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Sacred Space, Profane Space, Human Space Author(s): Larry E. Shiner Source: Journal of the American

Sacred Space, Profane Space, Human Space Author(s): Larry E. Shiner Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Dec., 1972), pp. 425-436 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL:

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Sacred Space, Profane Space, Human Space



ALMOSTeveryperiodWestern intellectuallife hasbeenpreoccupiedwith

the problem of time and history. In the last fifty years this preoccupation

has become an

obsession,especially in literatureand theology. Like most

obsessionsit has tended to numb our perception for other realmsof experience. As philosophy of religion and theology stir toward a wider consciousness,they are slowly beginning to focus on the realmof natureand space. Of course,there have long been premonitions of this turntowardnature. Someof the intellectual forces which were responsible for our fascinationwith time such as relativity theory or existential phenomenology have also held out new perspectives on space. Among the studentsof religiousphenomena,however,only van derLeeuw and Eliade have given space equal prominence with time.' Although in this respect, as in so many others, we owe a tremendousdebt to their work, much remainsto be accomplished if we are fully to appreciate the religious valorization of space and begin to lay the foundationsfor an existential understanding of nature. One of the first tasksthat needsto be taken up is to clarify the meaning of "sacred space." My contributiontowardthat end is to show how the typical

polarity of sacredand profanespace hasbeen overdrawnto the point of obscuring the actualcharacterof human spatiality in its manifolddimensions. In place of this radical polarity I will sketchin a description of "lived space" andwill suggest that lived space is the possibility of both the homogenousspace of objectifying

thought andthe

ly summarizeEliade's conception of sacredand profanespace since it is the most

to describethe structures



which Eliade, van der Leeuw, Isaac and others usually attributeto sacred space

than with the polarization of the datawhich resultswhen the concept

It will be

luminosity of sacred places. My procedure will be (1) to brief-

complete and sophisticated accountwe now have, (2)

"lived space," (3) to reconsiderthe concept of sacred space and profanespace

light of the analysis of human spatiality. My quarrel is less with the qualities



argued that distortionsof both present and past spatialexperience are

'Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, New York: Harper & Row, 1961; Patterns


gion in

problem of sacred space

See "TheAct andthe Covenant,"Landscape, Vol. XI, Winter 1961-1962,pp. 12-17; "God's

Acre,"Landscape, Vol. XIV, Winter 1964-1965, pp. 28-32.

has also been done by the geographer of religions Erich Isaac.

CompartiveReligion, New York: Meridian Books, 1963.

Essenceand Manifestation, Vol. II, New York, 1963.

G. Van der Leeuw, Reli- Important work on the

LARRYE. SHINERis AssociateProfessorof Philosophy,Sangamon State University.


(Dec. 1972)




boundto occurunless the concepts of sacredand profanespace are rooted in an analysis of the structuresof human spatiality.


Although Eliade'sconcernwith sacredand profane space is a concernwith experience not conceptually, his own presentationis, of course,conceptual. In keeping with his polar understanding of sacredand profane, he describesthe contrastingspatialexperiences of homo religiosus and modern,profane man in terms of a series of opposites: homogeneity/heterogeneity,quantity/quality, chaos/cosmos,relativity/absoluteness. Profane space is above all homogenous and neutral, "withoutstructureor consistency,amorphous."2 Such relativity and

lackof orientationis virtuallyequivalent to an experience of space as chaos. For

sacred space comes about-as

hierophany. This manifestationof the "real," or "power," or "being" founds a

world by "revealing a fixed point, the centralaxis for all future orientation."3 Not only does the hierophany breakthe continuity of profanespace, it also cuts

an opening for communicationbetween cosmic planes.

these hierophanies need not be as explicit as Jacob's dream. Insteada sign may be given or even provoked,e.g., by turning an animalloose to wanderand then accepting the spot where he is later found and sacrificedas the designated locus

of village or altar.4 Techniques of orientationare particularlyimportant in the selectionor constructionof high holy places such as centralceremonial grounds,

sanctuariesor cities.

