When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America

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For nearly eighteen centuries, two fundamental spatial plans dominated Christian architecture: the basilica and the central plan. In the 1880s, however, profound socio-economic and technological changes in the United States contributed to the rejection of these traditions and the development of a radically new worship building, the auditorium church. When Church Became Theatre focuses on this radical shift in evangelical Protestant architecture and links it to changes in worship style and religious mission.

The auditorium style, featuring a prominent stage from which rows of pews radiated up a sloping floor, was derived directly from the theatre, an unusual source for religious architecture but one with a similar goal-to gather large groups within range of a speaker's voice. Theatrical elements were prominent; many featured proscenium arches, marquee lighting, theatre seats, and even opera boxes.

Examining these churches and the discussions surrounding their development, Jeanne Halgren Kilde focuses on how these buildings helped congregations negotiate supernatural, social, and personal power. These worship spaces underscored performative and entertainment aspects of the service and in so doing transformed relationships between clergy and audiences. In auditorium churches, the congregants' personal and social power derived as much from consumerism as from piety, and clerical power lay in dramatic expertise rather than connections to social institutions. By erecting these buildings, argues Kilde, middle class religious audiences demonstrated the move toward a consumer-oriented model of religious participation that gave them unprecedented influence over the worship experience and church mission.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Kilde's careful and thorough research in published and unpublished congregational denomnational , and architectural records successfully engages architectural history, religious studies, and social and cultural history, and this book will be beneficial to scholars in many disciplines."—The Journal of Religion

"Jeanne Halgren Kilde's impressive new book is a Rosetta stone for an undervalued genre of American ecclesiastical architecture. Kilde's work adds complexity to our understanding of both American religious architecture and American religious history."—Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"This is a very significant book for at least three disciplines: architectural history, church history, and liturgical studies....Kilde shows how changing concepts about the function of worship produced major changes in the design of church buildings, a process which has continued to the present. In so doing, she explains much of the ecclesiastical landscape of America."—James F. White, Drew University

"This original and impressive book demonstrates how relevant the history of religious architecture can be for the study of American history. Jeanne Kilde's careful attention to the lived religion of worship spaces as well as to the cultural politics of space greatly advances the understanding of church architecture in the nineteenth century."—David Morgan, Valparaiso University

"Jeanne Kilde's study of auditorium churches is a major contribution to the growing literature on 'reading' religious architecture as an important tool for discerning the significance of the material culture of religion in understanding broader themes in the religious, social, and cultural history of the United States."—Peter W. Williams, Miami University

"Wonderfully insightful By the book's end, Kilde has enlightened us not only about architecture and interior design, but also about liturgical practice, music, theology, class, gender, power, technology, and the rise of consumer culture. It is hard to convey, in a short review, just how rich this book is." — Journal of Presbyterian History

"Reading architectural space is a highly rewarding enterprise, and one stands in awe of the author's ability to explore nonwritten texts so creatively. By skillfully chronicling the movement from one church type to another and linking this transformation to the social and cultural concerns of American evangelism, this book not only enriches our understanding of American religious history but also brings what was peripheral to center stage, illuminating old questions and opening up new ones."—Worship

"Kilde's work will be of interest to religion scholars examining the relationship between faith and culture, historians who seek to understand the evolution of evangelical Christianity in the nineteenth century, architecture scholars desiring to understand the genesis of auditorium/theater-type spaces in relation to Christian worship, and all who seek to understand the presence and impulses of evangelical Christians today who construct ever more sophisticated auditorium spaces for their ministries."—Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"When Church Became Theatre expands, synthesizes, and enriches the narrative of both American religious history and American architectural history, which will enlighten professional and amateur scholars alike."— Religious Studies Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195179729
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 2/17/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeanne Halgren Kilde holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. She is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College, and Co-director of Macalester's Lilly Project for Work, Ethics, and Vocation.

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Table of Contents

1 Transformation of Protestant architecture 3
2 Redefining clerical and audience authority in the architecture of urban revivals 22
3 Formalism and the Gothic revival among evangelical Protestants 56
4 Spiritual armories on the new suburban landscape 84
5 Church becomes theatre 112
6 Sacralizing the evangelical church as a church home 146
7 Building for the children : Akron plan Sunday schools and institutional churches 170
8 Meanings in nineteenth-century evangelical architecture 197
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 7, 2014

    Amazing.....!Excellent......!Just enjoy it.....!

    Amazing.....!Excellent......!Just enjoy it.....!

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