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Sacred Space, Sacred Thread: A Global Conference at USC

Sample of Speakers (left to right): Lori Meeks, Varun Soni, Rev. E. Wayne Gaddis, Sr., Margaret Barker, Amir Hussein, Selena Billington, and Gary Rendsburg.


Do the sacred spaces of the world’s faith traditions still hold meaning in an ever increasing secular world?

How do they shape and influence individual lives, communities and nations? Is there tolerance for religious clothing or does it too often evoke derision and misunderstanding? Theologians and religious studies scholars from around the world representing more than a dozen faith traditions will address these important issues at the “Sacred Space, Sacred Thread” conference Nov. 3 and 4 at USC, sponsored by the John A. Widtsoe Foundation and USC’s Office of Religious Life.

Margaret Barker, a leading British Biblical scholar, will open the conference as the keynote speaker. Barker, who is known world-wide for her pioneering work on “Temple Theology,” will bring to light many interesting points about linen clothing and the veil in the Temple of Solomon. That same evening at 7:15 p.m., she will present “Entering Sacred Space: Beholding the Wonders of Temple Theology” at a special presentation at the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center.

Barker’s keynote address will be followed by an interfaith panel featuring a Muslim, Catholic and Jew – Amir Hussain, Pim Valkenberg and Rabbi Reuven Firestone — all visiting scholars at USC’s Caruso Catholic Center. Throughout the two-day colloquium, presenters will explore the physical and conceptual creation of sacred spaces and sacred clothing – including biblical perspectives as well as those from our modern day. The conference will conclude with a final session about the “constructive tensions” that occur in sacred spaces and sacred clothing.

To maximize audience participation and presenter involvement, the colloquium is designed to elicit dialogue between panels of speakers as well as conference-goers. Proceedings will be carried real-time to points around the globe through live streaming capabilities.

Larry Eastland, Chairman and President of the Widtsoe Foundation, observed that “The historic threads of many faith traditions will be brought together to help the scholars and audience understand the mosaic that religious life creates in the community. Taken together, they are a force for good, compassion and support not just to their members, but to the community as a whole.”

Dr. Varun Soni, Dean of Religious Life at USC, said, “It’s a great honor to host this conference on sacred space and sacred clothing at the University of Southern California. There’s no better place to bring together scholars and religious leaders to discuss our shared and aspirational beliefs and practices than the city of Los Angeles, the most religiously diverse city in the world.”

Details about each conference workshop session and the speakers – including photos, bios and abstracts, as well as associated events, can be found at a special conference site: The conference is free but attendees are encouraged to register on the website registration link.

In conjunction with Dr. Barker’s visit, she will share a 13-panel exhibit on the history of sacred clothing and its relationship to Biblical references, colors, customs, and temple worship. (See story on page 4 and 5.) The exhibit will be displayed Oct. 8-22 at the Los Angeles Temple Visitors’ Center, 10777 Santa Monica Blvd., and Oct. 24-Nov. 1 at the Fishbowl on the USC campus, 835 W. 34th St.

Other conference sponsors include the Academy for Temple Studies, Our Savior Parish USC Caruso Catholic Center, California Missionary Baptist State Convention, the Los Angeles Greek Orthodox Community and the Los Angeles Institutes of Religion.

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