Urban Religion at Berggasse 19?

Advertisement for the Freud Museum in Vienna.

Did Sigmund Freud ever get close to the notion of urban religion? Put differently: is it possible to somehow disentangle the father of psychoanalysis from the rank of the early 20th-century cultural and social theorists who prophesized the mutual incompatibility between urban modern and religious life? I found myself pondering over this possibility while walking down the Viennese Berggasse to reach the legendary address of Freud’s home and office.

The answer rests on Freud’s evaluation of the role played by both religion and the city in taming what he called human ‘anti-social drives’ (Freud 2004 [1927], 46), whose eventually humane treatment was the ultimate purpose of psychoanalysis. Popular appropriations of Freud would maintain that religion and the city are completely at odds when it comes to the management of the ‘libidinal economy’ (Lyotard 1974): while the former had long contributed to achieve ‘drive renunciations’ via ‘solemn transfiguration of cultural precepts’ (Freud 2004 [1927], 54) and repression, the latter is a ‘sexually charged’ place where ‘people could free themselves of the repressions and inhibitions that were doing them such physical and emotional harm’ (Orsi 1999, 9). Given the global trend of urbanization, psychoanalysis would then be the urban religion of the future, a non-narcotic and cathartic way of coping with traumas and neuroses resulting from the sacrifices of civilization. The fate of religion will be, at best, that of a rural relic.

Yet Freud’s twofold recognition that (a) religion’s merits in pursuing human morality are dubious and (b) city life’s licentiousness is a hyperbolic story that reflects the bourgeoisie’s legitimate fear of the democratization of libidinal releases might help strengthen our idea that urban religion is neither a contradiction in terms nor, Freud-wise, an item sharing the same illusionary character of its proximate genus, i.e. religion. A ‘most important item in the psychic inventory’ (Freud 2004 [1927], 13) of human culture, religion in/of the city has been persuasively disentangled from its scholarly Freudian understanding as a mistaken set of beliefs which are motivated by wish-fulfillment and operate by curbing drive demands through manic acts of repressions; by the same token, research moving beyond Freud’s contribution to the secularization discourse has disproven the structural irreligiosity of modern cities. An updated psychological take on urban religion must abandon the ‘religion-as-illusion’ paradigm and rather place both religion and urbanity in the pan-human field of culturally nurtured aspirations as ‘forward-looking hopes of achievement’ that inspire individual and collective agency and aim at overcoming issues (Goh and van der Veer 2016, 370).

Berggasse 19, Vienna.

Dialectically intertwined with urban drives and motivations, the religious aspirations of city dwellers are no illusions in the Freudian sense, since their relation with reality is far from being disregarded (see Freud 2004 [1927], 38). Quite the contrary, it is regularly checked out. Just as Freud’s hopes in the secular replacement of religious motivations to act underwent substantial revisions over the last decades, urban religion can be altered, even disposable, when practitioners recognize that it does not pass the test of urban reality. I was about to fail such a test myself. For several minutes had passed before I realized that the Sigmund Freud Museum was currently under renovation and the exhibition relocated from Freud’s former apartment at Berggasse 19 to the anonymous number 13 on the same street.

— Emiliano Rubens Urciuoli

Freud, Sigmund. 2004 (1927). The Future of an Illusion. London: Penguin Books.

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1974. Économie libidinale. Paris: Minuit.

Orsi, Robert. 1999. Gods of the City : Religion and the American Urban Landscape. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Goh, Daniel P.S., van der Veer, Peter. 2016. ‘Introduction: The Sacred and the Urban in Asia’. International Sociology 31, 367-374.

Panel Report: “Urban Religion in Historical Perspective” at the European Academy of Religion Annual Conference Bologna, March 4, 2019

Organizers: Jörg Rüpke, Cristiana Facchini

The panel, organised by Cristiana Facchini and Jörg Rüpke, explored perspectives on urban religion in different epochs. The Lived Religion approach to premodern religion, as developed at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, has highlighted the importance of different types of self-world-relations as defined by local spatial and social contexts, specified through materiality and communication and framed by social imaginaries and knowledge. These contexts range from domestic to imperial and global contexts. One of the most important aspects on this scale is the urban, which has proven to be of paramount importance for the past century and today’s world, in which for the first time the majority of humans are seen as living in cities.

The role of religion in creating spatial, temporal and social order in cities has been an important topic in research from ceremonial centres and cities of Meso- and South America to Near Eastern and ancient Mediterranean, but also Chinese, Indian and medieval European cities. A growing number of inhabitants and the increased density of interaction seem to have prompted (and enabled) processes of institutionalisation and the formulation of norms. Referring to non-human agents beyond the human agents in a given situation contributed to organise economic exchange and redistribution. Furthermore, it has been functional in defining property rights as well as rights of political participation. Vice versa, citizenship could regulate access to gods, as shown by the choice of words like “synagogue” and “ekklesia”, which refer first of all to voting assemblies. Historical research has reconstructed such functions for many instances and recent sociological research, above all research on migration, has consequently inquired into processes of inclusion and exclusion, tolerance and competition caused or experienced by immigrating minorities proffering different or identical religious identities.

