Annual Conference: Urban Heterarchies: Changing Religious Authority and Social Power in Cities

The KFG’s annual conference on Urban Heterarchies will take place from 11 to 13 December 2019. It is organised by Emiliano Urciuoli, Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke. To register, pelase contact Valeria Wahl.

According to archaeologist Carole L. Crumley, heterarchies are systems in which the component elements have ‘the potential of being unranked (relative to other elements)’ and/or the potential of being ‘ranked in a number of ways, depending on systemic requirements’. In contrast, explains archaeologist Alison E. Rautman, the concept of a ‘hierarchy’ ‘involves three assumptions regarding the organization of the constituent elements of a system: that a lineal ranking of constituent elements is in fact present; that this ranking is permanent (that is, the system of ranking has temporal stability); and the ranking of elements according to different criteria will result in the same overall ranking (that is, the relationships of elements is pervasive and integral to the system, and not situational)’.

For the issue of the reciprocal formation of religion and urbanity, ‘heterarchies’ open up diverse directions of analysis within cities as well as with regard to interurban networks. In both fields, the conference papers will deal with institutional arrangements as much as media of representation, narratives of legitimation, practices of comparison, strategies of mutual recognition or critique and interference up to the point of violence.

As a result, we will try to develop more complex models of constellations and paths of development that will help us to better understand and explain religious change and changes of urbanity. The conference will bring together leading experts focusing on empirical and theoretical questions and representing multiple disciplines, such as religious studies, Asian studies, history, classics, archaeology, geography, and sociology, in order to bring the heuristically promising concept of heterarchy to bear on the study of the cross-cultural and cross-temporal entanglements of religion and urbanity.

For the programme and further Information, see here.

Placing the Dead: The Changing Meanings of Burials and Urban Cemeteries

After decades of disputes, legal challenges and negotiations, the body of Francisco Franco, Spain’s infamous dictator, was moved from a grande Catholic mausoleum to a municipal cemetery this week. In 1975, Franco’s body was placed in the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos) memorial near Madrid. He ruled Spain from 1939 onwards, after emerging victorious from the Spanish Civil War. Proponents of the exhumation and movement of the body argued that the Franco’s commemoration glorified the dictator and his deeds. Opponents of the decision argued the exhumation disturbed the peace of the dead and gave further, politically motivated reasons for their criticism. Santiago Abascal, the leader of the far-right Vox party, tweeted: “This is how the socialist campaign begins, profaning tombs, digging up hatreds, questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy. Vox alone has the courage to defend freedom and common sense in the face of totalitarianism.” The debate around the proper burial and commemoration of Franco gave parties like Vox the opportunity to use some popular tropes of the far right: Portraying themselves as victims, railing against a supposed undermining of liberties and claiming a role as protectors of freedom of speech. Particularly objectionable to those opposing the move was the fact that the body was moved to a simple graveyard and the decedants of Franco wanted to, at least, move the body to the seat of the Archidiocese of Madrid, Almudena Cathedral in Madrid; a request that was eventually denied for reasons of safety. Eventually, Franco’s body was moved to the cemetery where his wife is buried. The mausoleum, municipal cemetery and cathedral all carry different symbolic, religious and political meanings, leading to fierce arguments between proponents of one or the other burial space. Where a body lies matters.

The Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), where Franco's body used to be.
The Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), where Franco’s body used to be.

The placement of the dead was always important. Ever since humans started to bury their dead, where burials took place was of great significance. In many cases, specific areas were assigned, where the dead were placed and rituals of commemoration were performed. In many of these sites, religious, occult or spiritual practices played a particularly important role, also giving rise to stories of miracles, ghosts or other activities that connect the living and the dead. Pressures of persecution, for example among early Christian martyrs, or political display, for instance when it came to the building of royal mausoleums near churches, all played an important part in the constructions, real and metaphorical, of these burial sites.

But the meaning of these sites was never fixed and what may have been an honourable and desirable burial space in one century could be turned into an undesirable spot in the next. These shifting interpretations of cemeteries, graveyards, execution sites and other places, where dead bodies went, are particularly visible in towns. In urban centres, many changes were implemented because of an increasing density and the need for more space for other buildings or living quarters. In Erfurt, a park and parking spaces were built on top of the former execution site. At the same time, intellectual discourses on religion and hygiene spread more quickly in urban settings, meaning that their influence was felt more strongly in an urban context. The desire to show oneself as wealthy, sophisticated or well-travelled, elements that shaped what grave stones and epitaphs looked like, was also particularly pronounced in urban settings, where one could show off to the whole urban community and have a funerals commemorated in pamphlets and broadsheets.

In the period 1500 to 1800 we see several such shifts in urban cemeteries. Some burial spaces were moved during or soon after epidemics. This happened throughout the medieval and early modern periods, but one of the most famous cases of such a movement of a cemetery came in the early sixteenth century, prior to the Reformation. In Nuremberg, in 1517/18, the cemeteries of St. Lorenz and St. Sebald were moved to spaces outside of the town, creating the cemeteries of St. Rochus and St. Johannis. These cemeteries were deliberately moved outside of the city centre to prevent any spread of the plague among the densely populated town. Rochus was named after one of the most famous plague saints, illustrating the continued relevance of religion, even when cemeteries were no longer directly attached to churches.

Nuremberg's Rochusfriedhof.
Nuremberg’s Rochusfriedhof.

A second change in this period saw the Reformation create what Craig Koslofsky has called a “separation of the living and the dead”. By this he means that both theologically and spatially the living and the dead were separated by important evangelical reformers. As prayers for the souls of the deceased no longer functioned to decrease the time of souls spent in purgatory, cemeteries were moved outside the city walls. Instead of indulgences and saintly intercession, men and women were supposed to focus on the promise of eternal life and divine mercy. How much the movement during these times was a ‘wave’, as it has been called in litertaure on the topic, and if the advice of the reformers was really put into place in many German towns, further research will have to show.