space comes into play, since these ceremonies are seen as a

workof the gods.By repeating "the archetype of the sacred space in illo tempore" the chaosof the unknownor uncultivated territory is transformedinto a cosmos,

a world.5 The chief symbolism in all these consecrations,according to Eliade, is

the symbolism of the Center. Whether village or city, grove or

or sanctuary,anyplace consecrated by the hierophanymay come to be honoredas the navel of the cosmos, the junction of heaven, earth and underworld." In

Eliade's interpretationthen, the principal characteristicsof

it (1)

ferentiated space, (2)

they bear the symbolism of the Center as almost all major breaks do, (3) the

Centeris also an axis mundi, a breakin plane which createsan opening between

cosmic levels, (4)

verticalaxis of communicationa world is founded, (5)

as a repetition of the primordial act of creation by the gods.

do all sacred phenomena for Eliade-through a

According to Eliade,

Here an additional aspect in the

consecrationof sacred


of the

mountain, house

sacred space are that

marksa break in the


homogeneity and amorphousness of hithertoundif- breaks provide a spatial orientation especially when

by consecrating both a horizontal point of reference and a

this foundationis seen

*Eliade, Sacred andProfane,p. 20.




' Eliade, Patterns, p. 370.

5Ibid.,p. 372.

Ibid., l

pp. 375-78.





In the discussionwhich follows the conventional public idea of space as a homogenous continuumwill play the role of a foil. Homogeneity means that everypoint is of equal valueto every other point, that no directionhas any privi- lege over anyother, that space is continuousand infinite. Human spatiality will

be presented asif thisview represents lessa faithfulaccountof ournative experi-


eventheunreflective everydayspatialexperience of literateWesternersis


It is

andtheninculcated along withclockandcalendartimein the earlygrades. Yet if

we lookmore closely andwithout prejudice we will discoverrichesof

orientationand conception whichdo not fit the

proach. The variegatedphenomena of territoriality in men and animals, the

spatialexplorations of

andurban organization from society to society, the temporalizedspace of rela-

tivitytheory-all these suggest thatwithinWesternculturethereis moreto space


fromour own, whetherto a non-linealarchaic society suchas thatof theTrob-

riandIslandsor to traditional Japanese culturewhichtreatsthe interval (ma)

notasa characterlessvoidbutas

areforcedto admitthatthe"commonsense"viewof space doesnot

essential spatiality of our world.8 It is but a



space as a homogenous and qualityless medium.

space thana special kindof

abstraction.Of course, thereis nodoubtthat

influenced by this concept of

alreadyimpressed on

thesmallchild through hisnormalfamilialassociations


conventional geometricizedap-

architectureand painting, thedifferencesin socialdistance

Andwhenwe turnto cultures quite different

possessing formand significance of its own, we

represent the

parochialconvention, albeitone


proved usefulandforsome purposesquitepowerful indeed.

In the first place the normativeWesternview of space doesnot reflectthe


kindof containerin whichwe

objects. If we step

seethat space is



environing characterof our experiences of space; it missesthe way we live

tially. We do not nativelyexperiencespace asa

findourselves along witha collectionof

a populated environ-

mentwe inhabit.9We arenot"in" space asshoesarein a box.

rathermorelikethatof a deerin a

ings,instinctually sensibleof thecriticaldistanceshemustmaintainfrom possible

predators.Through our bodieswe are intimatelyintermingled with our sur- roundings. Farfrom appearing as an abstract continuum, human space is per-

7 For social space in cross-cultural perspective see E. T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension, New York: Doubleday, 1966. There are numerous works on space in the arts. Particu- larly useful for the way they reflect on the general problem of human spatiality are Bruno Zevi, Architecture as Space, New York, Horizon Press, 1957; John White, The Birth and Rebirth of Pictoral Space, London: Faber and Faber, 1967; Marshall McLuhan and Harley Parker, Through the Vanishing Point, New York: Harper & Row, 1968; Gaston Bache- lard, The Poetics of Space, New York: Orion Press, 1964.

