Course Title:  01:082:203  Sacred Sites:  Materializing and Experiencing the Divine

Academic Credits:  3 credits

Mode of Instruction:  Lecture

Course Prerequisites and Corequisites:  None

Core Curriculum:  AHo, AHp

Course Description:

A consideration of the spatial and visual strategies by which site-bound holiness was materially evoked, staged and experienced.

In this course, we focus on the dynamics by which societies have given shape to different forms of religious experience that are strictly associated with specific geographic locations. The course is designed to be adapted by art history faculty members with expertise in religious art. In this iteration, we explore how a variety of religious sites in the Christian, Jewish and Islamic worlds were chosen and invested with an exceptional degree of holiness and found worthy of providing direct access—not mediated by any human or ritual activity—to the supernatural and divine. In so doing, we put emphasis on the spatial and visual strategies by which site-bound holiness was materially evoked, staged and experienced, often in close interaction with the natural environment. We employ theoretical models from neighboring disciplines such as Religion and Anthropology to consider and compare a range of sacred sites, including the Temple Mount and Golgotha in Jerusalem, Mount Sinai in Egypt, St. Peter's in Rome, Qalaat Semaan in Syria, Sacro Speco in Subiaco (Italy), and Mtskheta in the country of Georgia. In conclusion, we will discuss the inter-religious sharing of sacred sites from a contemporary perspective.

No prior coursework in Art History is required.

Learning Goals:

  • Students will gain awareness of what defines a sacred site versus a sacred space.
  • Students will learn the appropriate vocabulary and critical tools for discussing and writing about works of art and architecture.
  • Students will be introduced to some of the most significant artistic monuments representing the three major monotheistic religions (Christianity; Islam, Judaism) of the medieval Mediterranean.
  • Students will be able to discuss specific works of art and architecture within particular theoretical and conceptual frameworks.
  • Students will learn how to situate specific works of art and architecture within their proper historical and cultural contexts.

Required and Recommended Course Materials:

Readings will be posted on Canvas


Students are expected to maintain active class participation, read assigned texts in advance of class, and reflected upon them thoughtfully. Class discussions are an essential part of this course and contribute to our understanding of the readings and lectures. Our goal is to think critically, engage and reflect upon course materials, and learn from one another. There will also be a 4-6 page analysis paper, an in-class midterm and final exam focused on knowledge of the various theories and concepts regarding the sites covered in the class, and on their historical, cultural context.


Class sessions are an integral part of this course. You cannot be successful in this course without attending class regularly. Students are expected to attend all class sessions and be on time and prepared. If you have to miss class, please use the University absence reporting website to indicate the date and reason for your absence. An email is automatically sent to me. Absences during exams will only be excused with visual or written documentation of an illness or other emergency. More than two (2) unexcused absences or repeated tardiness will reduce a student’s grade for attendance/participation by one letter grade or more.


  • Attendance/participation – 15%
  • In-class midterm exam – 15%
  • 4-6 page analysis paper – 25%
  • In class final exam – 25%


Erik Thunø

Disclaimer:  These course descriptions/synopses pages have been provided as samples and the information should not be considered accurate or current.  For actual course information, refer to the course site hosted by a Rutgers Learning Management System (Sakai, Canvas, etc.) as of first day of class.