In Reformation Switzerland, we can see that the political and religious demands did not always lead to permanent change when it came to burials and graves. Town councils ordered that family coats of arms and elaborate crosses should be removed from tomb stones, so as to ensure no undue display of wealth in cemeteries. Just like the changes of the Reformation were felt in towns more broadly, so they also influenced the urban cemeteries and changed the way they looked. Tellingly, however, this particular Reformation change was reversed in the seventeenth century, when patricians started adding elaborate coats of arms and depictions to their tomb stones once more. While many Swiss territories were thoroughly Reformed, some changes were not permanent. Apparently, some aspects of burial cultures were so deeply engrained in the self-understanding of the elites that they were not willing to give them up, even if it meant going against the advice of important reformers.

In the seventeenth century, the turmoil of the Thirty Years War led to some repositioning of burial spaces, for example when towns were besieged. On the battlefield, other kinds of burials and commemorations were used. Military chaplains played an important role in making sure that soldiers who had died were buried, but there are also instances where mass graves were used to hold the many bodies of the deceased. Archaeological work has uncovered a range of such graves at important sites of the Thirty Years War, for example fifty skeletons discovered in Nördlingen.

However, as the work of Peter Wilson has shown, that is not to say that during the Thirty Years War chaos ruled in the German lands. There were still significant attempts to bury individuals with at least some of the proper rites. For example, when Gustavus Adolphus died in Lüzen, his body was transported back to Sweden, so that he could receive all the proper rites there and be buried in the royal crypt. The funeral ceremonies influenced Sweden, particularly royal residences, for months. It was of crucial importance that important leaders like Gustavus Adolphus were buried and commemorated in the appropriate manner, even it meant a compliacted transport.

Carl Wahlbom: Gustav II Adolfs Tod bei der Schlacht von Lüzen
Carl Wahlbom: The death of Gustavus Adolphus during the Battle of Lüzen.

At the same time, the increasing European colonization lead to significant shifts in the burial cultures of European colonial powers. Men and women dying on ships could be thrown over board, as there was too much risk that they might contract diseases. In the colonies, funeral rituals and grave spaces could also be adapted. In Asia, the commemoration of Jesuit missionaries and martyrs could take on elements of the local populations, for example, leading to kinds of syncretism, which historians have uncovered in a range of contexts recently. Dying away from one’s home country, whether as mercenary, trader or missionary meant that burials and funerals had to be adapted. Although people died travelling in the Middle Ages, of course, the increasing inter-connectedness of the early modern world meant that deaths abroad became more common.

If we return to Europe and its towns, there was one further big change and that came in the eighteenth century. Increasingly, town inhabitants and councilors wanted to move cemeteries for reasons of hygiene, a trend explored by Norbert Fischer and others. For example, in late eighteenth century Munich, a public campaign ensued to force urban dignitaries to move the cemetery from the town’s centre to the outskirts. For medical considerations and a fear that diseases might spread, letters argued that ‘poisonous exhalations’ would ‘damage the health of the town’s inhabitants’. Alongside these changes to the burial spaces also came other considerations. In the late eighteenth century, Joseph II. of Bavaria argued, for instance, that the state at large would benefit from a thorough investigation of the corpses (Leichenbeschau) in order to ascertain why someone had died and to protect towns from further outbreaks of disease. In another text, an anonymous author criticized that the burials underneath the church could harm people while they were worshipping: ‘The foul air locked in the crypts can even damage the people present in the church, the Temple of God’. In the margins, the author wrote that the tomb stones can be put into the church walls, as is deemed fit, suggesting an awareness that many families would have wanted their family epitaphs and tomb stones to survive any changes in the church space.

As a result of the campaigns, Munich’s former plague cemetery, the Alter Südfriedhof, located outside of the city walls anyway, became the main burial site for the town’s inhabitants. To use a term coined by Thomas Laqueur, the town’s necrogeography changed. The movement of the cemetery changed how and where people were buried, but also what a town looked like and how it would have been experienced by inhabitants and visitors alike. The movement of cemeteries also meant that the church lost some of ist influence, as it no longer received money from the burial spaces, which used to be attached directly to the churches.

The features sketched out above show three general trends in the burial culture of early modern cities: A diversification, where not everyone was buried in their home town; some people died on ships, in wars or while travelling in an increasingly inter-connected world. Secondly, the way towns looked and where experienced changed because, generally speaking, many cemeteries were moved outside of towns, outside of city centres and town walls. Thirdly, the example of urban cemeteries shows one aspect of the mutual influence of religion and urbanity. Movements of cemeteries because of reformers’ demands, complaints by clerics that they no longer received money for burials, which went to the town instead and the spread of diseases in dense, urban environments were all connected to cultures of death. Whether one can interpret the movement of burial sites away from the churchyard, towards sites outside of towns administered by urban actors as a sign of an increasing secularisation is perhaps one of the most interesting questions connected to these dynamics. In the past, as today, cemeteries can tell us as much about death as they can about life.

— Martin Christ

Martin Christ is a KFG post-doctoral research fellow working on ducal burials and urban cemeteries in early modern Germany.

Select Bibliography:

Norbert Fischer, ‘Topographie des Todes. Zur sozialhistorischen Bedeutung der Friedhofsverlegungen zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit‘ in: Fischer/Kobelt-Groch (Hrsg.): Außenseiter zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, S. 81–98.

