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Sacred Space Model Exhibit Teaches Interreligious Understanding Through Architecture

October 17, 2013

Ms. Suzanne Morgan, Senior Ambassador of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, commissioned 5 architectural models of sacred spaces that premiered in an Ohio exhibit this summer.

Defining sacred beliefs in language we can all understand is no easy feat, even for faith leaders. So imagine when a professional must be hired to design worship space. This someone guides the tenets of a spiritual tradition into a built space, designing structures that symbolize and embody the sacred. Somewhere embedded in the blueprint, architecture becomes a vehicle for interreligious understanding.
An exhibit of five architectural models of sacred spaces commissioned by Suzanne Morgan, architect and CPWR Senior Ambassador, opened the Institute for Human Science and Culture at the University of Akron Center of History and Psychology June 15. This was the premiere appearance of the exhibit outside of Chicago.
On its opening and closing day, Morgan presented a 30-minute PowerPoint and shared the story of how the events of 9/11 convinced her that interfaith understanding was desperately needed. By sharing what religious architecture taught her about other traditions, Morgan realized these models could contribute to healing.
These models showcase the exterior design, as well as the interior shape and liturgical arrangement of space. Architectural design can assist in describing the faith and practices of various religious beliefs. Of the five featured models, one is designed and built by a Chicagoan who originally built dollhouses for his children. Lending a captivating quality, his synagogue model features bright colors. This attracts younger children, and stimulates the imagination of adults, too.

“We can learn about other faiths in a neutral, universal, and beautiful way through architecture,” Morgan states. At the exhibit, learning from the architecture about a congregation’s values and beliefs is enhanced by interpretive texts framed and hung beside each model. When congregations intentionally build their structures illustrative of their faith and their religious practices, they are providing a tangible form of their beliefs.
“I initially introduced an idea for a Center for Religious Architecture in Chicago to the Parliament of World’s Religions,” Morgan recalls. “There, I was given the names of a dozen religious leaders in Chicago, names who opened doors to me for tours of their spaces.”
While working with congregations in the design of sacred spaces, Morgan discovered how useful it is for people to envision their designs in a 3-dimensional way.Morgan wanted to use architectural models of sacred spaces so that people would better understand the history and traditions.
Morgan states that this collection is only the beginning of a more comprehensive collection of architectural models, photos, and artifacts that represents a wide range of religious traditions. The current collection comprises two Roman Catholic churches, a Unitarian church, a synanogue, and a Protestant church.
“I would like to expand the collection by identifying- through people of faith- sacred spaces that they can sponsor and add to the collection,” Morgan says. As the collection expands, travels, and gains support, she dreams that it will become a museum with an interreligious center, where people can connect with one another through various events and celebrations and can explore new rituals and liturgies together.
By the Akron exhibit’s close, Morgan’s collection became front page news in a major Ohio newspaper. As female leadership is critical to conversations interweaving faith, art, and science, peaceseekers everywhere can be upifted that the exhibit further introduced the power of interfaith understanding to the mainstream of middle America.
Morgan extends an invitation to organizations affiliated with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, and can consult with interested venues on hosting an exhibit of sacred space models of up to three months. Please contact the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions for more information.