Boundary Drawing

— Mateusz Fafinski & Sara Keller

Cities are quintessential products of boundary making and crossing. If we take diversity and complexity as the primary characteristics of the urban, the city can be understood as a result of grouping and differentiating processes. Our focus group addresses the production, claiming and transgressing of boundaries in the urban context, with a special focus on religion: what are the imagined and lived boundaries that shape the city and what is the role of religion in these boundary processes?

If the most obvious way to look at urban boundaries is to map physical borders of the built cityscape, we are more interested in looking at imagined and lived boundaries produced and maintained by a range of processes such as speech acts, cultural practices or religious rituals. In this perspective, the city appears as a product of synchronic and diachronic processes that produce and reshape spatial, temporal and social differentiation. Religion significantly contributes to the formation and changes of boundaries that underpin these processes. While the discussions focus on religious aspects, we want to go beyond institutionalized religious groups and identities.

Boundaries (but also other forms of the liminal like margins, barriers or edges) could be drawn in order to differentiate spaces, times, groups and/or ideas such various as temporalities; pure and impure groups, spaces or acts; private, public and semi-private areas; the urban, the natural and the tamed nature; genders; the visible and the invisible etc. While this cornucopia of functions makes boundary making and crossing so versatile, it is the process itself that stands in focus here. It is boundary doing and undoing that underscores the success and failure of ideologies and often defines the survival or disappearance of groups. Boundaries thus stand as a crucial tool to shape the city and its urban life. We are interested in how the boundary making and crossing in both physical and symbolic sense, especially through the influence of religious practices or rituals, shaped urbanity. The large geographical and historical scope of the session encourages to look at contrasting boundary related processes and how it resulted in the formation of various urbanities.

The discussions in our focus group have already shown that these problems can only be approached in an interdisciplinary manner. As the meanings and definitions of such fundamental concepts as “border”, “space” or, for that matter, “city” differ across fields, we have focused a lot on the common interface between archaeology, history and sociology. Inside this framework the question of change over time and space took a prominent role. We will take these questions forward as we continue our investigations.


Mateuzs Fafinski and Sara Keller are convening a panel at the 2024 EAUH conference in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The concept note and further information can be accessed here.


For further information on the group and ways of participating, contact Mateusz Fafinski or Sara Keller (both University of Erfurt).

Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, F III 15a. Pergament · 32 ff. · 25 x 19 cm · Fulda · 8. / 9. Jahrhundert
Isidorus Hispalensis ·
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