English Heritage

Places of Worship research

The on-going English Heritage research project 'Religion and Place' is exploring the architecture of religious observance in selected urban locations, discovering its impact on the historic environment of the past and its potential to reshape it in the present and the future. The survey takes in post-Reformation buildings of all faiths and denominations, sizes and architectural qualities, relating them to local patterns of settlement up to the present, to include mosques, gurdwaras and mandirs alongside churches, chapels and synagogues.

Places of worship are often the most prominent and architecturally distinctive buildings in any neighbourhood, to which local residents have strong attachments, whether they visit them regularly or not. Tower Hamlets in east London, with its especially rich history of cultural and religious diversity, has been included to represent the capital. Liverpool, Coventry and Leeds are also being studied. As well as generating contact with new audiences, the investigation of 167 sites in Tower Hamlets has supported conservation initiatives and created records for posterity.

The case study approach is crucial for the 'place' element of the project, understanding buildings not primarily as artefacts, but more as reflections of distinctive local histories. The long view is also important, to emphasise the fact that across centuries of immigration, persecution and assimilation there have always been established and economically dominant groups alongside emerging and insecure groups. The project is contributing to an open understanding of 'English heritage' which reveals disparate parts of a puzzle that are interdependent, not as being either 'ours' or 'theirs'.

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