Temples for a Modern God: Religious Architecture in Postwar America

Temples for a Modern God: Religious Architecture in Postwar America

Temples for a Modern God: Religious Architecture in Postwar America

Temples for a Modern God: Religious Architecture in Postwar America

Synopsis

Temples for a Modern Godis one of the first major studies of American religious architecture in the postwar period, and it reveals the diverse and complicated set of issues that emerged just as one of the nation's biggest building booms unfolded. Jay Price tells the story of how a movement consisting of denominational architectural bureaus, freelance consultants, architects, professional and religious organizations, religious building journals, professional conferences, artistic studios, and specialized businesses came to have a profound influence on the nature of sacred space. Debates over architectural style coincided with equally significant changes in worship practice. Meanwhile, suburbanization and the baby boom required a new type of worship facility, one that had to attract members and serve a social role as much as it had to to honor the Divine. Price uses religious architecture to explore how Mainline Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and other traditions moved beyond their ethnic, regional, and cultural enclaves to create a built environment that was simultaneously intertwined with technology and social change, yet rooted in fluid and shifting sense of tradition. Price argues that these structures, as often mocked as loved, were physical embodiments of a significant, if underappreciated, era in American religious history.

Excerpt

When I was a teenager and started to get a sense of which church buildings were connected to which denominations, it struck me how often the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in which I grew up seemed to have a lot of churches from the 1950s. I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where my family belonged to Immanuel Lutheran Church, a congregation that worshipped in a John Gaw Meem-designed Pueblo Revival building. As we traveled, however, inevitably we wound up in modern churches from the postwar years, much to my annoyance. Why, I wondered, didn’t we get the beautiful Gothic Revival churches that the Episcopalians or Presbyterians had? Couldn’t we at least have the Colonial-looking churches like the Methodists and the Baptists? It seemed that to locate the Lutheran congregation in a community, you just looked for the ugliest 1950s modern church around. It was the start of a journey, propelling me to wonder why American society built so many of these structures. As I moved for schooling and career, a search for a place of worship often seemed to end in a structure from the 1950s or 1960s. Talking with older congregation members, I learned that these buildings often embodied a set of hopes and aspirations from a time when economic prosperity and technological change seemed to offer limitless possibilities.

I have since come to appreciate and respect the ideals, hopes, and dreams that shaped postwar religious space. Structures I once thought were hideous now strike me as intriguing, quirky, and even amusing. Some are downright powerful. Exploring these buildings is sometimes a lonely endeavor, though, since many friends and colleagues still look very puzzled when I talk about how fascinating the synagogues and churches of the mid-century years can be. I have become accustomed to people wondering why on earth I wanted to photograph “that thing,” especially if it was near a late nineteenth-century Gothic Revival church that seemed, to them, far more photogenic.

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