Robert Brenneman co-authors “Building Faith,” a book about religious architecture

Headshot of Robert Brenneman
Robert Brenneman

Robert Brenneman, professor of criminal justice and sociology, has co-authored a book titled “Building Faith: A Sociology of Religious Structures” (Oxford University Press, Aug. 2020) with Brian J. Miller, associate professor of sociology at Wheaton College.

“Building Faith” casts light on how religious buildings shape the subjectivities of those who gather and worship there, and their importance not only to the communities that worship in them, but also to those that live nearby. The book combines sociological theory and the empirical method to understand the impact of physical structures on the religious groups who build them.

“I think COVID has made many of us more aware than ever of the crucial role played by religious buildings in the cultivation of community, Brenneman said. “While it’s true that most congregations have found ways to meet ‘virtually’ or in small groups, away from their physical structure, many congregants feel that something vital has been lost when we’re not able to gather inside a physically-defined space – one that has become familiar as a place of prayer and worship.”

Although the emerging field of the sociology of architecture has started to pay attention to physical structures, Brenneman and Miller are the first to combine the light of sociological theory and the empirical method in order to understand the impact of physical structures on religious groups that build, transform and maintain them. Religious buildings not only reflect the groups that build them or use them; these physical structures actually shape and change those who gather and worship there.

Religious buildings are all around us. From Wall Street to Main Street, from sublime and historic cathedrals to humble converted storefronts, these buildings shape the global religious landscape, Building Faith explores the social impact of religious buildings in places as diverse as a Chicago suburb and a Guatemalan indigenous Mayan village, all the while asking the questions, “How does space shape community?” and “How do communities shape the spaces that speak for them?”

In a recent review for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Taylor Hartson wrote, “Brenneman and Miller’s breadth, depth, and sharp insight in each chapter of Building Faith offer a compelling case for critical study of religious buildings and their relationship to congregations and communities.”