Mircea Eliade insisted that the academic study of religion is not merely about cataloguing an endless litany of rituals and doctrines around the world. To study religion is also to study an experience of the holy on its own terms. This interest in religious experience led Eliade to the topic of sacred space. In 1957, he published The Sacred and the Profane, a book which explored, in the author’s words, the human need to “acquire orientation in the chaos of homogeneity, to ‘found a world’ and to live in a real sense.” The need to “found a world” is most obviously reflected in hogans, synagogues, cathedrals, and temples; but is also seen in humbler structures and locales, from the simple hearth to the BU nature preserve, and perhaps even cyber-space. In any event, these spaces condense a host of human experiences of the wholly other – what Rudolph Otto had called the mysterium temendum et fascinans.

For this paper, I ask that you pick a spot that is sacred to some group of people and compose an essay exploring its significance to a scholar of religion. Make sure it is a location you are familiar with and can describe to the reader in evocative detail. Also consider the topic of sacred space more generally. What makes a space sacred? How have other scholars (Müller, Durkheim, Eliade, etc.) conceived of such space, and how might your analysis of a specific place contribute to their own?

Some suggestions: Papers should have a clear central idea or thesis which unfolds in a coherent way from paragraph to paragraph. In addition to analysis, you will also want to spend some time describing the unique aspects of the space you’ve chosen. Papers that do not cite and discuss the reading material at length will be assigned significantly lower grades. Papers that do not reach the required page limit (at least 4 full pages) or do not follow the required format will also receive significantly lower grades. Please feel free to email with questions. I am also happy to go over portions of your work with you (up to a page) prior to handing it in.

Papers should use footnotes for all references to the course material, whether in the form of a direct quote or an allusion to someone else’s ideas. Footnotes should appear at the end of the sentence in which the reference is made, after the period.

1 Papers do not need a bibliography/works cited. Instead, the first reference to a given source constitutes a full citation. All further references should be abbreviated.

2 See examples below. To ensure the correct format, papers should be written in Word (doc, docx) format rather than, say, Google Docs. “Insert footnote” can be found under the Reference tab in Word.

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