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FA 0080 World Religious Architecture (Fall 2010)

FA 0080 World Religious Architecture
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
248 Biddle Hall
Wednesdays, 6:00-8:40 p.m.
Fall 2010


Dr. Valerie S. Grash, Associate Professor of Fine Arts
Office: 230B Biddle Hall
Phone: 269-7164         
Office Hours:  Tuesdays, Thursdays, 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; and by appointment.



This course examines a rich variety of the world's major religious buildings and complexes, focusing particular attention on understanding structural, functional and aesthetic characteristics of individual monuments. Societal conditions and religious beliefs that affected their design and meaning will be examined through readings, discussion and visual/contextual analysis. The primary question we should continually ask ourselves in this course is "How does this structure or complex physically demonstrate spirituality and the religious beliefs of those for whom it was constructed?"

At the conclusion of this course, you will:

  1. Possess a strong understanding of world religions and the ways in which religious beliefs are expressed in physical space.
  2. Recognize and comprehend the function and meaning of significant religious monuments.
  3. Understand the terminology and various techniques used to build and ornament architecture.
  4. Write expressively and thoughtfully about issues regarding sacred space.
  5. Have intimate knowledge of a specific Johnstown area religious structure, acquired through extensive research, observation and analysis.

Required Textbook:

There is no required textbook for this course. Rather, we will depend on a collection of original source material and scholarly writings posted on the course web site. Read these in advance of class, with the expectation of participating in discussion.

Course Web Site:

Additional textual and visual materials for this course (including terms and lists of works you will be tested on and PowerPoint presentations of class lectures); additional required readings; your grades; and pertinent announcements concerning class meetings and examinations are found at:

Notice Regarding Course Changes:

I reserve the right to modify the timing, order and content of the course schedule. It is your responsibility to attend class and be aware of any changes. Check with the course web site regarding any class cancellations should they become necessary due to adverse weather conditions or other situations.

Course Policies

Please carefully read the following-they are policies that I steadfastly maintain in this course.

Faculty Statement:

My role is to facilitate learning through lecture and clarification of specific points through questioning and discussion, whether in the classroom, during office hours or via electronic correspondence. It is your responsibility to attend class, take accurate notes and approach me with any questions and issues for clarification in a timely manner.


While there is no attendance policy for this course, be forewarned that what you will be tested on is discussed thoroughly in class. Even with the textbook, nothing replaces viewing the images projected on screen. Therefore, regular attendance is necessary to succeed in this course. In addition, as classroom discussion is expected, poor attendance will adversely affect you if it comes down to a borderline decision on your final grade.

Notes and Note Taking:

Under no circumstances do I provide notes for missed classes. It is your responsibility, if you miss a class, to acquire the lecture notes from a classmate. Class assignments and announcements are also available on the course website. You may tape-record lectures as long as you do not disturb others in the class.

Makeup Exams:

I give make-up exams only in cases with legitimate, documented reasons (death in the family, personal hospitalization, required fieldtrips, etc.). In such cases, inform me in advance and provide written confirmation of your absence. Do not assume every absence is excused or warrants special consideration. The alternative make-up exam (all essay questions) must be taken within one week of the scheduled test; only one makeup exam per student will be permitted. No one can make-up the final exam, which must be taken at the scheduled time.

Late Assignments:

No extensions are granted for class assignments. Due dates are clearly noted on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester. You should start each assignment in a timely manner and even complete assignments early. Illness or any other excuse has no bearing on the fact that your work was not turned in on time. Any assignment not turned in by the due date will not be graded, thus earning 0 points for the work. No exceptions are permitted so do not ask!

Cell Phones:

Be certain your cell phone is turned OFF, as it is both annoying and disruptive to the entire class when it rings. Anyone sending or receiving text messages will be asked to leave-this course deserves your full attention. If you can't do that, drop the class immediately.

