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Immanent Transcendence?

Negotiations of Religious Space between Japan and the West

Architecture, especially religious architecture, is a means to negotiate the threshold between the Profane and the Sacred, between immanence and transcendence. In regard to Christian churches, physical space of the building frames and localizes the social space of the community as well as the symbolic space of the faith. At the same time, it mediates and translates the transition between the realms of immediate experience and the dimensions of the intangible. It anchors the promise of participation in the divine on earth. Thus a church building itself is a threshold both in an immanent physical sense as well as in an metaphysical sense.

The resulting research questions are manifold. How is the intangible manifest in Japanese church architecture? Are there similarities with the European or North American tradition? Are there differences? How is the manifestation of the intangible discussed in denominations and communities? This set of questions would extend my earlier study in a sensible way, but would fall short of the mark. It is much more productive to take a closer look at the wedding chapels and their perception in Japan and the West.


Wedding chapels are perceived as churches by most Japanese. They are as well perceived as churches by most westerners. Publications both in architecture and in liturgy list wedding chapels as religious buildings. In case of architecture this is comprehensible due to the superiority of designing architects in comparison to architects in research. The field and its publication practices is shaped by the needs and interests of the former and usually marginalizes the latter. Thus the inspiring image of a building is more relevant, real, and true than the social and cultural conditions that initially shaped the building.

It is suggested, that access to transcendence is no longer exclusively tied to liturgical practice and ritual. In established and institutionalized Christian religion, ritual moderates the transition between immanence and transcendence. The church building only frames and supports the passage, its symbolic meaning and supportive character remains secondary and worldly. In modern western cultures in which religious belonging is no longer institutionalized, however, people with spiritual longing but no religious experience and affiliation seek and find access to transcendence via the buildings itself. Today, specific buildings with their forms, spaces and ‘auras’ are by some understood as means for instant transcendence. The research project will analyse the genesis of this phenomenon.