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Which Way Is Jerusalem? Which Way Is Mecca?
The Direction-Facing Problem in Religion and Geography

Daniel Z. Levin

Rutgers University

Journal of Geography, January/February 2002, Vol. 101, No. 1, pp. 27-37.


Determining the direction in which to face another location on the globe is a problem with significant social and religious meaning, and one with a rich and interesting history in the Western world. Yet a fully satisfying geographic solution to this problem is hindered by our intuitive perception of the world as a flat surface—where a “straight” path (1) is the shortest distance and (2) maintains a constant angle. On a curved surface, however, only one of these two properties can be satisfied: the first, by a great circle; the second, by a rhumb line. These two solutions are analyzed, compared, and applied to the direction-facing problem.

Key words: direction facing, religion, great circle, rhumb line.

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