chapter  3
Where to study religion off campus: places of worship and beyond
Pages 32

In an early draft of this chapter, we used a different title, which was ‘Where to study religion off campus: it’s not all about temples!’. As a part of the review process that is common to all academic publishing, an anonymous scholar who was reading the book proposal suggested that this could be construed as insensitive. Linking with Jewish discourse on Zionism and historical-political debates surrounding Israel and the Jewish diaspora, and also perhaps to the fact that some North American Jewish communities refer to their places of community and worship as ‘temples’, the reviewer suggested that perhaps the phrase should be avoided. As you can see from the title of this chapter, we followed this advice, but what we find interesting is that a huge assumption was made by the peer reviewer about the categorisation and understanding of a sacred space where religion can be studied. For this (American) reviewer, the term ‘temple’ needed to be protected against misunderstanding, when engaging with discourse on or about religion. What was particularly interesting for us was the simple fact that we were actually thinking of Hindu temples when we named the chapter. This (mis)understanding of the symbolism, meaning and function of discussion around a designated sacred space serves as a helpful example of how powerful and meaningful such places are within religious communities, their identities and our interaction with them. We hope that this chapter will help to break down assumptions about what

we mean by sacred spaces and places, how we talk about them and engage with them, and how we understand them as places of symbolism and importance for specific living religious communities, rather than idealised textbook notions or essentialisms regarding their meaning and function. In so doing, we hope that you will begin to break down assumptions about buildings as the main centres of religious community or power, and instead engage with religious people, activities and artefacts in a diversity of environments, some of which may not be immediately obvious. However, before we focus on less obvious ways of engaging with religious communities, we explore the relevance of buildings and the built environment, but with a particular focus upon their role in shaping living religion.