Religion, Public Space and Society

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 December 2024 | Viewed by 1685

Special Issue Editors

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Guest Editor
Department of Visual Arts and Design, Universitat de Barcelona, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Interests: sacred architecture; urban design; churches; Barcelona

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Guest Editor
Department of Architectural Projects, Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
Interests: religion; society; architecture

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Public space has the capacity to transform itself into a community platform to celebrate and host a variety of religious and popular celebrations. This has been the case since time immemorial, though becoming particularly important and reaching its zenith during the Baroque period, when ephemeral monuments and temporary structures were built to decorate and provisionally complement liturgical events. The architecture of the city, thus, becomes the scenic backdrop for religious activities. Specific streets and historic buildings are adorned with tapestries, banners, and various kinds of ornaments, becoming the background for these celebrations. Indeed, the sacred building has an area of influence that extends beyond the plot that it occupies. Urban spaces in the city, especially those surrounding temples but also many other locations, have the ability to transform their transitory attributes into platforms for socialization and an extension of liturgical functions.

The origin of Western Catholic liturgy is, precisely, the celebration itself; its genesis is the nature, and the only protagonists are the congregation and the officiant. Etymologically, the word 'ecclesia', derived from Greek, focuses more on content than on container, as it designates the activity carried out: a gathering of citizens or communities convened according to a public call, i.e., an assembly. This possibility of celebrating anywhere, whether indoors or outdoors, has allowed, over the centuries, the emergence of mechanisms that support the celebration both inside and outside the temple.

These liturgical celebrations can be periodic, such as Sunday masses; celebrations linked to seasons and annual festivities; or specific, like grand events such as councils, dedications of major temples, royal weddings, or funerals of recognized personalities, in nature. Over the centuries, the urban space surrounding temples and the public space of the city have proven that they can be transformed to host all these celebrations, becoming both the platform and the backdrop.

The purpose of this Special Issue is to show examples from all times, ranging from the most recent period of the 21st century to the most ancient eras from previous epochs, where the presence of religion in the public space of the city is evident, forming a perfect connection between the architecture of the city as scenery, the platform of public space as the stage, the ritual of liturgical celebration as the script, and society and citizenship as participating audiences.

Louis I. Kahn asserts that 'a city is measured by the character of its institutions. The Street is one of its earliest institutions.' The Church is also one of these institutions. He adds, 'Today, these institutions are under discussion. I believe that happens because they have lost the inspirations that motivated their beginnings.' If, as Kahn states, Street and Church return to being social and civic institutions, true to their origins, both institutions must be capable of acting in coordination, offering architectural platforms for community use. In conclusion, we return to the same triad: Religion, Public Space and Society.

This Special Issue aims to focus on the analysis of urban and architectural space, i.e., proposals with an intentional spatial vocation. Professionals who can write on these matters include, in addition to architects and urban planners, historians, art historians, anthropologists, sociologists, theologians, political scientists, and artists. The topics are open to cities, towns, territories, and landscapes, i.e., all realms of space where religious expressions are carried out through various liturgies or ceremonies. Original research articles and reviews are both welcome.

Research areas may include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Ephemeral religious architecture in public spaces;
  • Temporary occupation of public spaces for liturgical reasons;
  • Exteriors near temples as complementary public spaces for liturgy;
  • Expansion of the temple interiors into public spaces;
  • Historic buildings as scenic backdrops;
  • Major religious milestones and the temporary transformation of the city;
  • Ephemeral religious architecture in public space in emergency situations.

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

Dr. Alba Arboix-Alió
Prof. Dr. Magda Mària Serrano
Guest Editors

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • public space
  • urban liturgy
  • religious commemoration
  • religious architecture
  • urban backdrop
  • city scenario
  • religious enclaves
  • public celebration
  • church and city

Published Papers (2 papers)