Norbert Fischer, Vom Gottesacker zum Krematorium. Eine Sozialgeschichte der Friedhöfe in Deutschland seit dem 18. Jahrhundert. Köln/Weimar/Wien 1996.

Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen, ‘Spacing Death – Facing Death: Conceptualizing the Encounter With Death During the Early Modern Period’ in: Tarald Rasmussen (Hg.), Jon Øygarden Flæten (Hg.), Preparing for Death, Remembering the Dead, S. 123-152.

Craig M. Koslofsky, The Reformation of the Dead: Death and Ritual in early modern Germany, 1450-1700. Basingstoke u.a.: Macmillan u.a., 2000 (= Early modern history).

Thomas W. Laqueur, The Work of the Dead. A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton 2015)

All images taken from Wikipedia. For details, see here, here and here.

The Religion and Urbanity project “in the field”

Excavations at the urban site of Barikot (Swat, NW Pakistan)

The sound of the muezzin’s call to the first prayer of the day has been marking out the start of our working day for four weeks now. At dawn, while arriving by car from Saidu Sharif, the isolated steep hill of Barikot, overlooking a large stretch of the middle Swat river, has the capacity of capturing our glances usually distracted by the very busy bazaar road, by somehow reminding us of the substantial value of its strategic location exploited by all the communities who pretended to control the great economic resources of the Swat valley over centuries.  

The Swat valley, or ancient Uḍḍiyāna, located between the extreme north-west of the Indian subcontinent, the extreme eastern offshoots of the Iranian Plateau and to the south of the vast Centro-Asiatic area, seems to materialize well the conceptual idea of a space of constant dialogue, negotiation, translation and remaking of cultural and political identities. The interactions between locals and people who politically dominated the Gandhāra region over centuries, triggered multiple and overlapping processes of cultural osmosis resultign in a complex picture of social and religious horizons.

The Swat area has been investigated by the ISMEO-Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan (hereafter MAIP), funded by ISMEO, MAECI and recently by the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, since 1955. Since 2010 MAIP is under the direction of Dr L.M. Olivieri. The Swat valley has recently become one of the lenses through which we explore the mutual formations of “Religion and Urbanity”.

The 2019 excavation season of the MAIP opens a new chapter in the history of research of the urban site of Barikot (Swat valley, NW Pakistan) that has a clear intersection with the “Religion and Urbanity” research project.

The Swat river from the hill-top of Barikot.
The Hill of Barikot viewed from the South-East.

The continuity of its occupation over more than one millennium and the reliability of its stratigraphic sequence make Barikot a crucial key-site in the urban archaeology of the Gandhāra region (i.e. NW Pakistan and part of NE Afghanistan). Thus, the site has the potential to offer reliable information on the real impact that Buddhism – the major organized religious phenomenon in Gandhāra – had on the local society and on the incidence of local and Brahmanic traditions to Buddhist spaces, practices, iconographies and vice-versa. Indeed, the overwhelming visibility of Buddhist remains in the rural area has risked to put into the background various socio-cultural and religious realities that might have had a crucial role in the formulation of a religious system and its relation with the “in-between” (urban/non-urban) context of the Swat area. Within the framework of the “Religion and Urbanity” project I will try to assess the connections between different religiosities and their meaningful and effective interactions. The latter will be analyzed within a long-term perspective in order to highlight variation and continuity, in their interplay with the socio-economic realities of the contemporary urban society. Barikot, of course, cannot but play a pivotal role in this study. Before going into details let me take a brief step back.

The excavations at the urban site of Barikot, the ancient Bazira/Beira of Alexander’s historians, started more than 30 years ago under the direction of Prof. P. Callieri with the aim to explore the socio-cultural and economic context of the urban society related to the well-known Buddhist Gandhāran art, which for years had monopolized the archaeological research in the area. The results went far beyond expectations. On the southern plain, at the foot of the hill, digs have exposed a good portion of an ancient town (c. 12 hectares including the acropolis) encompassed within an imposing defensive wall with massive rectangular bastions, dated on numismatic evidence and radiocarbon data to the Indo-Greek phase, c. 150 BCE (see map, below). Thanks to a thick series of C14 dates collected over more than 30 years, the occupation of the site is today confidently dated between 1400-800 BCE and the 10th century CE. It goes without saying that today the ancient town of Barikot represents a key-site in the Gandhāra region, the only one with a statistically stable chronological sequence running from the Bronze Age to the Hindu-Shahi period.

Up to now a large portion of the ancient city – mostly corresponding to the SW quarters of the ancient city (see map below) – has been exposed (trenches BKG 1-13) revealing a succession of residential areas, public courtyards, private and public cultic areas reflecting both Buddhist and local religiosity.

General map of the archaeological area of Barikot with indication of the excavated trenches.

The archaeological sequence exposed in the SW portion of the city – the sector where excavations carried out between 2011-2018 have been focused – suggests that the site there was abandoned between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century CE. This is also the time when a drastic decrease of Buddhist monasteries and sacred areas is attested in the Swat countryside together with a gradual process of development of new Buddhist doctrines/philosophies (Vajrayāna Buddhism) and a revival of Brahmanic religiosities.

According to epigraphic sources, the early-historic city of Beira/Bazira, was followed by a later settlement called Vajirasthāna (vajira(sthā)ne) in a Brāhmī-Śāradā inscription of the time of King Jayapāladeva (10th century CE) found on the hill-top of Barikot. However, archaeologically speaking, very little is known of this “second Barikot” and of post-abandonment structural phases, when the area seems to have been occupied by a tower-house fortified Settlement, a feature common to several other sites in Swat and southern areas starting from the 7th century CE.