The papers in this panel supposed that any modelling that is limiting religion to a tool of government and administration on the one side and marginal groups on the other is mistaken. For the individual actor urban settlements present an enormously complex environment of constraints and affordances. Previous sacralisations and contemporary religious practices are part of that. It is the interplay of such acting and aspiring within urban space and as creating urban space that was addressed. The contributions included:

  1. Jörg Rüpke (Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt): Religion and urban space
  2. Cristiana Facchini (Alma mater studiorum, Università di Bologna): The city and the sea: Remarks on religious diversity, port cities, and the sea
  3. Emiliano Urciuoli (Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt): Citifying Jesus in Imperial Rome (2nd-5th CE)
  4. Margret Helen Freeman (University of Copenhagen): “A saintly place for the education of scholars:” The Changing Face of Islamic Identity & Architecture in Mamluk Cairo
  5. Vincenzo Lavenia (Alma mater studiorum, Università di Bologna): Religion(s) in the port city of the Popes: Ancona in the early modern age
  6. Nimrod Luz (Western Galilee College, Akko): Lived Religion as Urban Citizenship: A View from Acre
  7. Carmen González Guttiérez (Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt): Islam encounters Late Antiquity: Urban religious spaces in al-Andalus in the Early Middle Ages
  8. Miriam Benfatto (Universita’ di Bologna): Shaping the sacred and the profane: The Council of Trent on cityscape and sacred spaces

Conference Announcement: “Protective Mother or Fertile Woman? The Polyvalences of Mother Deities” (Univ. of Graz, 28.-29. 03. 2019)

“Mother goddess, any of a variety of feminine deities and maternal symbols of creativity, birth, fertility, sexual union, nurturing, and the cycle of growth.” [1]

In antiquity, mother deities tend to integrate a multitude of different meanings and values that can hardly be differentiated or even distinguished from each other in their materialization in iconographies, as well as in their conceptualization in literary sources. The specific divine figure gains a status of a fluid and contingent figuration that varies in relation to the social and spatial context.

The aim of the conference is to sharpen the different layers of meaning and symbolism that stand behind the shapes of mother deities as they appear in the archaeological and epigraphic material. Additionally, a focus will be laid on the dynamics and changes in practice and appearance that derive from the fluidity. Our interest is to discuss in how far the veneration practices of deities, such as Cybele/Mater Magna, Fortuna or the Germanic-Celtic Matronae in the Northwest provinces negotiated or blurred these semantic and symbolic boundaries. What new distinctive presentation parameters were created, for instance in cities where religious groups needed to demarcate themselves from other groups in order to achieve particularity and finally to survive?

The main questions to be explored are:

  • differences and similarities in iconography and cult
  • epigraphic evidences on mother deities
  • rural vs. urban sanctuaries (urban religion)

The conference will take place between 28 – 30 March 2019 at the University of Graz and is organized in collaboration between the Institute for Ancient History at the Karl-Franzens-University in Graz together with the FERCAN project (Fontes Epigraphici Religionum Celticarum Antiquarum), and the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies in Erfurt. Our aim is to bring together researchers not only from the disciplines of archaeology, but also from ancient history und linguistics in order to gain diverse perspectives on the topic from different sides.

We intend to encourage a fruitful exchange, this is why presentations of 20 min. will be followed by a 20/30 min. long discussion. The conference languages are English and German.

Please send your abstract of ca. one page (max. 500 words) to astrid.schmoelzer@uni-graz.at


Dr. Asuman Lätzer-Lasar, Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies

Astrid Schmölzer, University of Graz


Thursday, 28. 3. 2019
SZ 01.18



Asuman Lätzer-Lasar and Astrid Schmölzer, organizers


Univ.Prof. Dr. Peter Scherrer, Vice-Rector for Research and Junior Researchers’
Promotion, Head of Department of Archaeology
Univ.Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Spickermann, Head of Department of Classics


Asuman Lätzer-Lasar and Astrid Schmölzer

13:30 Mother godesses: A philological approach Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel (Vitoria-Gasteiz)
14:00 Kulthandlungen im Heiligtum der Magna Mater in Kempraten (RapperswilJona, Schweiz) Pirmin Koch (München)

14:30 Coffee break

14:45 The cult of the Suleviae in the Western Empire Cristina Girardi (München)
15:15 Die Matronenkulte in Niedergermanien als religionshistorisches Phänomen
Wolfgang Spickermann (Graz)
15:45 Zu den Anfängen des Matronenkults in der römischen Provinz Niedergermanien. Das Heiligtum der Aufanischen Matronen in Nettersheim
Salvatore Ortisi (München)