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20 pages, 22897 KiB  
A Re-Examination of the Sources of Inspiration of Ethiopian Concentric Prayer Houses: Tracing an Architectural Concept from the Roman and Byzantine East to Islamic and Crusader Jerusalem to Solomonic Ethiopia
by Bar Kribus
Religions 2024, 15(6), 657; - 27 May 2024
Viewed by 232
During the first millennium of Christian presence in Ethiopia (from the fourth century), church architecture was first in accordance with, and later partially based on, the basilica plan. Circa the early sixteenth century, a new and unique church plan appeared, circular, concentric, and [...] Read more.
During the first millennium of Christian presence in Ethiopia (from the fourth century), church architecture was first in accordance with, and later partially based on, the basilica plan. Circa the early sixteenth century, a new and unique church plan appeared, circular, concentric, and with a square sanctuary, and became the dominant church plan in the northwestern Ethiopian Highlands. This church plan has been referred to in scholarship as an innovation, and its sources of inspiration have not yet been definitively established. In this article, I will argue that this plan is a culmination of a process with roots in the Late Antique and Medieval Holy Land, by which the concentric prayer house plan came to be associated with the Jerusalem Temple. This process transcended religious boundaries and is expressed in the religious architecture of three monotheistic religious traditions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Public Space and Society)
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18 pages, 9789 KiB  
The Sacred Building and the City: Decoding the Formal Interface between Public Space and Community
by João Silva Leite, Sérgio Fernandes and Carlos Dias Coelho
Religions 2024, 15(2), 246; - 18 Feb 2024
Viewed by 925
The reflection on sacred places continues to assume significant relevance today in urban space production. The public value of sacred buildings has consolidated over time an aggregating sense of community, representing spaces for meeting and sharing. Their historical relevance as spaces for meditation [...] Read more.
The reflection on sacred places continues to assume significant relevance today in urban space production. The public value of sacred buildings has consolidated over time an aggregating sense of community, representing spaces for meeting and sharing. Their historical relevance as spaces for meditation represents for mankind places of personal reflection, while they have always played an important role in the city and in its symbolic and spatial structure. Thus, starting from the hypothesis that the sacred space is affirmed as an interface, because it welcomes the individual and serves the community, we examine the architectural features that enhance this ambivalence, exposing transition systems between private and collective spaces, seeking to systematize essential composition matrices for new urban spaces for public use. Assuming Lisbon as a framework, this article proposes a comparative reading between two paradigmatic buildings—Sagrado Coração de Jesus Church and the New Mosque of Lisbon—with similar goals according to the relationship between architecture, place sacrality, and the urban public space. Methodologically, drawing is used as an interpretative tool and, through formal decomposition, this article tries to demonstrate that these buildings are the result of a reflection deeply determined by the value of the place’s identity in the city’s public space system. According to these case studies, sacred buildings are conceived based on formal and spatial links that are rooted in Lisbon’s urban layout. It is sacred buildings that are at the origin of urban places for public use. Each one of these buildings share an idea of architecture with an urban and public role which integrates the objects with the shape of the city and contradicts the tendency for the dissociation between urban elements. In a way, they can be considered paradigmatic examples of architecture with an urban vocation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Public Space and Society)
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Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Wake up cities! A heritage rebalancing plan from the sacred

Abstract: In the western environment, history has bequeathed us a multitude of temples - cathedrals, parishes, oratories, etc. - in the center of cities. This presence is all the more dense the older the fabric considered, and this typology also serves to outline the history of the art of each place. On the other hand, modern society has emancipated itself from religious practices, replacing them with other activities linked to the passing of time, be they cultural, commercial or sporting. Regardless of the possible social valuation of this transformation, the fact is that the facilities that served for the first uses have been considerably emptied. And yet, in the newly created neighborhoods of our cities, religious facilities are scarce even for the average religious practices of their inhabitants, regardless of their religious affiliation. In these conditions, a strategic plan for the rebalancing of resources could be imagined: in many cases, the temples in the city centers are in excellent conditions to be transformed into cultural facilities or even commercial educational centers. In exchange for these valuable facilities, the different administrations could articulate concrete aids, whether economic, land exchange or other assets in the neighborhoods that need them. This policy would involve religious, cultural, political and social agents, as well as those who feel called upon to provide a solution for the rebalancing of real estate in the cities as a whole.

Highlights: The fundamental idea is to propose a new panorama, more reasonable and adapted to the real needs of the cities. It is essential to understand the new situations and the collaboration of all the agents involved. This is a social, cultural, political and economic transformation of the first order, hence the expression of the title: Wake up cities!


Title: The Word (Gardens) In the Holy Qur’an - Its analysis and significance of Islam’s interest in public places

Abstract: the idea of this article is to study the places in which the word “gardens” is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, as a reflective and an analytical study. The article consists of an introduction, three sections, and a conclusion, using the inductive analytical approach. The introduction includes the definition of the term (gardens), and then talking about the term (gardens) in āyāt suwar: "al-naml", "al-Nabaʼ", and "ʻAbasa". The goal of this article appears in the most important results of it, which are: The presence of the word (gardens) in the Holy Qur’an only appears in a plural and indefinite form not as a single form, and in the Meccan āyāt suwar only, and the confinement of the contexts of the word (gardens) in the Holy Qur’an in the contexts of demonstrating oneness, establishing the doctrine of resurrection and mentioning the bliss of the people of Paradise, and the fact that the only divine verb mentioned with the word (gardens) in the Holy Qur’an is the verb (germination), and in the past tense (we grew), And The Holy Qur’an emphasizes the importance of food security, the beauty of the environment and attention to public places. The goal of the article also appears in the most prominent recommendations of Which is represented in urging the analytical reflective study of each word of the Holy Qur’an independently and focused, and interest in renewal in the presentation of Quranic studies. Keywords: The Qur'anic word, gardens, public places.

