Congratulations to Martin Christ on Winning Research Prize

On 27 April 2019, Martin Christ, core group member of the KFG “Religion and Urbanity”, received the Hermann-Knothe Preis — Research Prize of Upper Lusatia (Hermann-Knothe-Preis – Wissenschaftspreis der Oberlausitz). Christ received the prize for his article “The Century of the Reformation in a Bohemian Small Town, Lauban and its Lutheran Preachers, c. 1520-1620” („Das Jahrhundert der Reformation in einer böhmischen Kleinstadt, Lauban und seine lutherischen Prediger ca.1520–1620“).

The prize is awarded by the Upper Lusatian Scholarly Society (Oberlausitzische Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften), one of the oldest learned societies in Germany. It is named after the local historian Hermann Knothe and recognises exceptional research on Upper Lusatian history and culture. The prize was presented by the Mayor of Görlitz, Siegfried Deinege, and the vice-president of the society, Dr. Lars-Arne Dannenberg.  

The essay will be printed in the next issue of the New Lusatian Journal (Neues Lausitzisches Magazin) and focuses on the town of Lauban (today Lubań in Poland). This town was part of Bohemia in the early modern period and so was ruled by a Catholic king. However, the Lutheran Reformation made serious inroads in the region, leading to a constellation where a Catholic king ruled over a largely Lutheran area. The essay focuses on Lauban as one example of the complex introduction of Lutheranism in this region and shows how the Reformation changed urban institutions and influenced the daily lives of men and women. As Dr. Jens Bulisch stressed in the laudatory speech, this research is particularly important as the fact that the now-Polish Lauban was part of Upper Lusatia is frequently forgotten. 

For a German version of this report, see here

The mayor of Görlitz, Siegfried Deinege (left) and the vice-president of the Upper Lusatian Scholarly Society, Dr. Lars-Arne Dannenberg (right) (picture: Kai Wenzel).


Book Announcement: The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare

Pralay Kanungo, fellow of our Advanced Centre in the Humanities “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”, has just published a co-edited volume. The book is published by Oxford University Press and co-edited with Irfan Ahmad (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen). 

Kanungo, Ahmad (eds.), The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare (OUP, 2019).

The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare. A Long View of India’s 2014 Election explores how the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won the 2014 Parliamentary elections with such an unprecedented majority, and what that victory means for politics in general and Indian politics in particular. It opens up space for new theoretical and methodological reflections on electoral democracy, critically taking on such salient issues as development, terrorism, charisma, media, new mechanisms of mobilization, nationalism, rumour, religion, regionalism, polarisation, space, Muslim vote, and caste. This volume is distinct in its ability to focus squarely on the empirical acts of voting. It sociologically and historically examines the enduring as well as changing institutional, social, political, and cultural landscapes in which voting takes place. Unlike most other studies on elections in India, this book puts human subjectivity at the centre of election studies. The anthropological-sociological perspective the volume places before readers draws on political-social theory whereby the volume also examine the larger and changing contours of modernity, democracy and elections being its key faces. As such the volume situates the 2014 elections in relation to changing nature and forms of elections and democracy globally, in particular in conversation with those in the democratic nation-states in the West.

Besides co-editing the volume, Pralay Kanungo has also contributed the chapter   ‘Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist Politics: The Baba Ramdev-BJP Partnership in the 2014 Elections’ (pp.119-142) and written the afterword (pp. 357-375). The book was officially launched at a celebratory roundtable in Delhi on 25 March 2019.

Official Book Launch of The Algebra of Warfare-Welfare in Delhi on 25 March 2019.


Religion and Urbanity in Munich’s Town Museum

During a recent visit to Munich, I had the opportunity to visit the town museum. Tucked behind other buildings, the museum displays a range of historical artifcats, covering the town’s history from its foundation to modernity. The impressive collection aims to answer what is ‘typical for Munich’ (‘Typisch München!’), but also has a large range of musical instruments from around the world and a separate building dedicated to Munich during the NS regime. Throughout the museum, the mutual influence of the town and ist religions becomes visible. One of the most common stereotypes about people from Munich is, after all, that they are Catholic.   

The special exhibition ‘Migration moves the City’, to Name another example, smartly juxtaposes objects connected to migration with the artifacts in the permanent exhibition. One of the key factors in migration and the subsequent settlement in a new town is religion. At the same time the introduction of new kinds of beliefs and practices can lead to conflict, but also to syncretism and the definition of common ground.  

