Symbols In Sacred Space: A Rhetorical Analysis Of Church Sanctuaries

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Richard Conville

Advisor Department

Communication Studies


Church sanctuaries are important communication settings. In addition to the verbal messages delivered in church worship services each week, the architectural features of sanctuaries create powerful nonverbal messages. These nonverbal messages are of particular significance for preachers and other rhetors who must create verbal messages which may complement, compete with, or even contradict the nonverbal messages of the church sanctuary. This study will analyze the nonverbal messages of church sanctuaries from a rhetorical perspective. The research of White (2000) will provide clues to the meaning attached to the various fixtures and spaces within church sanctuaries. The nonverbal theories of Edward Hall (1959, 1966) and Amos Rapoport (1990) will be used to create a method to analyze the meaning created by the spatial relationships among the various spaces and features of the church sanctuary. The primary goal of this study is to develop a method by which communication scholars, preachers, church architects, and lay people can discover the nonverbal messages in the architectural features of church sanctuaries. The results of this study will be used to examine the rhetorical problems resulting from communicating in a multi-channel, multi-symbol visual environment. I hope this method can be developed for broader use in any setting where multiple visual symbols compete for attention.