16:15 Coffee break

16:30 Die Nutrices im Südosten Noricums. Die Muttergöttinnen vom Frauenberg
bei Leibnitz Bernhard Schrettle (Graz)
17:00 From nurturing wine to nurturing ‘Wealth’. The evolution of Eirene in 5th and
4th century Athens Isabell Wagener (Graz/Erfurt)

18:30 Keynote: Mater Matuta and her ‘sisters’: Re-examining mother deities
and the votive phenomenon (HS 01.15)
Maureen Carroll (Sheffield)

20:00 Conference Dinner

Friday, 29. 3. 2019

HS 15.14

10:00 Demeter and Kore: A re-lecture of the Eleusinian Myth through the lens of
Maternal Theory Giulia Pedrucci (Erfurt)
10:30 Einige weniger bekannte weibliche Gottheiten der Germania Inferior
Werner Petermandl (Graz)

11:00 Coffee break

11:15 Neue archäologische Untersuchungen zu den Matronen der Germania
Inferior. Eine erste Auswertung des Dissertationsprojektes Astrid Schmölzer (Graz)
11:45 Beyond mother goddesses and women’s goddesses: Conceptualizing
divine femininity in ancient Italy Daniele Miano (Erfurt/Sheffield)

12:15 Lunch break

14:00 Feminine deities in the sanctuary of the Roman settlement of Aquae Iasae
Dora Kušan Špalj (Zagreb)
14:30 Matres und Matronae. Eine epigraphische Gegenüberstellung
Manfred Hainzmann (Graz)

15:00 Coffee break

15:45 Final discussion

[1] see https://www.britannica.com/topic/mother-goddess, (22/10/2018). 

Call for Applications: Fellowships in the KFG “Religion and Urbanity”

Reference number: KFG 03/2019

The Kollegforschungsgruppe (KFG, “DFG-Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities”) „Religion and Urbanity. Reciprocal transformations” at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies of the University of Erfurt (Max-Weber-Kolleg) invites applications for fellowships for the time period between 1 September 2019 and 28 February 2021. Fellowships are granted for a period of 3 to 6 months. Fellows must reside in Erfurt during the fellowship period.


The KFG investigates the co-constitution and co-evolution of religion and the urban. This comprises the reciprocal processes deriving from, but also impacting on objects, architecture, and texts, as well as narratives, imaginaries and aspirative imaginations.

The fellowships are awarded to scholars working in the Humanities, especially in the fields of History or of History of Religion (or in the fields of Sociology and Urban Studies with a focus on historical and religious developments). The KFG is financed by the German Research Foundation (FOR 2779) and directed by Prof. Dr. Susanne Rau and Prof. Dr. Jörg Rüpke.

Further information about the Max-Weber-Kolleg and the KFG available at:

www.uni-erfurt.de/maxwe and www.uni-erfurt.de/go/urbrel.


Fellows will be provided with office space including work facilities. Working languages are English and German.

The fellowships start either on 1 April or 1 September/1 October (beginning of the terms). Financial arrangements take the individual situation of the awardees of the fellowships into account and are based on the principle “no loss, no gain” (e.g., covering of additional costs, compensating salary reductions or payment for replacement teaching).


To be eligible for a fellowship, the candidate must propose a research project to be conducted during the fellowship within the framework of the KFG and have an outstanding academic record, at least one published monograph and a minimum of three years of post-doc research experience.

Fellows are required to participate actively in the interdisciplinary and intercultural life of the Centre and to contribute to the weekly colloquia of the KFG.


Please submit your application with

  • a cover letter that indicates the preferred period for your stay in Erfurt
  • an outline of the research project you would like to pursue addressing the KFG´s research focus (2000-4000 words) with a stringent discussion of your a) research questions, b) the state of research on the topic, c) the methodological approach and the leading hypotheses as well as d) a working schedule with a projected date of completion and publications of results
  • a curriculum vitae
  • copies of your last university degrees
  • list of publications
  • electronic copies of up to three of your monographs or articles relevant for the research focus

as a combined pdf-file (maximum of 15 MB, publications may be presented in separate files) until 22 April 2019 to mwk.bewerbungen@uni-erfurt.de.

By submitting your application you are agreeing with the conditions of using your data.

Informal enquiries may be made to Dr. Asuman Lätzer-Lasar (asuman.laetzer-lasar@uni-erfurt.de).

The University of Erfurt is an equal opportunity employer and certified as family friendly. It encourages the application of female candidates. Handicapped persons will be prioritized if their suitability, ability, and specific qualification is equal.

The University of Erfurt does not refund any costs incurred in the application process.