A House of Prayer for all Peoples? The Unique Case of Somerville College Chapel, Oxford

Daniel Moulin-Stozek, Fiona K. A. Gatty

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Multifaith buildings have become common in Europe, North America, and much of the world, but they have yet to receive sufficient scholarly attention in the history of religious ideas, or in the theory of material religion. This paper begins to address this lacuna by the consideration of an early, but little known, multifaith chapel donated to Somerville College Oxford in the 1930s, which is unique within Oxford University. Its history, architecture, and artworks give valuable insights into the religious, intellectual, and cultural roots of what would subsequently become a global norm. The chapel can be seen as both a manifestation of the aspirations of liberal Christianity in the interwar years, including the advancement of women and ecumenism, and of the contestation of the role of religion in higher education among elites in the same period. Examining the case of Somerville chapel contributes to the theory of religion by considering how unbelief and multifaith ideas may be attempted to be materially expressed, and how this physical presence subsequently may impact on institutions and people through ongoing contestation, and negotiated use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-114
JournalMaterial Religion The Journal of Objects Art and Belief
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2018


  • multifaith
  • interfaith
  • interreligious
  • unbelief
  • contestation
  • nondenominational
  • undenominational
  • chapel
  • Oxford
  • Kemp


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