Skip to main content

Sacred Space, Abrahamic Faith


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Dr Clare Vernon
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (100%)

Module description

The pre-modern Mediterranean was home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, who lived alongside each other, sharing cities, cultures and sometimes places of worship. In this module we will take a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to studying sacred space across the three Abrahamic faiths, in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

We will draw on the scholarly concept of ‘hierotopy’, a term developed by the Byzantinist Alexei Lidov to describe the study of sacred spaces, their creation and use, as a branch of cultural history.

  • How did the Abrahamic faiths create, perceive and use sacred space in different ways?
  • How did they borrow ideas and practices from each other?
  • What happened in shrines and places of worship that were shared?
  • What happened when sacred spaces were contested?

The module is structured conceptually and thematically. We will begin by looking at Jerusalem in Late Antiquity as a foundational sacred space for all three faiths. We will then move on to look at religious buildings in urban spaces, considering the architecture and decoration of churches, mosques and synagogues and how they shaped their audience’s understanding of the sacred. The final few weeks will consider broader conceptual questions, such as women’s bodies at prayer, intersections of worship and music, and different ideas about pilgrimage. Taking a comparative approach allows us to gain a better understanding of the diversity of Mediterranean culture in the pre-modern world, but also fosters a better understanding of religious dialogue and conflict in the twenty-first century.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction
  • Jerusalem in Late Antiquity
  • Cityscapes
  • Architecture
  • Liminality
  • Soundscapes
  • Syncretism and conflict
  • Gendering sacred space
  • Pilgrimage
  • Essay workshop

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • apply theoretical frameworks about sacred space to examples in the late antique and medieval Mediterranean
  • analyse the historiography of inter-faith exchange in the pre-modern Mediterranean
  • compare different approaches to sacred space in the Abrahamic traditions.