— The pillared room of the “turreted building” in BKG 2.

The 2019 season focuses on the “second Barikot” with the aim to explore: a) the Shahi and pre-Shahi stratigraphy (5th- 10th centuries CE) of the area surrounding the so-called “turreted building” with pillared hall and cultic spaces (trench BKG 2, excavated in 1984-1990; see map and image above) and the related settlement; b) the Shahi Brahmanical temple (7th-10th centuries CE) at the top  of the acropolis (BKG 6, partially exposed in 1998-2000) and the coeval fortification.

This first part of the archaeological campaign of the MAIP has a small and diverse team: myself (Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt; MAIP Acting Director), Niaz Ali Shah Bacha (archaeologist, Directorate of Archaeology and Museums – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, DOAM), Dr. Omar Coloru (historian, University of Genoa), Marco Pinelli (conservator, Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera) and Sirat Gohar (archaeologist, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad). To this small group must be added the crucial backbone of the MAIP that is our permanent local staff both at the headquarters (the historical “Mission House” in Saidu Sharif) and in the field, mostly consisting of the same people who have been working with the Mission for the last 15-20 years.

During this first month the field activity has follow three parallel paths: (1) bibliographic research and survey of the sites associated with the Indo-Greek occupation of the area (2nd to mid 1st centuries BCE), (2) archaeological excavations in the inhabited area and (3) consolidation activity on the stucco decoration of the Brahmanic temple on the hill-top. The latter has been the target of the Taliban who intentionally damaged it in 2001. Following the line of restauration of the colossal rock-carving of the Jahanabad Buddha – severely damaged by the Taliban in 2007 – the MAIP has decided to re-expose (the temple was in fact re-buried for protection) and consolidate the temple and to continue the excavation there. The first steps undertaken in this direction were the removal of the modern refilling of the 1998-2000 trenches and the consolidation of the stucco in situ along with the analysis of hundreds of pieces of architectural decoration stored in the godown of the Mission House now handed over to the Swat Museum in Saidu Sharif.  

While Marco Pinelli and his Pakistani collaborators are working on the hill-top, myself, Sirat Gohar, Niaz Ali Shah Bacha and our field staff are focused on the archaeological investigation of the sectors surrounding the so-called “turreted building”, bringing to light the different faces taken on by the “second Barikot” over time: from a plain urban layout to a terraced and fortified aspect. The preliminary analysis of structural remains, ceramic material and small finds recovered during excavations suggest to date back the occupation of this area and the foundation of the cultic space associated with the “turreted building” to a pre-Hindu Shahi phase. This result, if confirmed, has a series of implications for the urban and religious history of the site. However, only the analysis of the materials – still ongoing – will tell us a more detailed story.

Another parallel activity concerns the investigation of the Indo-Greek economic and political program, something that, until a few years ago, appeared as imperceptible at the archaeological level. Interestingly, in the middle Swat valley, over a distance of only 20 km, there is evidence of at least three large urban settlements in the Indo-Greek period: Barikot, Udegram and Barama. To this list should be added the site of Shaikhan Dheri at Charsadda, to the south of the Swat valley.

Omar Coloru during the survey of the Kandak valley.

At the moment Barikot is the only site where a reliable and consistent stratigraphy (three structural phases) related to the Indo-Greek acculturation phase has been documented (also in association with Greek inscriptions on sherds). Moreover, the fortification wall of Barikot represents the only excavated Indo-Greek urban defence, as well as one of the most outstanding examples of Hellenistic military architecture in the Hellenized Far East. This data combined with several textual (Classical and Indian) sources led to reflections on the political and economic reasons behind the significant financial investment of the Indo-Greek period in these territories and on their role in the diffusion of Buddhist religion. The preliminary results of this research were presented during the Conference The Hellenistic king and the Indian wise man. Putting the Milindapañha in its contexts held at the University of Bologna from the 19th-20th September 2019.

Our working days are quite busy and often push us towards quite different activities, sources and places, only seemingly disjointed. Actually the variety of questions asked during our targeted investigations helps to build up (while preserving it) a coherent and substantial picture of the multi-lingual and multi-ethnic urban society of the Swat valley from the Early to Late Historic period. By putting this within the question-oriented framework of the “Religion and Urbanity” project I will try to assess the role played by the religious systems as socially active agents and to question how the various political and economic entities negotiate with the different forms of religiosity (and vice-versa) over time by highlighting the internal logics they re-defined.

— Elisa Iori.

Elisa Iori is a post-doctoral researcher in the KFG “Religion and Urbanity”. She is an archaeologist specialising in the religious history of South Asia.

The KFG’s Summer Activites

As the semester starts again, members of the DFG-funded Kollegforschungsgruppe (KFG) were active during the past months in a range of ways.

Asuman Lätzer-Lasar was a visiting fellow at UC Irvine, California, and guest of Andromache Karanika, who is an expert on gender and performance in ancient Greek literature. Topics of discussion included the role and agency of Greek women in religious networks, for example in Homer. Emiliano Urciuoli was a visiting research scholar at the University of Turin. As part of the stay, he gave a presentation on his 2018 book Servire due padroni: Una genealogia dell’uomo politico cristiano (50–313 e.v.).

Members of the KFG have also been active in organising workshops and conferences as well as participating in events themselves. Emiliano Urciuoli organised an international conference on Christian origins (see here for the programme), while Martin Christ gave papers at the annual meeting of the German History Society in London and at a workshop on “Rethinking Objects: New Directions for Pre-modern Materiality Studies”, held at Newcastle University. Jörg Rüpke presented papers in London, Greece and Japan. Our fellow Pralay Kanungo was a panel chair and discussant in ICAS 11 (International Convention of Asian Scholars) held in Leiden in July. He also presented a paper on “the Rise of Hindu Nationalism in Odisha: An Analysis of the 2019 Parliament Elections” in Paris in June. Elisa Iori delivered a paper “Indo-Greeks in Swat. The political program of Menander and his successors” in Bologna in September. Susanne Rau gave a keynote address and helped to lead a study week in Trento on “Migration and the European City. Social and Cultural Perspectives from Early Modernity to the Present”.

