The Maths of Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and Temples

Jenny Gage
Bridges Leeuwarden: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2008)
Pages 195–200


Places of worship are a rich source for creative mathematics. The wealth of symbolism such places contain forms a way of bridging the gap many school students experience between mathematics and other ways in which we reflect on, and make sense of, our experience. The starting point of this paper is the way in which people of all cultures invest symbols with meaning. This meaning might be cultural or religious; it might also be mathematical. The meaning given to a symbol may well depend on simple mathematical properties of the shape chosen as a symbol. Examples of mathematical shapes which are frequently found in places of worship, and have acquired meaning because of their specific mathematical properties, are symmetric patterns and circles, and these are explored further. I have used these ideas in several workshops with school students, and the workshop which this paper accompanies will be an opportunity for participants to explore some of the ideas given here for classroom work. Such activities can be used to support both the regular curriculum and as cross-curricular enrichment activities.