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This is the first chapter of my book, Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith (Beacon, 2005), which might be described as a "blue highways" approach to exploring religion in America. Part travel narrative, part religious study, it is based on a tour of American roadside religious attractions, from Golgotha Fun Park to Precious Moments Chapel to Paradise Gardens. Each chapter describes and interprets a different attraction. In the process, I try to learn the story behind the place —to move from "what?" to "who?" and "why?" This particular chapter is about Holy Land USA, a 250-acre, 1:100 scale re-creation of the "land of the Bible" in Bedford, Virginia

Although I am grateful for the opportunity to share this chapter in The SBL Forum, I must admit that I'm also a little anxious. Roadside Religion is a trade book, intended to be accessible to general readers and introductory-level undergraduate students. Had I written it for fellow scholars, it would have been a different book, more explicitly engaged in historical and theoretical discourses. Those discourses informed my research and writing, but they are barely legible between the lines in the book's final form.

I think that the religious phenomena explored in the book deserve scholarly attention. They should be historicized, theorized, and interpreted with as much critical rigor and complexity as we give to biblical texts and other cultural artifacts of religion. I hope that my introductions to these places in my book might provoke further critical analysis and interpretation. Here are a few of the areas that I think would call for more critical depth and complexity in a scholarly conversation such as this Forum:

  1. The Production of Space as a Form of Biblical Interpretation
    As a cultural production, the space of Holy Land USA is a kind of non-literary, material representation of Christian biblical narrative. Here, biblical interpretation takes form as built environment. In this sense, it is a product (a publication) of interpretation. But it also produces interpretations of biblical narrative for those who visit it. It would be interesting to think about these issues vis-à-vis the theoretical work of Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja on the production of space and vis-à-vis the biblical-historical work of Burke O. Long (Imagining the Holy Land) and James W. Flanagan's on constructs of ancient space.

  2. Narrativization of Space
    Holy Land USA is a diachronic construction of space. As visitors traverse the space, they also progress through a particular, episodic narrative of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Space is given a narrative form. Of course, this opens comparative possibilities in relation to sites of pilgrimage in Christianity and in other religious traditions. It might also open interesting avenues of thought in relation to cognitive science, which is particularly interested not only in the role of narrative in cognition but also in religion and material culture (e.g., concerning the importance of material anchors for cognition as exemplified in religious ritual practices).

  3. "Biblical Recreation" as an Aspect of the Cultural History of the Bible
    How does Holy Land USA exemplify the long history of re-creating the "land of the Bible," of "grounding" biblical story worlds on American soil? In what ways does it innovate on that tradition? Again, Burke O. Long's magisterial history of this phenomenon of American "geopiety" (Imagining the Holy) is the best context in which to consider these questions.

  4. Reality, Artificiality, and Authenticity
    One of the oft-repeated claims to visitors of Holy Land USA is that people who have been to Israel testify that this re-creation is more realistic and authentic than the actual places it purports to replicate. It would be interesting to explore such claims and their presumptions vis-à-vis theoretical discourses on authenticity (e.g., Walter Benjamin), simulacra (e.g., Jean Baudrillard), and "real fakes" (David Chidester).

  5. Autobiography in Religion Studies
    When, if ever, and how, if at all, is autobiography appropriate to our work as students and scholars of religion?

Link to Chapter One of Roadside Religion:
(Requires Acrobat Reader)

Reprinted from Roadside Religion by Timothy K. Beal
Copyright © 2005 by Timothy K. Beal
By permission of Beacon Press,

Timothy K. Beal, Department of Religion, Case Western Reserve University

Citation: Timothy Beal, " Biblical Recreation," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited June 2005]. Online:


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