Dorothy Lee, Freedom and Culture, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1959, p. 56.

ventional presuppositions we will begin to

clearing,alert,totally awareof hersurround-

SMaurice Merleau-Ponty, La Phenomenologie de p. 162.

la Perception, Paris: Gallimard, 1945,



ceived as a horizon peopled with familiar beings whose distancesand directions are impregnated with meanings. Ratherthan an empty receptacle in which ob- jects are located, space begins to appear as something which is given by the

relationof the trees and houses, of

fine our possibilities of vision and movement. The environing characterof space is perhaps best seen by considering the

phenomenon of territoriality. Certainlyterritoriality must be consideredone of the fundamentalconstantsof both humanand animal life.10 Fundamentally, ter-

ritory is a world, the familiarhabitator homelandfor a

It has its roughly defined outer limits and variedzones within and its "center."

Although no longer instinctualin man, the role of national territory or the do- main of a particular street gang or simply the tendency of eachof us to think in termsof "our" neighborhood, underlinesthe persistence of territoriality. Within the larger boundsof the territory which we thinkof as our own therearefamiliar

and cherished places,dangerspots and spaces of special function such as play- grounds or civic centers. In additionto the varietiesof place and their signifi- cancethere are our accustomed pathways, some of which we take as a matterof habit or convenience but others which are specially chosen for their aesthetic

quality or

the highways, mountainsandriverswhich de-

society or an individual

because they follow an

historic route, etc.

As an

environmentor territory, lived

space is known primarilythrough our

moving about in it.

alonecannot give us three dimensionality." Onlyby walkingthrough a building

or a city square do we come to sense its spatiality. In trying to find adequate categories for his social psychology Kurt Lewin came to the conclusionthat the

usual concept of physicalspace was inadequate to express the

spatiality. Borrowing from the non-Euclidian geometries, he spoke of life space

as a hodologicalspace (from Gr. hodos, way), meaning a "finitely structured

space, that is, its parts are not infinitely

units or regions. Direction and distance are defined by

which can easily be coordinatedto psychological locomotion."12

kinestheticbecauseit is composed of pathways for movement-the enclosureof

the house or factory, the piazza, the street, the gateways, or simply the gaps be- tween the trees of a park or the flower beds of a garden. Human space is this

Studies of depth awarenesshave shown that perception

characterof human

divisible but are composed of certain





"1The best known studies on animal territoriality and its implications for human spa-


Both Lorenz and

Ardrey have come under sharp attack, cf. Man and Aggression, M. F. Ashley Montagu, ed.,

New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Sociological studies dealing with territoriality

are Robert Sommer, Personal Space, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1969; Stanford M.


Social Psychology Through Symbolic Interaction, ed. by Gregory P. Stone & Harvey S. Farberman, Waltham, Mass.: Ginn-Blaisdell, 1970.

Lyman and Marvin B. Scott, "Territoriality: A Neglected

Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative, New York: Athenum, 1966.

tiality are Konrad Lorenz On Aggression, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966,




Hall, op. cit., p. 115. "Kurt Lewin, Field Theory in Social Science, New York: Harper & Row, 1951, p. 26.





separation of things which gives

and bringingcloser, of a "here"and "there."'3 In lived space distanceis always a matterof the kind of relationwe have to another person or locale. Distance arisesfrom the characterof our bodily orien- tation in an environmentand must be understoodin termsof specific intentions

to bring or come nearor get farfrom something. When we estimateor calculate

distancesin our ordinaryexperience it is usually in such active terms as "within reach,""walkingdistance,""driving time."'4 Direction in lived space is not only related to our purposive involvement with things but the territory itself comes to be orderedin terms of privileged directions. Not only may the en- vironing territory have its center or centers of political, economic or spiritual focus but such rudimentary indicatorsas up and down, right and left come to

the possibility of movement, of coming closer

bear a certain symbolicweight.

