Theses Doctoral

Televangelical Space, 1950–1985

Engler, Rachel Julia

This dissertation considers sites of religious broadcast designed for and used by Protestant television evangelists in the postwar United States. It interrogates both the transformation of ritual space as it relates to and is infused by broadcast media, and the architectural and infrastructural adaptations that conditioned such spaces as a result of this mediation. These ritual sites, either retrofitted to accommodate television or designed explicitly for its technology between the late 1950s and the early 1980s, emerged in a period marked both by the ascendance of television broadcasting and by the increasing cultural and political visibility of conservative Protestantism in the United States.

While the architecture of television evangelistic practice has also evolved in ways that parallel, and often complicate, changes in mainstream ecclesiastical architecture in the twentieth century, the protagonists of this narrative do not fall into two better-documented genealogies—neither the history of denominationally specific church consulting and the practical guidance penned in its support, nor accounts of high architectural, often academic, reflection on sacred space. Instead, the architecture of these often culturally marginal practices has been critically segregated from much other religious and spiritual construction, despite its effective proliferation across the American landscape to this very day.

The wake of this bias leaves resultant lacunae in scholarly and critical attention, which this dissertation works in part to fill. In beginning to account for this history, I examine a variety of evangelical spaces—mostly worship spaces, but also broadcast stations, hospitals, and university campuses—and draw upon their archival and textual traces. Primary case studies in California, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Virginia are framed by questions of style and typology, examined alongside contemporary theories and criticisms of mass mediation, and located in relation to histories of mediated healing practices and apocalyptic thinking.

This specific ritual architecture, which the dissertation terms televangelical space, not only negotiated between received ideas of the sacred and newer discourses around twentieth-century media, building practices, and community structures, but also raised the issue of conservative Christianity’s fundamental relationship to the modern world. It traced a basic ambivalence about the relationship between the contemporary and the sacred, and about the relationship between religious practice and the technological realities and cultural habits of an increasingly mediated and increasingly atomized present. I suggest that the historical materialization of this negotiation generated both new kinds of ecclesiastical architecture and spatial effects that transcended its walls. Rather than insist on the relevance of the spaces of broadcast religion according to a rubric of aesthetic value, this project examines them for what they can reveal both about architecture for and with media and about the transformation of spirituality and community under new forms of mediation.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Bergdoll, Barry George
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 26, 2022