Highlights: 1) The presence of the word (gardens) in the Holy Qur’an only appears in a plural and indefinite form not as a single form, and in the Meccan āyāt suwar only. 2) The Holy Qur’an emphasizes the importance of food security, and the beauty of the environment. 3) The Holy Qur’an emphasizes the importance of public places.


Title: Ecumenical Space for PCCB. An intrahospital public space in Barcelona

Abstract: The internationalization of specialized healthcare generates a focus on multiculturalism to which hospital spaces must respond. "Sant Joan de Déu Hospital" (SJD), a leading public-private pediatric hospital managed by a Christian order, proposes the creation of an ecumenical room open for prayer and meditation. This multi-religious space with a public dimension is projected in the main lobby of the Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona (PCCB) building and has been designed based on the concepts of ritual, the relationship between nature and mathematics, atmosphere, focal points, and vertical and horizontal connections. Scale and proportions play a fundamental role in this 81m3 intrahospital public space. The aim of this manuscript is to deeply present an unprecedented and exemplary case study, showcasing both the research conducted for the design of the ecumenical room and the process of its construction and implementation. The methodology is supported by three pillars: a thorough bibliographic review, an architectural parametric analysis of meditation spaces, and in-depth interviews with involved stakeholders. SJD has always been characterized as one of the international medical reference hospitals concerning 'cure' and a benchmark in the role design plays in the 'care' of children, family, and companions. Now, with the creation of the ecumenical room, an intrahospital public space, the humanization of space and the merging of boundaries between public and private through services, infrastructure, and design are further emphasized. The triad of religion, public space, and society makes more sense here than ever before."

Highlights: Ecumenical Space, Public Hospital, Meditation Area, Multi-religious, Multi-cultural Care,


Title: The relationship between sacred buildings and the city, in Schwarz’s work

Abstract: In the 1950s and 1960s, Germany embarked on an extensive initiative to construct churches in the aftermath of the Second World War. Many of the design approaches in that period were related to the early significant discourse surrounding church construction that dates back to the early 1920s and 1930s. Rudolf Schwarz, straight after that period, emerged as a prominent advocate. His key work, "Von Bau der Kirche," initially published in 1938, established a critical standard for comprehending the methodologies underlying church construction, grounded in the conceptualization of archetypes. Schwarz's influence extended beyond ecclesiastical architecture, as evidenced by his participation in the post-World War II reconstruction of German cities. His 1949 publication, "Von der Bebauung der Erde," introduced urban development principles, aligning them with enduring archetypal concepts. Schwarz's contributions were particularly evident in his collaboration on the reconstruction of Cologne, showcasing his mature understanding of urban planning. The present paper seeks to elucidate the design strategies employed by Schwarz to wisely integrate churches, public spaces, and the surrounding districts. This aspect remains insufficiently explored. The objective is to discern the innovative methods Schwarz employed to establish a harmonious relationship between his church architecture and the broader urban context. Such an exploration can offer a valuable insights for contemporary urban planning, facilitating the formulation of more efficient solutions for our cities.

Highlights: In Germany many churches were built after the second world war. Many expansions of the cities were strongly balanced between community space and private spaces. Rudolf Schwarz built more than 40 churches and each one was carefully studied to fit


Title: The sacred architecture of Josep Lluis Sert: modernity and tradition in times of the Second Vatican Council

Abstract: An aspect of Josep Lluís Sert (Barcelona 1902, 1983) that is not well known is his deepening into Christian spirituality at all levels, especially after his American exile. This thought is perfectly reflected in his projects of sacred themes: the church of Puerto Ordaz (Venezuela, 1961), the chapel of St. Botolph (Boston, 1967) and the chapel of the Carmel of Peace (Mazille, 1972). Although they do not represent a large volume within his complete works, they do reflect all aspects of his production, from his interest in the urban scale to the integration of other visual arts. By analyzing and comparing these three projects, both architecturally and in light of the liturgical changes that took place at the time, the aim is to demonstrate the architect's profound knowledge of liturgical matters, as well as his contributions to the design of modern religious architecture. For this purpose, Sert's original drawings and articles from specialized magazines such as Liturgical Arts and Architectural Record have been studied. At the same time, the purpose is to highlight an aspect of the architect that, despite the relevance and brilliance of his designs, has been little treated until now.