Correspondingly, the places of lived

space are

not abstractlocationson a grid but centersof human activity. If one

thinks of

the districtsof a city such as Bostonor New York with their complex identities combining ethnic, economic, commercialand cultural aspects, it is evident that the "North End"or the "Lower East Side" are not merely terrainsof definite geophysical location and size but territorieswhose symbolic meanings define

their locationand significance in human space.

indifferenceof geometricalspace, lived

space is heterogenous anddiscontinuous. It is tied to humanaims and meanings;

its orientationsand places are interlacedwith symbolic associations. Human

space is less a matterof "positions" than of "situations," of intersecting coordi-

nates than of "sites."'

tance, directionand place are determined by valuationand purposivemovement,

lived space is permeated with human significance.

As compared to the homogeneity and

As the encompassing habitatof human life, where dis-


If we put the basiccharacteristicsof lived space alongside Eliade'scharacter- ization of sacred space, the parallels are remarkable. The most fundamental

markof sacredas opposed to profanespace is also the preeminent characteristic



Nor can it be assertedthat the "profane" man of modernindustrialsocieties ex-

periences no privileged orientation in space. There may indeed be a

to find centersof significance and orientationmore dispersed and more special- ized, e.g., the "capitals" of politics, finance, art, mode. But even though the

lived space: it is heterogenous. One simply cannotcharacterizethe

modernman's life-world as


"withoutstructureor consistency,amorphous.""'



designates the fundamental spatiality of human being-in-the-world as Ent


is essentially de-severant; it lets any entity be encountered close



It is the relation of making something far come near by. "Dasein

by as the entity which it

Being and Time, New York: Harper & Row, 1962, p. 139. 1 Ibid., pp. 140-141. " Merleau-Ponty, op. cit., p. 116.

1 Eliade, Sacred and Profane, p. 200.



"centers"and their symbolism have developed specialized functions the spatial landscape is not a chaos. On the contrary the surfaceof the earth is just as orderedand specified symbolically in modernas it is in archaicsocieties. Even

at the most elementary level of

a meaningful environment. One could argue that "being-in-the-world" (Hei- degger) or being-toward the world (Merleau-Ponty) are fundamentalstructures

of the human mode of being rather than peculiarities of religious man. Far from requiring a hierophany to found a world, man and world are correlative. Lived space is a world, it is there primordially as the humanenvironment.


human experience,space is organized as a world,

Of course, Eliade recognizes that modernman

still experiences some orienta-

tion and some privileged places.

heterogeneityis, in his words, "peculiar to the religious experience of space.""7

Accordingly,"profane man's" experience of spatialheterogeneity is dismissedas

a "degradation and desacralizationof religious values."18 An example of the ex- tremesto which so polarized a view of the modern ("profane") experience of space can lead is his characterizationof the modernhouse with Le Corbusier's famous phrase "amachineto live in." Eliade dismissesthe modern house as a

merely functional and interchangeableproduct of industry.19 However, if we put the "house-machine" phrase in the context of the whole book from which it

came, it appears as

spiritlesspastices of eclecticism.20

ous architectsof the InternationalSchoolsee the design of houses,buildings and


cities as a spiritualactivity, indeed, as the founding of a world. is the first manifestationof man creating his own universe."21

But he treats these as mere survivals since

a criticism not of the archaic dwelling but of the literally

Moreover,not only Le Corbusierbut numer-

our investigation of sacred space from the concept of lived space

ratherthan the sacred/profanedichotomy, the analysis of modern sacred space

There are no doubt some

modern spatial orientations and valorizationswhich are survivals and others which are outright continuationslittle alteredin essentialsfrom remote times. As survivals one can point to the usual public dedication ceremony which has a

primarilypragmatic aim such as political reinforcementor cultivating alumni

support but

and "survivals"can be put on a sounder footing.

