If you were in Rome last summer and visited the Pantheon, you might have been surprised to see signs mentioning a Fordham University study displayed in the grand rotunda of the 2nd-century temple. The panels are intended to prompt visitors to complete a questionnaire that examines individual experiences at the World Heritage site.
The survey probes visitors’ observations of not only sights, smells and sounds, but also their spiritual understanding of the space, including whether they experienced chills or were moved to tears, Thomas said. Beaudoin, Ph.D., professor of religion. at the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education and principal investigator of the study. He received a $200,000 grant from the Templeton Religion Trust two years ago to fund the investigation, which he calls the Pantheon Research Project.
Beaudoin noted that not everyone understands that the Pantheon is now a Catholic church. Many see it as a monument, museum, mausoleum and/or ancient historical artifact.
“[The Pantheon] is a built environment that attracts diverse visitors, from ‘tourists’ to ‘pilgrims’, but lacks a dominant religious narrative,” he said.
The ancient structure serves as a perfect example of an underspecified spiritually significant space: a place of spirituality for some and utility for others. Although many such places exist around the world, Beaudoin has focused his research on the Pantheon over the past two decades because it is both a church and a tourist destination.
A little less than a year ago, he went to the Oculus site at the World Trade Center to shoot a video. He noted that the transit center serves as a train station for some and the site of the September 11 attacks for others. As such, it is also an underspecified spiritually significant space.
“Architecture provokes our bodies, and deep built spaces can have a felt effect that we never forget,” Beaudoin said. “Few people cross the threshold of the Pantheon without a physical or emotional reaction, from shivers to gaping mouths.”
Beaudoin explained the purpose of the study and his personal relationship with sacred sites in a paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Association for Practical Theology, held on Zoom last April.
“[Pantheon] visitors … seem to have a variety of experiences [regarding]the significance of their visit. Exploring that is part of the study,” he said. “What this suggests is that the Pantheon can be considered both a Catholic church and simultaneously more than Christian.”
Beaudoin describes the research as a “practical theological” project, an expression often used at the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education as a means of interpreting contemporary situations from a spiritual point of view.
He said he hopes the study will reveal what matters to visitors to the Pantheon and how the art of the Pantheon plays a role.
As the investigation draws to a close, Beaudoin recently reflected on how the project began.
“My involvement in this research is personal. My father is a former Jesuit who taught me the meaning of church as open space, and I’ve also been a practicing musician since my teens, having learned from rock clubs and concert halls as resonant spaces. that make room for diverse spiritual seekers can be a place of discovery.