The case of Munich can raise even broader questions, connected to religion and urbanity, particularly when a town is described as such. The name Munich may be derived from monks who were present in the region and the coat of arms shows a monk. But whether Munich was already a town, city, or ‘urban’ at this stage is much harder to answer.

A plaque below the Munich coat of arms informs us that “The seemingly simple question since when Munich is a town is difficult to answer” (“Die eigentlich einfache Frage, seit wann München eine Stadt ist, läßt sich schwer beantworten.”) A contract which calls it a town is only known from 1294, but as early as 1207 there was legal business being conducted “in civitate Munichenin”, suggesting some kind of urban community. The building efforts in Munich in order to turn it into a clerical centre during a later period may also have contributed to the emergence of Munich as a town.  

Scholars whose work focuses on towns and cities have long grappled with the emergence of town and cities and there is no conclusive consensus about the use of these terms or the best way to categorise urban settlements. Tied up with discussions on the emergence of towns and cities is also the question of further classifications, thinking about “types of cities”, for example port cities, commercial centres or cities of migrants. This way of conceptualizing cities and towns has its merits, as it enables comparisons across cultures and times. It is possible, for example, to look at an Indian, Swedish and Asutralian port city alongside each other and in this way determine similarities and differences.

Munich in the Nuremberg Chronicle (Schedel’s Chronicle of the World, 1493). 

But just as it is difficult to define what a city is, so it is difficult to ascribe a certain identity to towns. The approach risks simplifying the complex nature of urbanity to a single descriptor, which obsures the view on other ways of thinking about a place and the complex ways in which different functions of a city reinforce, undermine or change one another. And there is also a risk of seeing too many similarities between different towns, at the risk of overlooking what makes them distinctive.  

If we return to Munich, we can also find another way of defining a town. Not by looking for certain terms or descriptions which are used in the historical sources, but by looking for signs and symbols. In Munich, a seal was already used in 1239. It shows a monk and is probably how the town came to ist name, based on the Latin forum apud Munichen

When a town starts being a town is never easy to answer, as it depends on the set of criteria we apply. So scholars always construct their own cities by defining what counts as a city, and what does not. In recent scholarhsip, there is a trend to use flexible criteria in order to be able to show how a town did not just come into being whenever it was described as such in written sources. Religion can play an important role when it comes to definitions of towns. In medieval and early modern sources, the presence of certain clerical structures may indicate the prestige and power of an urban settlement, while many of the foundation myths connected to towns also centred on religion. 

Munich’s St. Mary’s Square, c. 1642. 

The case of Munich also illustrates the linguistic challenges in defining what cities or towns are. In addition to “civitate”, further terms were used: burgus, castrum, oppidum as well as descriptions which suggest a sense of urbanity but do not use a specific term. Similar problems occur in modern languages. While the English language distinguishes between the term town and the (usually larger or more “urban”) city, the German language only has the term “Stadt” and uses different ways to describe the connotations of a “city”, for instance by using “Großstadt” (literally translated: “big town”). One central aspect of our Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies is to address these linguistic challenges and we are lucky to have experts working on countries as diverse as India, Poland and Spain, all with their own linguistic abilities and ways of expressing what a “town” is.

It is also possible to consider other factors, which might create an “urban environment”, for example rights to hold court for the surrounding countryside, the ability to elect councilors and mayors independently or economic factors, like the privilege to organize a market to sell salt, meat or other items. In some cases we get a sense of the urban if individuals reflect on a place, for instance when farmers coming from the countryside comment on the hustle and bustle during religious processions, which they could simply not imagine in their villages. In all these notions of towns and urbanity, religion played a crucial role.   