If we begin

is alsooverlaidwith invocationsof God, ancestors, the "spirit" of the

1 Ibid.,p. 24.

18 Ibid.

1 Ibid,pp. 50-51.

' See, for example, the opening chapter of

Le Courbusier's early manifestowhere he

rails against the architecturalschools and the public demand for "historicalsouvenirs."

Towardsa New Architecture, London: John Rodeker,1931, pp. 13-17.

also Vincent Scully, Jr., Modern Architecture, New York: George Braziller, 1961, pp.


To be sure the "rationalism"of Corbusier's theory is

even more pronounced than that of most contemporaryarchitects, but he believes he is


metricalorderto be found in the buildings of archaic societies, in Ancient India, Egypt,

Greeceand Rome. See pp. 41-52,

On this point see

"* Le Corbusier,op. cit., p. 17.

up motifs which are ancient. One ought to considerhis discussionof the geo-

69-74, 153-173.



institutionor place. Obviously, the senseof awe and expectation which one may feel in a Roman Catholic sanctuary is not a survivalbut a continuation. Even more striking examples of continuationscan be found in the house-building practices of rural peoples in Centraland South Europe.22 On the other hand, muchof the centering anddifferentiationof zonesof varied spiritualsignificance which occursin the modern period is neither a direct continuationnor a mere vestige of the past but a new expression of our fundamentalhuman spatializing activity. Although modern building, siting, and town planning has produced

much that reflectsmere economicand

buildings which do embody and define spaces of great power. To take an un- likely example, considerthe ascentin the Eiffel Tower, that product of mechani- cal industry and pure engineering. As a result of the interplay of inner and outer spacethrough the open framework, the lightness of the whole as compared to the massivesteel beams, the constantlychangingperspective as we move to a vantagelooking over the whole of the city lying astridethe Seine, we look down on the orderand unity of the city like gods andwe find this most mechanisticof structureson which we stand, to be an expression of spirit, of light, of air, of

constantlyinterpenetratingspaces. Or consider Frank Lloyd Wright's famous "Falling Water"wherethe chthonianresonancesarecountered by the abundance

of light and the plasticity of interior spaces while its massivestone and concrete

political expediency, there are places and

exterior forms bespeak endurance. It uses the products of the machine to


umph over the merely mechanicaland functional, to reinstatethe spirit of


waters, of the earthand woods, and to shelterand give free space for the spirit of man. Numerousother buildings and city plans both old and new come to mind, but perhaps it will be enough if we cite a few of the monumentalworks of Le

Corbusier:the Unite d'Habitationat Marseilles,Ronchamp,LaTourette, the High

Court Building at Chandigarh. Naturally, the extent to which any of the pre- eminent contemporaryspatial foci evoke the kind of awe and enchantmentof

analysis of each

being characteristicof sacred places is a matterto be settled by

case. Certainly, all are emphaticallyhuman,seeking to express the human scale, the human experience of spatiality. But the idea that the most characteristic contemporary architectureis for that reason a kind of spiritless functionalism

which ignores its cosmic context is a gross misunderstanding. In the words of Bruno Zevi, the

imperative that is now guiding and inspiring moderntown planning and archi-

its functionalist origin and organicdevelopment, is not to be inter-

practicalexigency. In effect it is a great force and suggestion to the religious and

preted as


a materialisticor merely

religious movement, not inferior in

22 ,.

when the cornerstonewas laid the family and relativescame together, cut the

the four cornersof the house, selecting the

throatof a cock, and let the blood spill on

eastern corner first

in the cornerstone

the family buried earth from a sacred place

near the village where they had found a treasuredikon of the Holy Virgin." Irwin T. Sanders, Rainbowin the Rock: The People of Rural Greece,Cambridge: HarvardUni- versityPress, 1962, p. 54.



spiritual movementswhich

ment which is immanentin aim becauseit is human, but which goes beyond

problems of circumstantialcomfort to face

society in which the individualcravesfreedomand seeks passionately for an in-

tegration of his culture.'