We were pleased to promote the work of the KFG during these events and to talk to colleagues and the public about overlap with their interests and work. As ever, if you want to know more about aspects of our work or would like to talk about potential collaborations, please feel free to get in touch. Furthering these connections, we were also happy to welcome our new fellows: Qudsiya Contractor, Kristine Iara, David Garbin, Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko and Marian Burchardt.

Susanne Rau, Jörg Rüpke and Emiliano Urciuoli continued organising the KFG’s annual conference on “Urban Heterarchies: Changing Religious Authority and Social Power in Cities”. This international and interdisciplinary conference takes place in Erfurt from 11 to 13 December 2019. If you are interested in attending or for further information, please contact Emiliano. Our fellow Rana Behal has co-organised the XIIIth International Conference on Labour History, held at the V.V Giri National Labour Institute, NOIDA, India from 12 to 14 March 2020. Members of the KFG are also in the process of organising two sessions for the annual conference for the European Assocaition for Urban History, held in Antwerp from 2 to 5 September 2020. The call for papers for this conference has been extended, so you can still submit an application. Sara Keller is in the early stages of organising a workshop on “Accessing Water in the South Asian City”, which is provisionally scheduled for 20-21 May 2021.

Our activities for public engagement and outreach have also continued. On November 8, the KFG will take part in the “Long Night of Scholarship” (“Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften”) where we will present aspects of our work to the public. Additionally, Sara Keller and others have been busy planning the next version of the KFG’s “City Walks”, an initiative that discusses Religion and Urbanity in Erfurt. For reports on the first two versions, see the blog entries. And for some reflections on “Erfurt-ness” linked to the walks, see here.

Work on the KFG’s main publication, a Handbook of Religion and Urbanity, continues and members have published aspects of their research as well. Martin Christ, for example, has published a chapter on “Conflict and Coexistence: The Case of Early Modern Upper Lusatia” in the volume Rethinking Europe: War and Peace in the Early Modern German Lands (ed. by Gerhild Scholz Williams, Sigrun Haude, Christian Schneider).

Members of the KFG have also used the summer period for research trips, archival visits and fieldwork. Asuman Lätzer-Lasar visited Rome in order to meet the main excavators of the Mater Magna temple and surrounding area (Patrizio Pensabene and Fulvio Coletti), as well as the excavator of the Basilica Hilariana (Carlo Pavolini). Martin Christ undertook research in London’s Metropolitan Archives and the National Archives in Kew. Susanne Rau continued her ongoing research on Lyon, which she wrote about in a recent post, and Simone Wagner visited archives for her doctoral dissertation, leading to some interesting (and entertaining) reflections. Elisa Iori travelled to the Swat District, Pakistan, for archaeological work. She will report on her experiences and work in the next blog post…

At Markets and Fairs in Lyon

It’s the end of July, I’m in Lyon, primarily to do research for the annual conference of our Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies, to be organized around the topic of “urban heterarchies,” and I am working on the St. Trinitatis Brotherhood, which in the late Middle Ages must have represented an important link between the “power” of the clergy and that of the newly formed city council. You can hear more about this in December at the Augustinerkloster in Erfurt.

Today is Saturday and the day of my departure, and I still have plans to go to one of the markets, specifically the Marché Quai Saint-Antoine. There are fewer people there than usual, probably because most people who live in the city are already on vacation.

To the left, on the other bank of the Saône, is Saint-Jean Cathedral, dating from the Middle Ages, and above it, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière (nineteenth century), which majestically overlooks the city, almost as though it were watching over the market.

Saône, Lyon Cathedral and Notre Dame.

The market traders come from all over the region, from the Monts du Lyonnais, Savoie, or Ardèche; some sell goods from the wholesale market, others are the producers themselves, who sell their goods directly (farmers, bakers, gardeners, butchers, cheesemakers, etc.). There are the first fresh figs (from the Ardèche) and Charentais melons (from Provence) as well as many other seasonal vegetables and fruits and, of course, cheese. I buy Comté and Tomme from Savoie and a few fine rigottes de Condrieu; finally, some baguette de campagne for dinner, which will be at home in Germany.

Vegetables sold at Lyon’s market.
Melons sold in Lyon.

Markets and Fairs Have a Long Tradition in Lyon

Lyon has “always” been a trading city—it’s not only the citizens of the city who will tell you this, but historians, too, who have made this claim since early modern times. One can consult Guillaume Paradin (ca. 1510–1590), whose history of Lyon was published in the sixteenth century:

“Des foires, qui de temps immemorial ont esté continuees à Lyon.

L’on ne pourroit nier, que les foires publiques, & le commerce de toute Europe, n’aist esté frequenté à Lyon des la foundation de la cite par Plancus, & possible autant que Plancus fut naiz: estant encores la cite en-bas, entre les riuieres. Et qu’ainsi soit, Strabo qui viuoit du temps d’Auguste & de Plancus, parlant des habitans de Lyon, escript ainsi. Nam et usui magno, est illis emporium. I. Ilz tirent vn grand profit des foires & commerce. Par lesquelles paroles, lon peust bien iuger par coniecture, que deia ce commerce s’exerçoit à Lyon autant que Plancus vin ten Gaule: car il estoit impossible, qu’estant la cite si nouuellement rebastie par luy en la montagne, lon y feist tel profict des foires, lesquelles n’eussent peu encores ester publiees par les prouinces voisines: tant s’en faut, que le profit y eust esté si grand que dit Strabo.” (Paradin, Chapter IX, 12–13). (See here for the digitized version.)

