Skip to main content
Institutional Religious Worship Sites Graphic

Institutional religious worship sites, often called “houses of worship” or “places of worship,” are specially designed structures for formal gatherings of affiliates of particular religious traditions for religious rituals, rites, religious study, and other activities that fall under the authority of an organized religious body with official bureaucratic leadership structures; codified rules and practices; and systematized dogma and doctrinal teachings. Such sites include Christian basilicas, cathedrals, churches, and chapels; Sikh gurdwaras; Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues; Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain temples; and Mormon or Quaker meeting houses.

The architecture of institutional religious worship sites typically express elements of the beliefs, cultures, histories, economic status, and technological capabilities of those who build or adapt them. Institutional worship sites are protected from being fired upon during armed conflict and war under International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions, so they often serve as sanctuaries for those under siege. While cultural customs mark houses of worship as sanctuaries for those fleeing violence, persecution, deportation, or arrest, the historical tradition of allowing sanctuary in churches was abolished in England in 1623 and did not become a formal feature under U.S. law.