Home » 7th Season: 2019-2020 » 2019-2020 v.12 » Space is Physical. Place is Personal.

Space is Physical. Place is Personal.

By Kian Sahani, VI Form

Space is Physical. Place is Personal.

As Thomas Bender says in Making Places Sacred, “the places we make act as mirrors to our lives. They reflect the good or ill, passion or indifference, with which we hold them back on to the people whose lives they touch. Places, as well as people, draw sustenance from how they are held in our hearts. How we feel towards them does strongly affect our lives” (Bender 1991: 321). For the Faith Family Missionary Baptist Church, it is the people and the connections made between them that makes it a place. Monique Azzara stresses this fact throughout her article, Grappling with the Impermanence of Place: A Black Baptist Congregation in South Los Angeles. To Faith Family, finding a sense of place does not require significance associated with a physical space, but rather with other people. 

In the article, Azzara describes how Faith Family has no permanent space of worship because of low funding. As a result, members must meet in a different place every time, removing the possibility of a lineal place. Yet, the members are still able to find a sense of place within the community. Azzara provides a strong example of a group of people finding a place within each other, without the need for a physical space, showing how one’s sense of place is relative to their view. The social and spiritual factors of Faith Family are made apparent by Azzara, who argues that “congregants build fellowship by pooling their resources in an attempt to follow the call of God to do good, and to recruit and save the disenfranchised” (Azzara 2019: 77). The members’ sense of place is shaped by these relationships of solidarity. At the same time, their place is challenged when it has no concrete features. 

Wallace Stegner would disagree that members have a sense of place within Faith Family. He claims that the “placed person” would view groups such as Faith Family as rootless and displaced. He writes that “[m]igratoriness has its dangers” and “complete independence, absolute freedom of movement, are exhilarating for a time but may not wear well” (Stegner 1992). Frank Vanclay would concur, as he asserts the following:

I agree with Thomas Geiryn that ‘place’ can be anything that has the following ‘necessary and sufficient features’: geographic location (whether spot, area, or linear form), material form (physicality) and investment with meaning and value (positive or negative). Thus while there is talk of virtual places, the body as place, and ‘place’ as any site of human engagement or activity, I believe this diminishes the concept of place. Geiryn’s three conditions are all necessary. (Vanclay 2008)

Although the prospect of having a sense of place without a physical space is quixotic, it is not impossible. Arjun Appadurai claims that maintaining place requires agency, sociality, and reproducibility. The agency of Faith Family involves everyone, as anyone is allowed within the congregation, and the spiritual association with Faith Family allows for more significant connections, which leads to sociality. There is a sense of unity and companionship between the members, giving significance and meaning to the group. The reproducibility of Faith Family is much more straightforward than that of a physical space. As Azzara puts it, “[the members] convert younger disenfranchised individuals who enter into meaningful relationships with God and their church family, thus bridging a generational gap. Older members seek ways to relate to and engage with a younger generation of believers” (Azzara 2019: 87). Because there is no physical space, Faith Family can adapt to cater to younger generations, resulting in more interest from the local youth. Azzara would respond to Vanclay with the following:

While tithes and donations are used to rent a place where they can practice their religion, more significance is given to the church family than to an actual “place” to meet. The practice of pooling binds the church together in fellowship. While the church needs to meet in a real place, it’s not the place that makes the church. When members answer their calling by doing good, their resources are significantly redistributed to other individuals, not to the maintenance of any material place. Individuals gain a sense of collective companionship and acceptance. Bonds are created through this system since individuals rely on one another. Members describe the church as their home and refer to one another as family. (Azzara 2019: 86)

What adds to the argument of place is the fact that this place is sacred to its members. Thomas Bender’s Making Places Sacred confirms the idea that a sacred place does not require a physical location, as stated in section III: Making Places Sacred:

Their power lies within their role in marshalling our inner resources and binding us to our beliefs.
Our act of “holding sacred” is the root, not the place where we choose to carry out that act. (Bender 1991: 323-4; italics in original)

Because religion is associated with Family Faith, Azzara is justified in claiming that there is a sense of place amongst its members. Her definition can be applied to the global understanding of the word “place” because Azzara adds the idea that place does not require a physical space, but rather a sense of connectedness and meaning associated with something important. In this case, it is Faith Family. 

Azzara’s work is well-written in the sense that it conveys its information in a sophisticated and straightforward manner. The only problem is that there is not enough data present over multiple domains to coincide with all of Azzara’s claims. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” reminds the viewer that one perspective on a situation is never enough to gain a holistic view. What would make the statements made by Azzara more robust are additional accounts from other areas in the country or the world to determine what variables have more substantial impacts on the situation. After gaining support from multiple other sources, Azzara’s argument would be more believable to opposition such as Stegner and Vanclay. To the average reader, though, it is evident that having a sense of place does not require a physical location, but a sense of connection with other people.

Kian is a VI form day student from Sudbury, MA. He thoroughly enjoys science and anthropology, and he spends lots of his time in the theater and on the squash or tennis courts. He is particularly interested in cancer immunology and stem cell research. He plans to major in biochemistry.


  • Adichie, Chimamanda N. 2009. “The Danger of a Single Story”. TED. July. Accessed December 17, 2019.
  • Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Azzara, Monique. 2019. Grappling with the Impermanence of Place: A Black Baptist Congregation in South Los Angeles. City & Society 31(1): 77–93.
  • Bender, Thomas. 1991. Making Places Sacred. In The Power of Place Pp. 321–333. Quest Books.
  • Clark, Jennifer. 2008. ‘Your Spot’. In Making Sense of Place: Exploring Concepts and Expressions of Place Through Different Senses and Lenses. Edited by Vanclay, Frank M., Matthew Higgins, Adam Blackshaw. Pp. 165–172. Canberra, A.C.T.: National Museum of Australia Press.
  • Garbin, David. 2013. “The Visibility and Invisibility of Migrant Faith in the City: Diaspora Religion and the Politics of Emplacement of Afro-Christian Churches.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39 (5): 677-96.
  • Stegner, Wallace. 1992. The Sense of Place. In Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs. Penguin Books.
  • Vanclay, F. M. 2008. Place matters. In Making Sense of Place: Exploring Concepts and Expressions of Place through Different Sense and Lenses. Edited by Vanclay, Frank M., Matthew Higgins, Adam Blackshaw. Pp. 3-10. Canberra, A.C.T.: National Museum of Australia Press.

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