Lyon is indeed famous for its fairs (“foires”). But Paradin’s claim that these already existed in antiquity, since the city’s founding by Lucius Munatius Plancus, is exaggerated. Like every larger city, Lyon, of course, had its weekly markets. However, the fairs were not established until the fifteenth century: in 1420, they began with two fairs a year, and in 1464 there were already four because the king wanted to lure the trade merchants from Geneva to Lyon. The brief suspension of the fairs (1484) was due to the calamities of the time. But in 1494, there were already four annual fairs again. From then on, Lyon experienced an economic and demographic boom, interrupted only by the religious wars in the second half of the sixteenth century.

Religious Fairs and Trade Fairs: Temporal Orderings

The influence of religion is also repeatedly visible with the trade fairs. The dates of the fairs were guided by the liturgical year, meaning that, if the four dates could be arranged accordingly, the fairs began after Epiphany (January 6), Quasimodo (the first Sunday after Easter), August 4 (the day of a local saint), and All Saints’ Day. They usually lasted fifteen days, with the merchandise fair taking place in the first week and the exchange fair in the second. Hence, that’s when prices and payment dates were negotiated. Here, again, is what Paradin wrote about this:

“Mais reuenant aux foires, il me souffira de dire, que diuerseme[n]t elles ont esté reglees, selon les temps, & les regnes: car de ce qui en est memorié, nous trouuons, que le roy Charles septieme de France estant en la ville d’Angiers, en l’an mil quatre cens quarante trois, octroya à la cite de Lyon deux foires, lesquelles il ordonna estre tenues, assauoir la premiere, le mercredy apres pasques, continuant vingtz iours: la seconde, commenceant lendemain de la feste sainct Iaques, & sainct Christophle, le vingtsixieme de Iuillet, continuant vingtz iours. Et depuis par ampliation de grace, en octroya vne troisieme, commenceant le lendemain de la feste sainct André, continuant vingtz iours ensuiuant. Depuis estant venu à la coronne le roy Loys vnzieme de ce nom, son fils, & estant à sainct Michel sur Loyre, l’an deuxieme de son regne, luy fut remonstré, que les foires que lors les marcha[n]s de son royaume freque[n]toyent en la ville de Geneue, estoyent grandeme[n]t preiudiciables au royaume de France, pour raison de l’alienation & transport des deniers, & denrees de ce royaume: au moyen dequoy il octroya lors aux habitans de Lyon, quatre foires l’an, comme ells sont continues iusques auiourd’huy.“ (Paradin, 13–14)

It was normal in Christian Europe in the late Middle Ages for the general calendar to be oriented towards the Christian liturgical year, beginning with Advent and brought into a rhythm with the calendar of saints and feasts. Indeed, German uses the same word, “Messe,” for a church service (the Catholic mass) and a trade fair. “Messe” is derived from the Latin “missa.” The fact that the same word refers here to two very different events can be explained in various ways. First, the Latin “missa” (“religious service,” “celebration of mass”) developed from the formula “ite, missa est” (in English: “Go it is the dismissal”) which concluded the liturgical celebration of the sacrifice. It marks, in other words, the end of the event. Second, as was recorded in many ordinances, church services and markets such as fairs were to take place one after the other: the market after the service, the trade fair often only after the day in honor of a saint. Third, the markets or fairs often took place near a church—not least because there was a large open square where the traders could set up their stands. Evidently due to proximity, a transfer of meaning took place here. Both the spatial and the temporal context (the juxtaposition and succession) of religious and mercantile practices have made their mark in the formation and use of the term. Terms in other European languages (English: fair French: foire, Italian: fiera, Spanish: fiesta) derive from the Latin “feria, feriae.” Yet this, too, not only meant “market” but “religious holidays,” which sometimes took place during the same period. Here, too, one can see the spatial-temporal interrelations of practices that regularly took place, which, precisely through their competition, presumably took shape and continued to develop in parallel. Today, a distant reflection of this opposing pair is manifest in the closing of shops on Sundays (where this still occurs) or in special events such as Whitsun markets, which often combine consumer fairs with folk festivals. The fact that these markets began on an ecclesiastical holiday—or, to be precise, on the following day—often goes back to a royal or imperial privilege granted during the Middle Ages.

Goods from All Over the World

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, textiles, spices, metal goods, books, and paper, as well as leather and skins, were traded in Lyon (Garden, vol. 1, 55–108). Merchants also brought many finished products—such as knives and other iron goods, bed linen, hats, menswear, shoes, wallpaper, carpets, and weapons—from all over France. There are no detailed records in this document of the areas of origin of the raw materials, since they were often imported via Italian, German, Swiss, and Spanish merchants based in Lyon. But the list of spices and medicines (“drogueries”) alone suggests that many of these raw materials came from the Levant or from farther away in Asia: Almonds, aniseed, cinnamon, cassia, coloquine (pumpkin), shells from the Levant, coriander, caraway, incense, Folii Indi (feuille des Indes, Indian leaf, probably: Indian bay leaf), ginger, cloves, Arabic gum, seeds (often “graine de paradis,” meaning melegueta peppercorns), hermodactylus (Iris tuberosa or snake’s-head iris), mace, grains of paradise, mastic, myrobalans (cherry plum, usually dried), nutmeg, pepper, long pepper, musk, pyrethrum, rice, sandarac, seeds for planting, senna, spikenard, turmeric (terra merita, saffron), zinc oxide (vitriol?), zeodary (Curcuma zedoaria). (Gascon, vol. 2, 883; Archives municipales de Lyon: CC 4293, 1519)[1]