— Martin Christ

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

Article Announcement: Relocating Religious Change

A new approach to religious change has been taken by Emiliano Urciuoli and Jörg Rüpke (in collaboration with Asuman Lätzer-Lasar, Harry O. Maier and Maik Patzelt) in an article that just appeared in the international journal for the history of religion, Mythos. The claim formulated in “Urban Religion in Mediterranean Antiquity” is that city-space and interaction with city-space engineered the major changes that revolutionised ancient Mediterranean religions. Whereas previous research on ancient religion has stressed the role of religion for cities and urban topography, we are suggesting a new focus on the impact of cities on religion and on how the interaction with city-space changed religion. This side of the dialectic is what we call urban religion. This concept is paramount, since it encompasses the development of specific religious agencies and practices (e.g. neighbourhood shrines; theatrical processions; authors and entrepreneurs), specific forms of religious knowledge and imaginaries (imaginative places; imagined communities; heavenly cities) and societal phenomena such as civic rituals or religious communities in the appropriation (and hence modification and formation) of urban space in cities of different size and character. The major Questions we propose are: how and to what extent is religion shaped by density, urban aspirations, diversity and conflict, city governance, heterarchy and division of labour, and urban identity, that is urbanity? The basic assumption is that religious change needs to be investigated in terms of the ongoing interaction between space and a variety of different agents, including residents, immigrants, and people who live from religion.

The article is published in Mythos 12 (2018), pp. 117-135.

Religion und Urbanität

Stadt und Religion muss man zusammendenken. Das passiert schon in sehr alten religiösen Texten. Das Verhältnis ist spannungsgeladen. Der „Turmbau zu Babel“ (Gen 11,1-9) ist Symbol für Stadt wie die Hybris der Stadtbewohner. Die Zusammenballung von Akteuren, ihre Koopera­tion, ihre Architektur würden sonst, so wird befürchtet, die Menschen zum Himmel gelangen lassen. In der jüdischen Bibel und in ihrer christlichen Interpretation ist die Stadt ein verdächtiger Ort, Ort der Sünde und der Gottlosigkeit. Gott lässt sich in der Wüste, in der Einsamkeit, am Sinai finden. Diese westasiatische und dann europäische Tradition findet ihre Entsprechung in Südasien: Buddha findet seine Erleuchtung unter einem Baum, außerhalb der Stadt. Es ist das Dorf, das das Idealbild sozialer Gemeinschaft und religiöser Arbeitsteilung bietet.

Der Turmbau zu Babel nach Lucas van Valckenborch (1535 – 1597)

Aber die Autoren dieser Texte finden wir in Städten und auch das Schreiben selbst, die Erfindung und Nutzung von Schrift bis hin zur Produktion umfangreicher Texte und damit „Schriftreligion“. Die Buchreligionen sind demnach zuvörderst städtische Phänomene. Städtisches Bewusstsein ist nicht zu lösen von Vorstellungen über das Gegenteil: Es ist Merkmal von Urbanität sich als anders, als unterschieden von einem Gegenteil zu denken, von Nicht-Stadt, von Land. Und zugleich kann dieses Gegenteil als Gegenbild, ja Wunschbild und Stadtkritik dienen. Will Rom, die vermutlich erste Millionenstadt der Geschichte, einen richtig frommen und unbestechlichen Herrscher, muss sie Cincinnatus vom Feld, vom Pflug wegreißen.

In der Stadt zu leben ist nämlich kein Zuckerschlecken. Von unten betrachtet kann das Stadtleben, bei allen Versprechen von Sicherheit und Auskommen, auch anders aussehen. Nicht Größenwahn wie beim Turmbau zu Babel, sondern Überleben, nicht Göttlichkeit wie in der biblischen Geschichte, sondern Menschlichkeit steht auf dem Spiel. Unser Thema – und der Blick der Akteure darauf – ist von der Ambivalenz der von Menschen gemachten Städte und der dort herrschenden Lebensweise geprägt. Die Stadt ist eben „Himmel und Hölle“ zugleich, wie es auf einer gegenwärtigen Plakatkampagne heißt, sie ist Ort von Innovationen, aber auch Ort sozialer und ökologischer Krisen. Religion ist dabei nicht nur Beobachter, sondern wichtiger Akteur.

Ich bin dabei überzeugt, dass die gegenwärtigen Probleme und Chancen planetarer Urbanisierung und religiösen Wandels nicht ohne einen Blick in die lange wechselseitige Geschichte reflektiert werden können. Erst die detaillierte Untersuchung mit großer historischer Tiefe und Ausblick in die Gegenwart zeigt, wie weit diese wechselseitige Formierung reichen kann, wie sehr Urbanität, städtische Lebensformen, durch religiöse Handlungsformen oder Sozialstrukturen geprägt wurden. Erst so zeigt sich, wie weit das, was wir heute als „Religion“ kennen, auch Ergebnis von Urbanität, vom Leben in Räumen, die als städtisch wahrgenommen wurden, bestimmt ist.

