Ubication: A Phenomenological Study about Making Spaces Sacred

Lauren F. Pfister*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

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    Within this paper a phenomenological method for describing sacred spaces/places is justified, characterized and illustrated. Recognizing that particular places within secularized and post-secular cultural contexts may lose and regain their religious status, I have referred to the process and this phenomenological method of “making spaced sacred” by means of the neologism in English, “ubication”. The presentation of this approach occurs here in seven sections. First of all, some basic interpretive questions about why and how humans recognize sacred spaces are addressed in reference to key words by Mircea Eliade (1907–1986) and the more recent anthropological work of Leslie Sponsel. Subsequently, particular conceptual problems in Sponsel’s account and special theoretical troubles leading to a major philosophical quandary in Eliade’s claims are explored in detail, particularly in revealing questions about the nature and location of “sacredness”. The positing of a phenomenological foundation for a post-Eliadian understanding of sacred spaces that overcomes a key theoretical gap manifest in Eliade’s more-or-less Kantian transcendental approach is addressed by means of Lewis Rambo’s multi-disciplinary approach to religious conversion and a robust understanding of the multidimensional experience of the transformative dimension. Countering Eliade’s claims, I argue that humans can be rejuvenated by encountering the sacred both because they are themselves spiritually transformable and may choose to participate in making spaces/places sacred. Reasons for why Eliade may have avoided accounts of religious conversion and their transformative dimension in human experiences are briefly offered in relationship to Eliade’s Portugal Journal, written during a period of intense struggle from 1940 to 1945. On this critical foundation, I present a positive characterization of ubication grounded on Rambo’s studies of religious conversion and an assertion of the phenomenological manifestation of sacredness by means of a Tillichean formula of sustaining an ultimate concern for an ultimate subject. This latter assertion relies on a recent analysis of Paul Tillich’s (1886–1965) account of religious experience presented by Lai Pan-chiu. I briefly show how this framework helps to resolve certain problems that arise in discussions of the differences between religious experience and spirituality. Then I advance to the description of three realms of phenomenological analysis of ubication: how personal spaces, relational and communal emplacements, and a cosmic whole can be made sacred. Final critical reflections reveal that an account of “making spaces sacred” would be incomplete without a parallel description of “making times sacred”, a process I refer to by another neologism, “quandication”. Other questions arise in relationship to describing contexts of conflictual settings where religious sites are either secularized or become points of conflict due to claims made regarding the same place by different religious communities. Finally, because ubication privileges first person accounts of religious experience, there is an inherently subjective dimension involving religious participants that I argue are still phenomenologically describable by means of the Tillichean analysis of the sacred mentioned earlier.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)393-411
    Number of pages19
    JournalInternational Communication of Chinese Culture
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Ubication
    • Phenomenology
    • Transformation
    • Sacred/sacredness
    • Religious conversion


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