The Newberry Library Seminar in Early American History and Culture
Co-Sponsored by the University of Chicago, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and Northwestern University
Thursday, March 17, 2005
3:30pm-5:30pm, The Newberry Library
Sensing the Sacred
Louis P. Nelson, University of Virginia
Seventeenth and eighteenth-century Anglicans had a problem. They loved building great churches. But together with other Protestants, Anglicans held a theological commitment to the omnipresence of God, a commitment that undermined the possibility that God was somehow more present in the space of the church. To resolve this problem, Anglicans enlisted the senses to communicate the presence of God and defend the sanctity of the church (small "c" as in the building) without having to constrain the divine. Depending on a case study of early colonial South Carolina, this paper examines the ways Anglicans used early modern understandings of sight, sound, and smell to imbue their churches with sanctity. It raises questions about the cultural work of signs and symbols, the power of the written word, and the complexity of metaphor in the context of a world deeply invested in the reality of the supernatural to explore the construction of sacred space.
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