Role of sacred space: A conversation on places of worship

Religious leaders, students, scholars, and others recently met at the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi, India, to explore the role that sacred spaces play in contemporary Indian society.

NEW DELHI — A diverse group of participants in India’s capital city explored the role that places of worship play in contemporary society.

Held on Thursday on the grounds of the Baha’i Lotus Temple, a well-known place of worship in India and abroad, a symposium organized by the country’s Baha’i community brought together about 80 people, including religious leaders, students, scholars, and others. Participants examined how temples, churches, mosques, and other sacred sites can aim to unite people and stimulate deep contemplation on spiritual reality as well as life’s foundational questions.

This conversation has particular significance in the country, where religious coexistence is a prevalent topic of discussion, organizers explained. Some speakers noted that places of worship are vital for collective religious experience. The symposium gave speakers an opportunity to reflect on how these sacred spaces can be more inclusive and create a unifying dialogue.

“These places of worship offer opportunities for creative transformation of individuals and communities,” said Bindu Puri, the chair of the Center for Philosophy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “They can create spaces where people come together across religions.”

Bindu Puri, chair of the Center for Philosophy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, discusses the role of places of worship in society.

Nilakshi Rajkhowa of India’s Baha’i community explained: “Sites for worship have been a mainstay in the spiritual life of the individual as well as the community. Therefore, it seemed timely to begin what we hope will be an ongoing conversation from which to glean insights about these sacred places.”

Participants explored the concept of a House of Worship in the Baha’i writings, which explain that such structures should be open to everyone, regardless of religion, background, ethnicity, or gender. Several speakers expressed their particular appreciation for the Baha’i House of Worship in New Delhi; the thousands who visit the lotus-shaped structure daily see it as a haven in which to pray and meditate. The Temple is also a catalyst for service in the surrounding neighborhood, providing space for and stimulating participation in a dynamic educational process that involves people of all ages in systematic study and action aimed at uplifting their neighborhoods spiritually, socially, and materially.

“This is a beginning of a series of conversations about the role of places of worship in society,” said Carmel Tripathi, with India’s Baha’i community. “Most of the participants expressed that they really needed a space like this to share their thoughts, and we are eager to organize more gatherings about this topic with the media, students, and others.”

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