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When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America Paperback – February 17, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195179722
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195179729
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #703,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Kilde's careful and thorough research in published and unpublished congregational denomnational , and architectural records successfully engages architectural history, religious studies, and social and cultural history, and this book will be beneficial to scholars in many disciplines."--The Journal of Religion

"Jeanne Halgren Kilde's impressive new book is a Rosetta stone for an undervalued genre of American ecclesiastical architecture. Kilde's work adds complexity to our understanding of both American religious architecture and American religious history."--Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"This is a very significant book for at least three disciplines: architectural history, church history, and liturgical studies....Kilde shows how changing concepts about the function of worship produced major changes in the design of church buildings, a process which has continued to the present. In so doing, she explains much of the ecclesiastical landscape of America."--James F. White, Drew University

"This original and impressive book demonstrates how relevant the history of religious architecture can be for the study of American history. Jeanne Kilde's careful attention to the lived religion of worship spaces as well as to the cultural politics of space greatly advances the understanding of church architecture in the nineteenth century."--David Morgan, Valparaiso University

"Jeanne Kilde's study of auditorium churches is a major contribution to the growing literature on 'reading' religious architecture as an important tool for discerning the significance of the material culture of religion in understanding broader themes in the religious, social, and cultural history of the United States."--Peter W. Williams, Miami University

"Wonderfully insightful By the book's end, Kilde has enlightened us not only about architecture and interior design, but also about liturgical practice, music, theology, class, gender, power, technology, and the rise of consumer culture. It is hard to convey, in a short review, just how rich this book is." -- Journal of Presbyterian History

"Reading architectural space is a highly rewarding enterprise, and one stands in awe of the author's ability to explore nonwritten texts so creatively. By skillfully chronicling the movement from one church type to another and linking this transformation to the social and cultural concerns of American evangelism, this book not only enriches our understanding of American religious history but also brings what was peripheral to center stage, illuminating old questions and opening up new ones."--Worship

"Kilde's work will be of interest to religion scholars examining the relationship between faith and culture, historians who seek to understand the evolution of evangelical Christianity in the nineteenth century, architecture scholars desiring to understand the genesis of auditorium/theater-type spaces in relation to Christian worship, and all who seek to understand the presence and impulses of evangelical Christians today who construct ever more sophisticated auditorium spaces for their ministries."--Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"When Church Became Theatre expands, synthesizes, and enriches the narrative of both American religious history and American architectural history, which will enlighten professional and amateur scholars alike."-- Religious Studies Review

About the Author

Jeanne Halgren Kilde holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. She is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College, and Co-director of Macalester's Lilly Project for Work, Ethics, and Vocation.

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Customer Reviews

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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The exterior and interior designs of church structures testify not only to economic standing and technological advances; they also witness to broader cultural changes and to the religious and social motivations of the builders. The disclosure of these motivations-and the meanings and values associated with the buildings themselves-is the subject of Kilde's study of nineteenth-century evangelical architecture. Of particular interest to her are the changing politics of space: statements of power, authority, and relationship (between God, clergy, and laity-and with "the world") made in stone, wood, and glass; the correlation of "sacred" and "secular" designs; and the reciprocal influences between the style or function of worship and the disposition of the space. Although Kilde's study progresses from the Federalist style at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to the Gothic revival at roughly mid century, and to the neomedieval auditorium at century's end, throughout she keeps an eye on the theater-style church and the (internal and external) dynamics that brought its increasing popularity. Particularly interesting was her treatment of buildings associated with revivalist Charles Grandison Finney as a case study on the emergence of the theater design from experiments in the early decades of the century. Helpful as well was her discussion of the ongoing evolution of the theater style as it adjusted to meet the needs of revivalism and of the family-oriented congregation.
Because of her multidisciplinary approach, Kilde's well-researched contribution will be valuable to scholars of architectural history, cultural studies, church history, and liturgical studies.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A thoughtful, well written, and very informative examination of the development of the "auditorium church" in the late nineteenth century, along with some discussion of its decline and eventual resurgence in popularity in the twentieth century. Although the book is an excellent treatment of the subject, it does have, in my estimation, several weaknesses:
(1.) For a book that addresses an architectural subject, it doesn't have nearly enough illustrations - although because the author is a social and religious historian, instead of an architectural historian, this is understandable.
(2.) Because the book is concerned more with the origins of the auditorium church than with its spread, it focuses mostly on major churches in large Northern and Midwestern cities, and doesn't pay much attention to the spread of the auditorium church plan to smaller communities and the construction of auditorium churches in brick or wood instead of stone. The widespread adoption of the auditorium church in the South is scarcely alluded to at all.
(3.) In part because of that focus on Northern cities, the last chapter, addressing the decline of the popularity of the auditorium church, completely misses the entire phenomenon of the use of the auditorium plan in countless Neoclassical-style churches in the 1910s and 20s. The book asserts that the "neomedieval" auditorium churches were directly supplanted in popularity by churches exhibiting a more formal and liturgically-directed Neo-Gothic style as early as the 1910s. In the South, however, the adoption of Neo-Gothic architecture for evangelical churches did not become widespread until the late 1920s and early 1930s, after the Neoclassical style had been popular for two decades.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By praxishabitus on November 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found the history and illustrations found in this book unforgettable. I think of it every time I drive past a church now because I now understand so much more about what is embedded in the history of different forms of chuch buildings. The aim of the book is to explore the history of American Protestant architecture, but the real meat of the book is a marvelous guide to American church history as a whole. I learned a lot.

A new book that uses Kilde's contribution for understanding a vibrant church is called Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church. This church meets in a converted movie theater in Hollywood. The book shows how having church in a theater shapes the religion of the church. I highly recommend it.
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By MBOC on July 26, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When Church became Theater is an excellent book covering the little discussed topic of church buildings who's interior layout is more akin to a theater than that of a "traditional"church. This phenomena, which started in the 1850s, amongst non liturgical protestant congregations, apexed in the 1880s & 1890s, only to reappear a century later, but in a stripped down and mere echo of its former incarnation. Additionally, the author discusses the shift in purpose of these emerging suburban churches which were torn between helping the poor and maintaining members who continually moved further out of the urban centers. What, today, is advertised, as being the latest trend in the church experience, where commercial mall and religious center merge into the mega- church can be seen fully developed more than a century ago.
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