Spatial Orderings

Unlike in Calicut (modern-day Kozhikode) in India, at the time there was no fixed location for the Lyon fairs at which mainly wholesalers and long-distance merchants came together. This was the case only for the smaller weekly markets: here, each category of goods was assigned a fixed public place where trading was allowed on a certain day. And later on (or, to be precise, between 1856 and 2005), Lyon had the Grand Bazar, the first large department store in the city, located in the rue de la République, very close to the Franciscan convent (Cordeliers). But where did merchants meet in the early modern period? Let’s take a look at the classic work by Marc Brésard to see if a trade fair topography can be reconstructed.

As early as 1420, just after Lyon had received the privilege of holding two fairs, the consuls determined the places where the wares could be displayed (Brésard, 243–249). The first fair was to take place on the near side of the Saône, i.e., on the Empire side, today’s Presqu’île; the second fair of the year was to be held on the other side of the Saône, the Royaume side. In 1461, certain goods were to be displayed in certain places in the city, each approximately limited to the width of one house. In 1462 the planning of a hall was considered, but this plan failed. Finally, it was agreed, not least after the intervention of the king, that the goods could be displayed anywhere in the city, to the right and left of the Saône and wherever the merchants liked. For this purpose, displays (“étalages”), presumably wooden benches, were made available, which stood everywhere along the streets, on the squares, on the bridge over the Saône, as well as near the city gates, and which could be covered in case of rain or sun with linen sheeting held in place by cords. After that, the perimeter was somewhat restricted: between the rue Juiverie (and quarter named after it), the hospital (with the name of la Saônnerie or la Saunerie), and the place de Roanne on the right side, and la Platière, la Grenette, Saint-Antoine, Cordeliers, and Rhône on the other side. Later, the area was extended to the place des Terreaux (Brésard, 254). Hence four times a year, the whole city transformed into a large market. This was something very special, as fourteen-day fairs with comparable international reach and total sales were held in only a few cities: Lyon, Medina del Campo, Piacenza, and Antwerp. One can imagine how narrow it must have been on the streets and in the alleys at the time. There was no shortage of complaints from drivers who could no longer get through with their horse-drawn carriages. So it proved less disruptive for traffic in the city when the merchants rented space in city shops or deposited their goods immediately upon arriving in the large inn where they were being accommodated. Some unsold goods were also left in these depots until the merchants returned to the city two or three months later. The temporal and spatial organization of the fairs, the presence of many foreign merchants and bankers, and the diverse range of goods also created a specific urbanity.

As can be gleaned from the minutes of the Council and royal letters, trade also took place on the other side of the Saône, which in the sixteenth century could only be crossed via a single stone bridge, the pont du Change, assuming a rowboat was not available. After visiting the market, I cross the pont Bonaparte to the other side of the river, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to visit the most important sites and buildings. The square in front of the cathedral, created only by partially demolishing and reconstructing the St. Jean monastery in the second half of the sixteenth century, was located outside the fair district. The route continues along the rue Saint-Jean, where buildings in the local style typical of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries can still be found today. Along the way, I pass by newer buildings in the Italian Renaissance style arriving via a traboule, one of the passages typically found between buildings in Lyon, at the former Hostellerie du gouvernement and I finally finish my tour at the place du Change, where the money changers met in the fifteenth century, before the first merchant’s loggia (loge du Change) was built here in the seventeenth century, later to be enlarged and redesigned in the middle of the eighteenth century according to plans by Jacques-Germain Soufflot.

Later Uses

Following the French Revolution, the exchange was transformed into a house of worship for the Reformed Church, which still meets there today. But the clocks at the top of the building continue to remind us today that the merchants were “watching the clock.” Such conversions of building uses were not rare around 1800, as we have already seen with St. Peter’s Church in Erfurt, except that here the conversion ran the other way: a formerly secular building was converted for future religious use. This is hardly visible on the exterior of the building; the alterations were mainly internal (cross, altar, pulpit, benches) to adapt the building for the Reformed liturgy.

What is equally interesting for the research group, however, are the rhythms that shaped the use of urban space during the fairs. The presence of the many foreign merchants and trading companies in the city left less of a visible mark in striking architectural structures than did religious practices. At least for trade fairs, a certain ephemerality can be observed, as I showed above. Lasting much longer than practices of commerce and payment, the religious practices of some merchant families or trading nations established themselves in the city: for example, the establishment of a chapel in the church of Notre-Dame-de-Confort by the very wealthy Gadagne family (Italian: Guadagni).

Instead of continuing my stroll through the city, it’s time for me to focus on my essay on urban heterarchies, turning again to the history of the St. Trinitatis Brotherhood. There will be more to read about that by December, at the latest.

Translated by Michael Thomas Taylor.


— Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau is professor of spatial history and culture at the University of Erfurt and one of the spokespersons of the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” .

Bibliography

Marc Brésard, Les foires de Lyon au XVe et XVIe siècles, Paris 1914.

Richard Gascon, Grand commerce et vie urbaine au XVIe siècle: Lyon et ses marchands (environs de 1520 – environs de 1580), 2 vols., Paris 1971.

Heinrich Lang and Susanne Rau, Weltwirtschaftszentren, 10. Lyon, in Friedrich Jaeger (ed.), Encyclopedia of Modern Times Online (2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0248_edn_a4749000.

