Pious Technologies and Secular Designs

Friday, October 13, 2017 - Saturday, October 14, 2017  1:00pm - 6:30pm The Heyman Center, Wood Auditorium (Avery Hall) & Second Floor Common Room


Registration required


Free and open to the public


Maria Gonzalez Pendas

Whitney Laemmli

For over a decade, scholars in sociology, anthropology, and religious studies have been engaged in a heated debate about the role of religion in modern politics and society, a discussion formerly absent from most canonical accounts of modernization and globalization. For too long, a simplistic view of the Enlightenment reigned: one in which religious regimes were quickly and completely displaced by new rational structures. The work of Charles Taylor, José Casanova and Talal Asad, among others, has been crucial in undermining such notions, revealing the religious as anything but absent from the public sphere, the secular as a notion all too intertwined with Christianity, and Western narratives about reason and progress as tenaciously—and at times violently—enchanted.

To better understand the secular, therefore, one must also understand the ways in which the religious has been historically transformed and dislocated. One powerful mode of analyzing the interactions of the secular and the religious is through the lens of the material world; historians have long recognized the ways in which physical spaces, technical objects, and bodily rituals both constructed—and were constructed by—religious systems. They have paid less attention, however, to the ways in which these same forms of cultural production were implicated in both the undoing and the resilience of religious projects, from cultural frameworks and imaginaries to biopolitical and ethical orders.

We seek to remedy that lacuna by gathering together historians of modern architecture, media, and technology whose work explores the ways in which religion has operated in the design of the spaces, machines and bodies associated with modernization. The conversation will draw from diverse geographic and historical contexts, tracing how religious values and spiritual techniques endured in and were produced by the very tools that were believed to have displaced them. From laboratories and corporate workspaces modeled on chapels to rocket engines and skyscrapers designed to “touch the face of God,” this workshop will present a series of case studies that invite historians of modernity to better see the gods in the buildings, spaces, cities, technologies, machines and bodies where religion had apparently ceased to operate.


Friday, October 13


Woods Auditorium, GSAPP


1:00        Introduction

1:15-2:25               MYTHS
Richard Wittman
, History of Art and Architecture, UC Santa Barbara
Architectural Historicism and the Secularization Thesis: The Case of Catholic Rome (1800‐1848)
Lucia Allais, History of Architecture, Princeton University
Grid and Church: George Kubler in Cusco, 1950
Respondent: Elayne Oliphant, NYU

2:35-3:45               MACHINES

Kendrick Oliver, History, University of Southampton
From ‘the shape of the future’ to the noise of creation: the strange career of the Holmdel horn antenna
Kathryn Lofton, Religious Studies, Yale University
Electric Amplification in the Twentieth-Century Folk Secular
Respondent: Reinhold Martin, History of Architecture, Columbia University

4:00-5:10               MEDIA

Peter Collopy, History of Technology, California Institute of Technology
Soul on Tape: Video, Ethereality, and Spirit
Irene Cheng, History of Architecture, California College of the Arts
“Angels in the Market”: The Architecture of Spiritualized Commerce in Nineteenth-Century America
Respondent: Erica Robles-Anderson, Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU 

5:20-6:30               IDENTITIES

Nasser Rabbat, History of Architecture, MIT
The State Mosque: Identity Politics in the Age of Islamism
Brian Larkin, Anthropology, Columbia University
Media and the Production of Religious Ecologies
Respondent: Seth Kimmel, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Columbia University


Saturday, October 14


Heyman Center

The workshop is based on advanced reading of work-in-progress by workshop participants. Those who wish to attend must register and commit to reading the material in advance. Please note registration is now closed. 



Courtney Bender, Religious Studies, Columbia University
Ecstatic Geographies? Feeling Spiritual in Broadacre City’s Horizons

Patricio del Real, Architecture History, Harvard University
Poetics of Architecture as Theology of Earthly Realities: The Secular Pedagogy of the Valparaiso School



Elayne Oliphant, Anthropology and Religious Studies, NYU
Contemporary Medievalism: The Instructure of Catholic Ambience in Paris

Maria Gonzalez Pendas, Society of Fellows, Columbia University
Silent Chapel: Opus Dei and the Evangelization of the Architectural Intelligentsia




Zeynep Celik Alexander, Architecture History, University of Toronto
Cleaning Up After the Fall: The Architecture of the Kew Herbarium 

Maria Jose de Abreu, Anthropology, Columbia University
Iconic Economy: Oikos, Image, Circulation



Closing Reception


IMAGE REFERENCE: Feininger, Lyonel (1871-1956) © ARS, NY, Cathedral (Kathedrale) for Program of the State Bauhaus in Weimar (Programm des Staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar). 1919. Woodcut, composition: 12 x 7 1/2" (30.5 x 19 cm); sheet (irreg.): 16 1/8 x 12 3/16" (41 x 31 cm). Publisher: Staatliches Bauhaus, Weimar. Printer: the artist.  Photo Credit: Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY


  • Participant

    Richard Wittman

    Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture

    UC Santa Barbara

  • Participant

    Lucia Allais

    Assistant Professor, History and Theory of Architecture

    Princeton University

  • Respondent

    Elayne Oliphant

    Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Religious Studies


  • Participant

    Kendrick Oliver

    Professor of American History

    University of Southampton.

  • Participant

    Kathryn Lofton

    Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, and History

    Yale University

  • Participant

    Peter Collopy

    University Archivist and Head, Special Collections

    California Institute of Technology

  • Participant

    Irene Cheng

    Assistant Professor, Architecture
    Assistant Professor, Interior Design

    California College of the Arts

  • Participant

    Nasser Rabbat

    Professor and Director of the MIT Aga Khan Program


  • Participant

    Brian Larkin

    Director of Graduate Studies

    Barnard College, Columbia University

  • Respondent

    Reinhold Martin

    Associate Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

    Columbia University

  • Participant

    Zeynep Çelik Alexander

    Assistant Professor, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

    University of Toronto

  • Participant

    Patricio del Real

    Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture

    Harvard University

  • Participant

    John Lardas Modern

    Associate Professor of Religious Studies

    Franklin and Marshall College

  • Participant

    Maria Jose de Abreu

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology

    Columbia University

  • Respondent

    Seth Kimmel

    Assistant Professor of Latin American and Iberian Cultures

    Columbia University

  • Respondent

    Erica Robles-Anderson

    Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication



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