Suzanne Morgan, a lifelong Christian, keeps an Islamic prayer rug in her Chicago office “just in case a visiting Muslim might need to pray midday.”
The rug is also a symbol of her commitment to building bridges of understanding among faith groups.
“Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and so many other religious followers have been attacked and maligned because of misinformation,” Morgan said. “This sad truth is a great danger to the entire world and I hope I can, in a small way, afford people a path to tolerance. There is no room for hatred.”
Morgan, who spent her high school years in Hudson, is now a Chicago architect on a quest to use architecture to promote interfaith communication. She has created a museum exhibit called Sacred Spaces, which features five architectural models of places of worship in the Chicago area, with the goal of helping people gain an appreciation of the people behind their construction and design.
The exhibit is currently on display, through Aug. 24, at the University of Akron’s Center for the History of Psychology, located at 73 S. College St. The local showing marks the first time that the exhibit has been shown outside of Chicago.
“The Sacred Spaces exhibit is an exciting development in the Center for the History of Psychology’s newly created Institute for Human Science and Culture. Keeping with our mission, exhibits like this highlight the diversity of human experience and helps tell the story of what it means to be human,” said David B. Baker, executive director of the center. “Faith traditions have always played a central role in the course of human affairs and examining faith traditions through architecture offers fresh opportunities for new learning and understanding.”
Structures in exhibit
The exhibit’s five Judeo-Christian tradition models are:
• Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, a Gothic cathedral-style structure built in 1857 by German immigrants.
• Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a geometric concrete structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1905.
• KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue, a Byzantine structure designed by Albert S. Alschuler and built in 1924 in the spirit of the second century Severus Synagogue in the Galilee region.
• First St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, a modern design built in 1970 of brick and wood with textures that give a sense of warmth.
• St. Benedict the African Roman Catholic Church, a structure that uses a West African design of interlocking circles that was built in 1975 for five African-American congregations that merged to become one.
What models show
In the exhibit, Morgan shows how each design translates into information about the faith tradition and the people who practice it.
“Each model shows both the inside and the outside of each structure. My focus is on the sacred space — the sanctuary — and what the design of that space is telling us about the faith group that occupies that space,” Morgan said. “While it is best to see the place in person, the models are the second best thing.”
Morgan said information about each faith community can be found in both the exterior and interior of each model. For example, the huge baptismal font (which holds 10,000 gallons of water) inside St. Benedict reflects the tradition of immersion baptism; the entrance at First St. Paul’s is at street level to make it easier for older parishioners to enter; the Ten Commandments above the doors at KAM Isaiah Israel signal that the domed structure is a synagogue; the lack of religious symbols inside Unity Temple reflects the inclusion of all religious traditions; and the communion table, confessionals and baptismal font inside Holy Family symbolize three of the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic tradition.
How it started
Morgan’s work to introduce people to faith groups that are different from their own began after 9/11.
“Clearly, life changed after that. Sadly, all Muslims became terrorists,” Morgan said. “I could see something needed to be done. I decided what I could do was through architecture and I started Sacred Space International (www.sacredspace international.org) with the idea to help introduce people to other religions and, hopefully, help them gain a better understanding of each other.”
Morgan, a retired architect with expertise in liturgical design, also founded the Upper Room, an interfaith prayer space in Chicago’s financial district. She studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and earned a certificate in liturgical design from Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union and is currently sacred space ambassador with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion (www.parliamentofreligions.org).
“My goal is to provide a safe, nonthreatening environment for interfaith dialogue,” Morgan said. “These three-dimensional models are a great way to show how different congregations articulate their beliefs and practices. My hope is to expand the collection to include more faith groups and models of houses of worship outside the Chicago area.”
The Sacred Spaces exhibit can be viewed at the Center for the History of Psychology from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
For more information on the center, the exhibit and updated programming, go to http://www.uakron.edu/chp or call 330-972-7285.