Highlights: Christian spirituality of the architect Josep Lluis Sert The knowledge by Josep Lluis Sert of the liturgical reform Three religious buildings by Josep Lluis Sert Contributions to sacred architecture by Josep Lluis Sert


Title: The apse of the Gothic cathedral of Tortosa versus San Agustín Civitatis Dei

Abstract: The research delves into the influence of St. Augustine on the construction of the Gothic cathedral of Tortosa. The canonical cathedral of Tortosa underwent a reestablishment in 1155 by Bishop Godfrey, who was the abbot of Saint Rufus of Avignon and governed by the Beati Augustini rule. The presence of St. Augustine in the Capitular archives with the Civitatis Dei (ACTo-20) from the 12th century, along with key Neoplatonic sources such as Chalcidius and Capella (ACTo no.80) and Macrobius (ACTo 236), is examined. This, together with a spatial analysis of the liturgical space using laser scanning (TLS), serves to validate the historiographical thesis put forth by Wilhelm Worringer, Erwin Panofsky, and Otto von Simson for understanding the construction of the apse of the Gothic cathedral (1345-1441). The methodology establishes a bijection between patristic and neoplatonic sources and the interpretation of the liturgical space dimensions using statistical systems. This approach addresses the construction of the apse through the incorporation of a heptagon, a geometric figure absent in Euclid's Elementa and Ptolemy's Almagest. In conclusion, it is determined that both the imagery and metrics employed in the design of a radial heptagonal apse, as well as its cross-section, are influenced by both St. Augustine and the metrics of the Timaeus, which remain present in the Chapter Archives.

Highlights: The construction of the canonical cathedral of Tortosa Using of laser scanning (TLS) to analyse the liturgical space Bijection relationship between patristic and neoplatonic sources The construction is influenced by St. Augustine and the metrics of the Timaeus


Title: Ephemeral religious architecture. The visits of the Pope to Madrid

Abstract: On the occasion of mass religious events, liturgical ceremonies leave the temple and occupy public space. That is the case of the visits of the Pope, World Youth Days, or a royal wedding. How does architecture approach the ephemeral construction of this space? What architectural strategies can be used? In the city, the roles are inverted, and the exterior public space becomes an interior delimited by streets and facades that contain the assembly of faithful. How can this urban transformation be “designed”? This article presents several architectural strategies materialized in a series of ephemeral religious architecture projects in the city of Madrid: the stands for the visit of the Pope in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (1982), Plaza de Colón (2003), Plaza de Cibeles (2011), Cuatro Vientos airfield (2003 and 2011), or the wedding of the royal princes in the Cathedral of Almudena (2004). Each of these projects, located in very different urban settings, proposes a different architectural approach. It is evident how the architectural project is, in each case, a response to the characteristics of the urban site in which it is located. City and architecture establish a direct and reciprocal relationship, in which the urban form shapes the architecture that hosts the religious event. And vice versa, architecture integrates the city, its limits, its streets and its facades into the project.

Highlights: This paper presents several architectural built projects showing different strategies on: How a city transforms itself when hosting a mass religious event. How architecture can design and play an essential role in this urban transformation. How these ephemeral architectures are shaped by the religious meaning as well as the form of the urban setting where they are located.


Title: Question and symbol. Challenges for a contemporary bell tower

Abstract: Historically, bell towers have been religious and architectural symbols in the landscape that summoned the faithful to celebrations and fulfilled a crucial territorial significance task. This function was assumed by the towers of some Universities. The real need of the University Francisco de Vitoria to build a bell tower for its new chapel and to be significant both for its campus and the city is the pretext to investigate the need for this element in the current context through an academic exercise with architecture students. Traditionally, the religious authority proposed a concrete celebration space. In this case, architecture students are commissioned to propose a contemporary response for the new bell tower of their university campus through a Design Workshop. The Workshop result raises interesting questions about what the architecture of a bell tower should be like in the XXI century, the relationship with public space in its encounter with the ground, the construction of a landmark on an urban scale, and its relationship with other similar elements of the city, the need to respond to both the city and the immediate environment at its different scales, the obsolescence of elements such as clocks or bells, and, above all, the relevance of symbols and the way that architecture raises questions in contemporary landscape.
Highlights: The aim is to highlight today's contemporary challenges in building a bell tower. Through the research carried out in a workshop with students, a series of answers concerned the relevance of symbols or the capacity of architecture to raise questions in the contemporary world.


