During a comparative study of historical and contemporary mosques, churches and synagogues that I have been conducting since my research on Sufi sanctuaries in the West, it became clear to me that the answer to that question lies in the moment that an architect has yet to be selected, a plot has yet to be allocated, a design process has yet to be started. It is in this moment that the initiator of a cult building forms ideas about the references that he needs to be included in the end result. Time and again, I found that these patrons aim to reconstruct the cosmic house of God in heaven as an authentic representation of the ultimate faith, in a continuously shifting opposition to diverging visions. They first do so by selectively copying and recombining elements from divinely inspired and prescribed physical and metaphysical prototypes imbued with the right sacral values. Secondly, their thoughts go out to choosing an admired architect who is expected, by his specific talent and experience, to be able to creatively turn these references into a newly devised iconography that is also acceptable to its new surroundings.

A preliminary survey of mandir design in the Netherlands appears to confirm this continuous process of transformation. Patrons seem to have brought multiple examples from Surinam, South Asia, and Europe to the designing table, as well as varying ideas on cosmic mountains and heavenly abodes, in order to architecturally represent their visions of true and authentic Hinduism. In this project, I will be asking which historical and cosmic examples they chose, what they meant to them in terms of sacral values, and how and why these had to be recombined with other important elements of art and architecture. As for the design processes, I will be asking the architects how they creatively reacted to these references while having to account for budgetary constraints, programmatic requirements, locational peculiarities, municipal demands, and, of course, their own ideas on innovative design, the reason for which they were selected in the first place.

Meanwhile, in this project, I will be continuing and referring to my research on modern cult buildings from other faiths, as well as to historical and archaeological case studies, as I believe that developing a truly comparative iconography of religious architecture can provide a more original and insightful perspective on the subject than sticking to one religion, one region, one period, or one academic discipline.

The Asian Heritages cluster of the IIAS, with all its programmatic and personal connections to critical heritage studies, area studies, ancient cultures, cultural anthropology and world archaeology within Leiden University, as well as to the technical Faculty of Architecture in Delft within the inter-academic Centre for Global Heritage and Development, forms one of the most stimulating environments that I can think of.