Academic Integrity:

Please read carefully the Academic Integrity Guidelines in your student handbook. They will be followed to the letter in this course. There is ZERO tolerance for cheating or plagiarism. Any time that you use another person's words or thoughts as your own without giving them proper credit is plagiarism, including copying and pasting from the Internet. Any instance of cheating or plagiarism will result in an automatic "F" (0 points) for that assignment, and steps will be taken, according to the Academic Integrity Guidelines, to receive an "F" for the course and for action leading to expulsion from the university. I will not permit re-writing any suspected plagiarized assignment.


If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Health & Wellness (OHW), G-10 Student Union Building, (814) 269-7119 to schedule an appointment as early as possible in the term.  OHW will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

Grading and Course Requirements

Overall, you can earn 500 points during the semester. On this scale:

500-490 (A+)                                      489-465 (A)                                        464-450 (A-)

449-440 (B+)                                      439-415 (B)                                         414-400 (B-)

399-390 (C+)                                      389-365 (C)                                        364-350 (C-)

349-300 (D)                                        299 and below (F)


Your grade will be determined in the following manner:

Examinations (360 points total):

There will be three exams (October 6, November 3, and December 15) during the semester, each worth 120 points. The format will comprise of multiple choice and essay questions drawn from class notes and readings. The final will not be comprehensive, but will cover only the material since the previous exam.

Critical Reviews (40 points total):

In order to adequately prepare you for academic research, and assess your ability to comprehend and critically evaluate scholarly material in an articulate manner, you will be required to read and respond to two scholarly articles, which are part of the course's required readings. For each article, you must produce a 2-3 page typewritten review paper (20 points each) that outlines the author's main thesis and supporting arguments, as well as your critical response to how successfully the author presented their line of reasoning. Further guidelines for this assignment are found on the course web site under "Assignments." Due dates: September 22 and October 27.

Term Project (100 points):

Rather than writing a traditional term paper, we will instead be utilizing the power of personal observation and the ability to write thoroughly yet succinctly to analyze and document historical churches in the Johnstown area. The goal is to generate entries for an online blog that will be of great value to the local community as well as those outside the area.

In consultation with the professor, each student will select a specific religious building in the area to research during the semester. A list of possible topics will be posted in the near future on the course web site under "Assignments." You must meet with the professor, and receive approval for your topic before proceeding.

Once your building is chosen, you need to visit the structure and digitally photograph it (inside and out, with permission, of course), and begin to research its history. Make inquiries of church members. Consult local histories and archives, including those housed in the Cambria County Library and other such entities. If desired, the professor will organize several trips to Johnstown neighborhoods with those individuals working on the churches present there, and offer suggestions for analysis and comparison.

The ultimate goal here is to produce a sort of catalog entry on each building, with information not only regarding the actual physical structure, but also the people who have and do use it today. How do the physical structure, its decorative accents, and the sacred space shaped by these elements mold the religious experience for the worshipper? In addition to providing basic information such as building date, physical street location, materials used, etc., you will want to note things such as: current (and past) name of church; denomination with which its congregation is associated; any unique ethnic groups associated with the building and how they impacted its structure or decoration; and how is the structure a reflection of the neighborhood in which it was built.

Please consult with the professor often as your research progresses. The final product will be due on the last day of class (December 8), but you are encouraged to complete your assignment as early in the semester as possible.

Course Schedule

September 1             Course Introduction and Overview

September 8             Prehistoric Ritual Centers and Sacred Places

September 15           Sacred Mountains in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Mesoamerica

September 22           Ancient Cult Temples and Sanctuaries in Egypt and Greece  *Critical Review #1 due

September 29           Rome and Constantinople: An Empire in Transition

October 6                 Exam I

October 13               Jerusalem: Judaism and Islam

October 20               Hinduism and Buddhism in India

October 27               Buddhism and Shinto in China and Japan  *Critical Review #2 due

November 3             Exam II

November 10           Churches and Monasteries in the Early Middle Ages

November 17           Theological and Physical Expressions of Faith in Medieval Architecture

November 24           No Class-Thanksgiving Recess

December 1              Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo

December 8              Modern and Contemporary Issues in Religious Architecture *Term Project due

December 15            Final Exam

Last Reviewed: August 21, 2007