Title: Philippines. Open Spaces for Catholic Worship

Abstract: Open-air religious architecture is a subject that has gained some interest in recent decades. If military celebrations in camps, forests or mountains, often with temporary or semi-permanent architectural expressions, have always been known, large ecclesiastical events (congresses, conferences, etc.), papal journeys or community celebrations in precarious situations - increasingly frequent - have added new scenarios and fields of analysis.
The Philippines are the country with the third largest number of Catholic faithful in the world, after Brazil and Mexico. The number of churches is enormous, and more and more are being built every day. However - and despite the undoubted quality of many of them - its recent religious architecture has hardly transcended its national borders. The climate is warm, so open construction is common. In addition, natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and typhoons make ephemeral religious architecture increasingly common.
On the other hand, the Philippine islands have hosted numerous ecclesiastical events during the 20th century, both universal - the International Eucharistic Congress of 1937 and the WYD of 1995 were undoubtedly the most significant - and national or local. In all of these cases, ephemeral architecture was created for the occasion.
This article aims to provide a typological cartography of open religious architecture in the Philippines, analyzing it from the perspective of the temporality of its construction and the physical connection between the interior and exterior. The goal is to highlight the internal connections between form, use, climate, and local culture of religious architecture in this Asian country.


Title: The Sacred Building and the City. Decode the formal interface between public space and community.

Abstract: The sacred building, religious or merely symbolic, has always represented, and continues to represent, a fundamental link between man and a place. In its relationship with the city, the sacred building is an aggregating device for a community, a place for meeting and sharing. The building acquires a public value, and the adjacent public space becomes an extension of the citizens' collective activities. Thus, and starting from the hypothesis that the sacred space is affirmed as an interface, because it welcomes the individual and serves the community, it is important to decode the architectural characteristics that create public space, identified transition systems, intimate and collective spaces of permanence. With Lisbon as a framework, the article proposes a comparative reading between the Sagrado Coração de Jesus Church and the New Mosque of Lisbon. Using the formal decomposition, tries to demonstrate that these two buildings are the result of a reflection deeply determined by the value of the building in the city public spaces system. In these two case studies, the sacred building is conceived from formal and spatial links that are rooted in Lisbon's urban layout. It is the sacred buildings that are at the origin of urban places for public use. For this reason and because each of these buildings suggests the same idea of urban architecture, which goes far beyond the area of influence of its plot and because, in certain way, they are blend in with the shape of the city and contradict the isolation of architectural objects, should be understood as objects of reference for a new contemporary architectural production.
Highlights: Reflection on how the architecture of the sacred can be understood as a didactic object in the construction of public buildings that open up to the city. . Through spatial decomposition the article demonstrate formal architectural features that can be transferred to other architectural programs with a public and collective nature.



Abstract: El Concilio Vaticano II no trató directamente la cuestión arquitectónica, se acercó, eso sí, a la dimensión artística de la expresión de la fe, como algo necesario y propio de la Iglesia. Veinte años después de la finalización del Vaticano II, se detectó en la expresión «eclesiología de comunión» un marco teológico de consenso. Esta categoría ha ido pasando por expresiones interculturales diversas, también con carácter misionero y en última instancia como Iglesia sinodal. Por su parte el mundo de la arquitecta en su época postconciliar ha reflejado en contextos diferentes propuestas arquitectónicas diversas que han querido ser una interpretación y recepción del modelo comunional del Vaticano II. Recordamos la propuesta vivida en Roma con la construcción de diversos templos para el jubileo del año 2000, pero también somos capaces de sospechar una evolución en el modelo propio del proyecto del templo expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia de Barcelona, con el deseo no solo de una presencia estética plural, según autores y estilos, sino con la voluntad de expresar el sentido de comunión, propio de la eclesiología cristiana católica. Por su parte el aspecto comunional no solo afecta a una concepción interna del templo, sino que también tiene una estrecha relación con el espacio público de la ciudad. ¿De qué manera el templo religioso cristiano manifiesta la identidad comunional de la misma Iglesia? Mostramos en este artículo de qué manera el magisterio pontificio del papa Francisco, apunta a una comunión tensional, poliédrica y dinámica, condensada no solo en el templo cristiano, como es el caso de la Sagrada Familia, sino también expresada como proyecto público que quiere incidir en la construcción del tejido social de la ciudad.

Highlights: Abordaremos la relación de la arquiectura con la concepción comunional de la Iglesia. Los aspectos estéticos se ven superados por elementos tensionals, poliédricos y dinámicos, según la visión del papa Francisco. El templo expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia nos ayudará a mostrar la incidencia de esta concepción comunional, a nivel interno y externo, en un caso arquitectónico concreto.

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