the life and death problems of a

inspired the spatialconceptions of the past, a move-

However, thereremaintwo characteristicsof sacred space in Eliade'sformu- lation which are only faintly reflectedin contemporary lived space. One is the notion of a breakin plane which opens a communicationbetween cosmic levels, the other is the idea that the act of foundationis a repetition of a divine estab- lishment. Both these concern aspects of sacred space which assureto its center- ednessan absolutecharacterandreferenceto anotherworld. Whetherthe fading of absolutismand supernaturalism has meant an unmitigatedimpoverishment of

ourmodernlife is beyond the scope of our present considerations.Whatdoes

matteris that the mere absenceof an absolute point of referencewhich connects

us with the world (s)

tion or places of intrinsic significance. That or his own capital as the absolutecenteror as

one no longer sees his own temple paradigmatically linked to a trans-

beyond does not leave in a spatialchaos, without orienta-

cendent world, doesnotmeanthatthereareno places of awewherewe feelcom-

pelled to "takeoff ourshoes."Nor doesit meanthereareno centerswhichem-

theirnameand spatial orderrecollectionsof "other"humanworldsnow

body in

passed into

tion and

oppose thesacred space of homo religiosus to the supposedlyprofanized anddis-

oriented spatiality of

tent of

spiritual con-

memory. No doubttherearesometendenciestowardthedisorienta-

flattening of human spatialexperiencetoday. Butit is unacceptable to


modern spatiality as a mere vestige or survival.

sacred/profanepolarity falsifiesour contemporaryexperience of space,

it does

completejustice to the

spatial orientationsof


spatialsymbolization in Clas-

adequacy of the sacred/profane dichot-

example, the omphalos, a hillock

If the

we cannot helpasking if


sicalGreececastsfurtherdoubton the

omy asan interpretive tool. Thereis no question thata great dealof symbolism

whichmatchesEliade'sorvanderLeeuw'scriteriaforsacred spacemay be found

in AncientGreeceas well as the Far East, for


it signified theCenter.24Vincent Scully'sstudy of Greek temples hasunderlined

the importance of therelationbetweenhumanconstructionandthe

the formsand

dirtoraconicalstonewhichborethe numinosity of Earthherselfandof which

spaces of the

sacrality of

natural landscape.25 Oneof themostcharacteristic


was the hestia, the circularhearthwhich

manifestationsof Greek sacred

formedthecenterof the houseandaroundwhichvariousritessuchas marriage


"Louis Gernet, "Surle symbolismpolitique en Gr&ce Ancienne: le FoyerCommun,"

Zevi, op. cit.,pp. 158-159.

Cahiers internationauxde

Asian themeswhich supports much of Eliade's analysis is R. A. Stein "Architectureet

peniee religieuse en extreme-orient," Arts Asiatique, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1957,

An excellent summary of

Sociologie,Vol. XI, 1951, p. 22.

pp. 163-186.

SVincent Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods, New York: Praeger,1969.



andthe deposition of the infant took place.26 The hestiawas alsothe seat of the goddess Hestia who accordinglysymbolized the solidity and immobility of the cosmosas well as the centerednessof enclosed, domestic space. Not only did the

hestia anchorthe houseto the earthbut through the roof opening over it the god's

portion of the mealscookedon

sider Hestia together with her usual consort,Hermes, who represents the open

space of


feminine aspects of Greek spatialexperience.

the worldof shepherds and tradersas she represents the closed space of gathering, we have a comprehensiveimage of both the masculineand

the hearthrose to the worldabove.27 If we con-

The couple Hermes-Hestia expresses in its polarity the tension which marksthe


leged value from which one can orient and define qualitatively differentdirec-

tions; but at the same time space is the place of movement, which implies the possibility of transitionand passage from any point to any other."

