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Religion and the American Landscape



The visual representation of religion in the American landscape is practically everywhere. From the rural countryside to the urban enclave and from the colonial period to the present, inhabitants of what would become the United States have modified the natural landscape to reflect their religious perspectives in a changing world. Churches, temples, schools, monuments, roadside shrines, cemeteries—these are all things we observe in the landscape that physically and visually mark a place as religious and provide us with cues for further exploration of the religious people behind the objects, past and present. Though lacking a coherent disciplinary field, the study of America’s religious landscape brings together scholars from history, geography, philosophy, and architecture to identify how religion both alters and is altered by the natural and built environment throughout American history. Taken together, the three interrelated themes of “nature,”“structure,” and “memory” speak to the manifest ways in which religious adherents have invested meaning in the natural landscape and constructed sacred sites upon that same landscape.