Article Announcement: A New Perspective on Urban Religion

In the light of present-day urbanization a paper published by core group member Jörg Rüpke takes a fresh look at religion in the cities of the ancient Mediterranean. The widespread model of “polis” or “civic religion” is checked against its origins in Numa Fustel de Coulange’s La Cité Antique of 1864. The re-reading of this work lays open the deficit in the widespread model of coextension of political dominion and identity with religious practices and identity. De Coulanges’ insight is formulated in his idea of “two religions”, both equally relevant for the building up of “societies” of growing complexity – and the downfall of the ancient city: The belief in universal gods and a universal god brings along the end of the ancient Greco-Roman city. This end is helped on the political side by the growing number of people who are outside of the ultra-dense structure of the ancient city and state (which cannot by its very genesis expand beyond the city) and fighting (without knowing) for a wider and more universal structure than the city can offer. Thus, the beginning of the end of the ancient city is dated by Fustel to the seventh century BCE, that is, immediately after the start of Greco-Roman urbanization. In the end, however, it is not the historically contingent, even if fairly uniform, series of social and political revolutions of patricians and plebeians and the like, but the transformation of Rome into an empire (again led by a change in thinking) that led to the demise of the “municipal regime”. The growing distance between concepts of the divine and divine intelligence and the dead, the growing distance between cult without adequate concepts and the birth of philosophy had undermined the principles of polis religion. The critical review is then extended to concepts of the relationship between city and religion in other periods and areas. Only against that backdrop, a new concept of “urbanized religion” is proposed.

The article is published in German language: „Religion als Urbanität: Ein anderer Blick auf Stadtreligion“,  Zeitschrift für Religionswissenschaft 27,1 (2019). 174-195. DOI: 10.1515/zfr-2018-0018.

— Jörg Rüpke

keywords: urban religion – Fustel de Coulanges – diversity – heterarchy – urbanized religion


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