Accepted paper:

The utopia of neutrality in multifaith spaces


Beata Labuhn (Zurich University)

Paper short abstract:

This article focuses on the utopia of aesthetic neutrality of multi-faith spaces. It reveals the origins of the concept of neutrality, examines how neutrality is expressed and re-interpreted in multi-faith designs and sketches the discussion about ‘secular domination’ and ‘loss of sacred aura’.

Paper long abstract:

Under influence of globalisation and individualism the religious landscape in the Western World diversifies and intensifies, challenging the secularisation thesis (Cox, 2014; Elshamy, 2013; Taylor, 2007; Asad, 2003; Casanova, 1994). Recently, the question of how the religious pluralism can be accommodated in the secular public sphere seems to have found its consensus in the aesthetic utopia of neutrality. This article focuses on the aesthetic neutrality of multi-faith spaces. These silence rooms or prayer rooms are meant for 'all religions and none' and are often to be found in places like airports, train stations, highways, hospitals, universities and office buildings of multinationals. These multi-faith spaces are required to be kept as neutral as possible in order to 'not to offend anybody' (Diez de Velasco, 2014; Crompton, 2013; Cadge e.a., 2012; Johnson & Laurence, 2012; Gilliat-Ray, 2010). Against this background this article: - 1. reveals the concept of neutrality as deriving from liberal politics, military non-alignment, modernist aesthetics and Japanese aesthetics. - 2. questions whether the neutrality requirement for multi-faith spaces is a sign of secular domination and if it leads to the 'loss of sacred aura'. - 3. on the basis of the spatial analysis of a selection of multi-faith rooms, the article differentiates in interpretations of neutrality: neutrality as nature, neutrality as a search for universal religious symbolism, neutrality as 'laisser-faire' and neutrality as camouflage or 'melting into the context'. - 4. briefly points out to possible alternative aesthetic concepts for multi-faith spaces.

panel Reli004
From religious heritages to spiritual utopias: reflecting upon religiosity of the 21st century