Professors Pauline Lee and Rachel Lindsey at Saint Louis University are collaborating on a project to explore and document where people experience religion in the St. Louis region. Searching beyond traditional houses of worship, they have included such unexpected locations as the Saint Louis Zoo and the Kosciusko Graffiti Wall as sites where religion is “lived.” Lee and Lindsey hope to make their work useful beyond academia by making their digital map and database publicly accessible.
Wander away from the downtown St. Louis riverfront and you’ll eventually see it. Just south of the Gateway Arch, as the manicured bike paths fade out and the vacant building shells take over, there’s a flood wall covered in graffiti. It’s not on most visitor maps, but it’s special to St. Louis.
Every year, local and international artists convene to legally tag the 1.9-mile Kosciusko Graffiti Wall with symbols and thoughts about life’s difficulties and joys. It’s a colorful celebration of culture that, for some, is akin to a religious experience.
Two Saint Louis University professors would agree that’s exactly what it is.
Pauline Lee, Ph.D., and Rachel Lindsey, Ph.D., are exploring where people experience religion in the St. Louis region and are in the process of creating a digital map and database to show what they’ve found. But in addition to the churches, temples, mosques and other houses of worship one might expect on such a list, the professors also are looking at locations that aren’t traditionally thought of as religious. The Kosciusko Graffiti Wall is included on the professors’ map, as are the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo. That’s because Lee and Lindsey are interested in “lived religion” – experiences and rituals beyond the anticipated – and exploring what it might mean for St. Louis’s future.