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Adapted for Devotion: Toward a Conceptual Framework

Geeta Temple, located in a former warehouse, Woodside, Queens.

The basic premise of our project is that the ethnic and religious diversity of Queens is reflected in its built environment in a multitude of ways, some obvious and others less straightforward. Immigrant groups in the U.S. face the challenge of establishing home and community within an urban landscape that they themselves did not create, but nevertheless must inhabit from day to day. 

Faced with social and financial constraints, many groups who can not yet afford to build their own devotional structures repurpose existing spaces such as homes, storefronts, warehouses, and factories. This adaptive reuse is driven by necessity and facilitated by the flexible nature of these spaces. The process involves making alterations within the constraints of leases or ownership, demonstrating creativity and determination.

The enabling environment of adaptation for religious spaces in Queens can be explained through two major frameworks: social capital theory and place attachment theory. 

Social capital theory can be traced to Bourdieu (1984), who originally deployed it as a framework for understanding the ideological basis of social distinction.  However, Coleman (1988) articulated Bourdieu's concept to examine how groups parlay social capital into economic capital.  Over the next decade, scholars expanded the concept to include the multitude of ways that groups establish networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit in an otherwise unequal society (Lin, 2001). 

In the context of adaptive reuse, social capital is essential for mobilizing community resources, securing funding, and navigating regulatory frameworks. The strong community ties within immigrant groups in Queens enable them to pool resources and support each other in creating and maintaining religious spaces. This process contributes to the broader emergence of new cultural landscapes in Queens as immigrant communities modify their surroundings to reflect their cultural and religious identities (Hum et al, 2021; Heathcott, 2023). 

Place Attachment theory is relevant for understanding the significance of religious spaces for immigrant communities (Inalhan, Yang, & Weber, 2021). Congregations transform mundane structures into religious sites in order to create resonant spaces of attachment. This is a form of cultural landscape production, where the built environment becomes a canvas for expressing the values, beliefs, needs, and desires of a variety of groups (Day, 2014; Kutty 2020). Here, place attachment theory explores the emotional bonds people form with specific locations. These spaces often serve as anchors for cultural identity and community cohesion, providing a sense of belonging and continuity in a new environment.

The adaptive reuse of buildings for religious purposes strengthens affective connections among immigrant groups by inscribing familiar architectural elements and cultural symbols.  This is not to say that adaptation for devotion is only a conservatory practice; in our study we will also examine how congregations negotiate, compromise, and innovate in the context of a new home.  

Works Cited
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Coleman, J. (1988). “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” American Journal of Sociology 94: 95–120.
Day, K. (2014). Faith on the Avenue: Religion on a City Street. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Heathcott, J. (2023). Global Queens. New York: Fordham University Press.
Hum, T. et al (2021). Immigrant Crossroads. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Kutty, Asha. “Sanctuaries along Streets: Security, Social Intimacy and Identity in the Space of the Storefront Church.” Journal of Interior Design 45, no. 1 (2020): 53–66.
Lin, N. (2001). Social Capital: A Theory of Social Structure and Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Slyomovics, S. (1996). “Storefront Mosques of New York City.” In Metcalf, B., ed. Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe (pp. 204-216). Berkeley: University of California Press.


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