archaic representation of space: space demandsa center, a fixed point of

saidaboutGreek spatialsymbolism

which would suggest the inadequacy of the usual sacred/profanepolarity. How-

ever, if we reflect for a moment on the spatial significance of the figure of Hermes we cannot help wondering whethtr in symbolizing movement in space

as the "transition

experience of the homogeneity of space. Yet it hardly seems appropriate to term

this homogeneityprofane since it is the medium of the god himself.

least the figure of Hermes shows that even in archaicGreece space was not al-

ways conceived in terms of hierophanticpoints which defined orientationand

provided communicationwith other cosmic

of the figure of Hermesare less decisive for our

value of the sacred/profanepolarity than is the transformationin the spatial

meaning of Hestia once she becomesHestia Koine, the commonhearthfound


However, the implications of the


far there appears little in whatwe have

from any point to any other"Hermesdoes not indicatean



At the


many of the major cities. In the Hestia Koine we no longer have an


the omphalos with its chthonianconnectionsnor even a direct reflectionof the

relatively mild numinosity associatedwith the

center. Of

time being religious

munal meals held at the common hearthwere

sentation and solidarity rather than consecrationsor renewals of chthonian

primarily acts of political repre-


hestia, but a primarilypolitical

without at the same

course, in Greece hardlyanything was political

and vice versa. Nevertheless, the sacrificesand the com-

powers. The Hestia Koine signifies a new representation of social space

men can



arrange it as they like, can organize it anywhere and even move it


pp. 24-28,

N Ibid.,p. 48.

" 21 Ibid.,p. 15.

Vernant, "Hestia-Hermes, Sur 1'expression religieuse

de 1'espace et de




chez les Grecs," L'homme: revue francaise d'anthropologie,



8, No.

Gernet, op. cit., p. 42.



From the time of Cleisthenes (VI centuryB.C.) the "rational" characterof the Hestia Koine' was accentuated. As L6veque and Vidal-Naquet have shown,

a decisive political reformoccurredunderCleistheneswhich shiftedthe principle of political organization from that of clan representation to a purely territorial basis.30 The city and countryside were divided into areas, with the reorganized agora at their center. The agora becamethe site of the assembly hall for the 500 elected representatives of the new spatially conceivedterritoriesand these repre- sentativeswere given the right of being lodged at the common hearth (Hestia Koine). Under this arrangement the common hearthdefines a centered space, to be sure, but one which is organized on a principle of human equality (homo- geneity) ratherthan in termsof proximity to a manifestationof the sacred. In the wordsof Jean-PierreVernant, "thehearthlost its chthonian dealings, its cos- mic implications; it excluded mystery." If we are "still in a religious context,"

he continues, "it is a new form of religion, a religion itself political, and in the

balanceof the two terms it is the latterthat weights most


In sum:

As compared to former spatial, temporal and numerical representations, charged with religious values, new frameworks of experience develop which respond to the organizational needs of the world of the city, this properly human world where citizens deliberate and decide on their common business for themselves.8"

One possible characterizationof the shifts which occurin sixth century Ath- ens is to speak of a secularizationor the inauguration of a lay state.33 But as Roland Crahay has pointed out, to speak of "secularization" with respect to the classical period in Ancient Greeceis to introducea distinction totally foreign to Greek thought.34 If the secular/religiouspolarity is inadequate to grasp what is

going on here, the usual sacred/profanedichotomy is even less so. Cleisthenes did not inaugurate a political orderin which space was treatedas a homogenous medium without orientationor significant direction. On the contrary, it is a space decisively orientedto its political center, a center which still bearstraces of the symbolism of Hestia. Yet this new space is also homogenous in the sense

that it lies about its center as an

tion. Although what happens is not a secularizationin the modern sense, "the notion of center, as it appears in the political symbolism of the common hearth,

has takenon a markedlypositive and abstractcharacter."35If we were to try to understandwhat happens here using the customarysacred/profanepolarity, we

egalitarian determinantof political representa-

80 Pierre IUv&que et Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Clisthdne l'Athenian, Paris: Les Belles-Lettres,


8 Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Espace et organization politique en Grece Ancienne," Annales,

Economics,Sociitds,Civilizations,20, 1965, p. 579.