Aber was ist diese „Religion“. Will man Religion in der Stadt verstehen, bedarf es eines dafür passenden Begriffes. Religion ist dafür zunächst ein Sammelbegriff für religiöse Praktiken, Vorstellungen und Institutionen, die der Kommunikation mit über-menschlichen Adressaten, Verstorbenen, Geistern, Göttern, dienen. Indem diesen über-menschlichen Adressaten qua Kommunikation und deren Inhalten Existenz, Macht und Relevanz für die eigene, menschliche Situation zugeschrieben wird, wird religiöses Handeln auch zu einer Ressource für Macht wie Kritik, Homogenisierung wie Stabilisierung von Unterschieden unter Menschen.

Die bisherige Forschung zu „urban religion“ hat solche Religion unter der Perspektive untersucht, wie sie in den globalisierten Großstädten der Moderne sich verändert, ihren Ort findet und sich neu erfindet. Darüber muss man deutlich hinausgehen, nicht nur zeitlich und räumlich. Ganz grundsätzlich nämlich ist Religion selbst in doppelter Hinsicht Raum-relevant, sind religiöse Praktiken räumliche Praktiken: Zum einen eignen sie sich Raum an oder konstruieren ihn. Räume von Gebeten, Hymnen, Tänzen, Prozessionen und Aufführungen von Opfern oder Theaterstücken werden vorübergehend zu rituellen Räumen. Sie können aber längerfristig durch Einsatz von Medien – Fahnenstangen, Stelen, Tafeln, Mauern oder noch umfangreicherer Architektur sakralisiert werden, sei es zur Erinnerung und erneuten Nutzung auch zu religiösen Zwecken oder sogar exklusiv. So markieren sie Räume zu Zusammenkünften, die mit anderen Akteuren oder Zwecken, gerade wenn Raum knapp ist, auch konkurrieren können.

Hindutempel und Markt in Chennai, Indien

Aber religiöse Praktiken haben noch eine zweite Seite. Sie verweisen über den jeweiligen konkreten Raum und selbst eine Stadt hinaus: auf „trans-zendente“ Adressaten, auf deren räumliche Assoziationen zu anderen Orten oder Nicht-Orten: Himmel oder Unterwelten.

Es gibt hinreichend Phänomene solchen Handelns, die jeder Form städtischer Siedlung um Jahrzehntausende vorangehen, dass der Satz, Religion gehe der Urbanisierung, ob in Ostasien, Süd- und Westasien, Afrika oder des amerikanischen Doppelkontinents, voraus, sinnvoll erscheint. Als raum-konstituierende wie raum-überschreitende Praktik ist Religion für Urbanisierungsprozesse relevant geworden – vermutlich nicht immer, sondern in zufälligen, historischen Prozessen. Diesen Phänomenen müssen wir uns auch historisch stellen, müssen ihnen genauer nachgehen, wenn wir heutige „städtische Religion“ verstehen wollen. Wo bildeten religiöse Raummarkierungen Kristallisationspunkte für Urbanisierung? Wo vertieften sie Arbeitsteiligkeit? Wo stifteten sie Kohärenz in den zahllosen Austauschprozessen, die Städte ausmachen? Wo ermöglichten sie Differenzierung, die räumliche Enge und den Druck sozialer Interaktion erträglich machten und so Städte stabilisierten – oder im Gegenteil in Konflikten zerfallen ließen? Und natürlich kann Religion als raumabhängige Praxis davon nicht unberührt geblieben sein, muss durch städtische Faktoren, Herrschaft, Kulturtechniken, interne und externe Verflechtungen als urbanisierte Religion immer wieder verändert worden sein. Die Ausbildung institutionalisierter Differenz als voneinander institutionell getrennte „Religionen“ mag Ergebnis solcher Prozesse gewesen sein. Die Beschäftigung mit dem Thema in der Langen Nacht der Weltreligionen wie in weiterer Forschung zu Stadt und Religion wird noch manche Überraschung bereithalten, die unseren eigenen Blick auf Religionen und auf Städte verändern wird.

— Jörg Rüpke

Ich danke Susanne Rau für vielfältige Anregungen zu diesem Thema, der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft für die Förderung zur weiteren Erforschung (FOR 2779).