82Ibid.,p. 518.

m Ibid.,p. 579.

8 Roland Crahay, "The Political Background of the Religious View of Man in Ancient

Greece," Diogenes, Vol. 41,

1963, pp.


85Vernant, "Espaceet

organisation politique

" p. 579.




in the

society where supposedlyonly faint

wise homogenousspace. If the sacred/profanepolarity is inadequate to characterizethe kind of spa- tiality which emerges in the development of the Hestia Koine and its amalgam with Cleisthenes reforms, what concepts canwe use? It seemsto me Vernanthit

upon the right term when he spoke of the new spatial experience as respond- ing to the needsof the "worldof the city, this properly humanworldwhere citi- zens deliberateand decidefor themselves."36If we begin with a sacred/profane


fromthe beginning andwe end up

if we begin with the concept of human spatiality, of lived space with its funda-

mentallyheterogenous, orientedand meaningfulorganization, we can accommo- date the kinds of extreme phenomena for which the concepts of sacred and

profane space were developed without distorting the phenomena which lie tween these poles.

religious/seculardichotomy every piece of evidence tends to get polarized

have to describethe spatialexperience of the sixth century B.C.Athenian same terms Eliade reservesfor the citizen of modern, profane industrial

survivalsof the sacred punctuate an other-

with artificial paradoxes. On the other hand,


I am awarethat the course I have pursued in impugning the value of the

sacred/profanepolarity as an interpretivecategory for the history

of religion has run roughshod over some delicate hermeneuticalissues since I

have in part based my critique on an interpretation of both contemporary and

ancient spatialexperience. In casesof

startingpoints a few examples,

proof. I can draw some comfort, however, from the fact that those who put

forth the sacred/profanepolarity as a startingpoint

We all start with our own world and read backward finding expressions ever

more strange to our own experience and yet for all their strangenessstriking a

sympathetic resonance. What the similarities? Shallwe start

village life, or

with the sacrality which pervades so many aspects

shall we startwith the territoriality and orientationto centersof functionalor historical meaning which is commonto both modernandtraditionalmen? I


suggesting the latter startingpoint periences which are intendedin the

without falling into the temptation of pressingeverypast or presentspatialphe- nomenon into the dichotomousmold.

can do justice to the ex- sacredand profanespace



rival interpretations which take different

even if successfullyinterpreted, do not make a

are in a similar situation.

shall we take as paradigmatic-the differencesor

by contrasting the profanity of modern city life

of traditional

becauseI believe it usual opposition of


arguments and evidenceI have presented shouldat leastcautionthe his-

philosopher of religion to be more exact in his definition and applica-

sacred/profanepolarity, especially


respect to contemporary spatiality lacks the sense


tion of the

materials. I think we have seen that although modern

of absolutenessand communicationwith other worlds which characterizessome spatialordersof past societies,modern space is not a kind of chaos,lacking or-

N Ibid., p. 578.

Italics mine.



ientationor intrinsic significance. The spatialexperience of modernman is not profane but merely human. The interpretive alternativeI have proposed is to reject dualismfrom the outset and regard both the picture of natureconstructed by the scientific traditionand the symbolism of nature emerging from the reli- gious traditionas equallygrounded in the "life-world," in the fundamentalstruc- turesof the human experience of temporality and spatiality. Fromthis base one directionleadsto the abstractioncharacteristicof homogenous, metric space and

the otherdirectionto

So long as one understandshuman space or lived space to be the primary source

of both these poles one can use the designations"profane" and "sacred" for them.

But then it would also

temporary situationsthe exception ratherthan the rule. We are dealing with a continuum spreading out from the average humanstructural possibilities of spa-

tial experience towardtwo kinds of limit.

the intensificationof meaning characteristicof holy places.

be understoodthat both extremes represent in most con-