Sophie Landrin, “Le Grand Bazar va être détruit malgré les protestations,” in Le Monde, March 31, 2015, https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2005/03/31/le-grand-bazar-va-etre-detruit-malgre-les-protestations_633771_3210.html (August 1, 2019).

Guillaume Paradin de Cuyseaulx, Mémoires de l’Histoire de Lyon, Lyon 1573.

Susanne Rau, Räume der Stadt: Eine Geschichte Lyons 1300-1800, Frankfurt/Main 2014.


[1] The French original is: “amandes, anis, cannelle, cassie, coloquinte, coques du Levant, coriandre, cumin, encens, folli Indi, gingembre, girofles, gomme arabique, graine, hermodates, macis, maniguette, mastic, mirabolans, muscades, poivre, poivre long, pousse-muscade, pyrètre, riz, sandarac, semencine, séné, spicenard, terra merita, tuthie, zédoaire”.

A digitized version of a book from the “Garbeau de l’épicerie” (basically the spice inspection department) from 1519 can be found on the website of the Lyon municipal archive: http://www.archives-lyon.fr/static/archives/garbeau-epicerie/ (August 29, 2019).

Picture credit for all images: Susanne Rau.

Religion and Urbanity at the EASR annual conference 2019 (part two of two)

After our first report on our project’s panels at the 17th annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions in the Estonian University town of Tartu, this blod post discusses the second series of panels organised by members of our research centre “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”.

The session consisted of two panels organized by Emiliano Urciuoli and Cristiana Facchini and both of them treated the theme “Urban Religion and Religious Change. Intellectualization of Religion and Ritual Invention”. It asked ow and how far religious intellectualization and ritual invention are made possible by the engagement of religious communication “with the conditions of specific urban environments at particular moments in the environmental, political, and social histories of cities” (Orsi)?

Emiliano Urciuoli’s paper “Christian intellectuals in a heterarchical world: Religious changes in the ancient Mediterranean city fabric” discussed the relationship between three aspects connected to the state of early Christ religion in 2nd century Rome as urban religion. Fristly, the phenomenon that religious scholar Heidi Wendt has called the rise of “the freelance religious experts” in the Roman empire, referring to the Mediterranean-wide emergence of “self-authorized purveyor[s] of religious teachings and practices who drew upon such abilities in pursuit of various social benefits and often more transparent forms of profit” (Wendt 2016). Secondly, the reliance of these professionals on a specific kind of capital that the urban concentration of recognized assets was able to grant them in order to win and stabilized a religious clientele: high literacy, networks of literary exchange, and various textually oriented interpretive practices” (Stowers 2011). Lastly, the capacity of the urban space to function as a “heterarchical system” (Crumley 1995), where power can be ranked in a number of ways, shared, or checked. The more densely urban and heterogeneous is the context, the more heterarchical is the system of power distribution, that is, the more various the types of power and the ways of gaining authority over people, the more diverse the manners of ranking, un-ranking or re-ranking those powers, and the more extended the chances to get access to them. Trans-urban networks can be mobilized when power is locally counterpoised. As Allen Brent pointed out (Brent 2010), the events following the outburst of the “Novatianist crisis” in Rome (251 CE) – that is, in the midst of a highly fractionated theological metropolitan reality – show that spiritual leaders lacking of sufficient influence over the local population might try to gain international support via oversea sponsors. This was only made possible by the intellectualization of religious communication via the urban production and inter-urban circulation of doctrinally laden texts.

Harry O. Maier (Vancouver School of Theology), a fellow of the research group, presented on “Ritual and Urban Networking with Ignatius of Antioch“. The paper considered ritual as a means of the creation of networks of urban religion in second century Asia Minor. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch, written by the prisoner and martyr bishop journeying to Rome during the first half of the second century, express the desires of a religious leader to create and control city networks of affiliated assemblies of Jesus believers. Ignatius ritualizes his journey to Rome as a sacred urban procession and further ritualizes the audiences of his letters as participating with him in his journey toward an anticipated martyrdom. He uses ritual to create competition for urban space, which – with the help of modern urban studies — is best understood within the specular densely populated settings of the eastern Mediterranean urban face-block neighborhood. Ignatius is concerned that meetings only happen under the supervision or knowledge of particular elected officials of the Christ assemblies he endorses. By portraying these urban locations as places where correctly conceived ritual unfolds, Ignatius adds an orthodox valence to cityspaces that they arguably did not possess outside of his letters. Thus the urban and the written conspire to form a spatial and imagined network of urban spaces, complete with ritualized urban space-time configurations. As a point of comparison, the paper examined associations and their creations of networks and modalities of space and time to consider ways in which other groups were using ritual to engage in analogous neighbourhood practices and urban networking, thereby creating cityspaces of their own. By placing Ignatius within the context of such associations the paper argued that we are enabled to recognize emergent Christianity as an urban religion and to consider how belief and city were in a dynamic relation with one another in the creation of group definition, cooperation, competition, and rivalry.

Saint Ignatius of Antiouch, subject of Harry O. Maier’s paper (see here for details).

Arkadiy Avdokhin (Higher School or Economics (Moscow) delivered a paper on Inventing Prayer, Enforcing Orthodoxy: Athanasios of Alexandria’s Project of Bible-Based Devotion. The paper approached a set of Athanasios of Alexandria’s writings about prayer and hymn-singing as a project of inventing ritual orthopraxy in fourth-century urban and rural Christian communities, as well as in individual Devotion. The paper discussed Athanasios’ Festal Letters, epostolographic output (primarily the Letter to Markellinos), and the Life of Antony from the perspective of the bishop‘s concerns about the contemporaneous diversity of devotional and liturgical practices of praying and hymn-singing and his attempt to bring a unifying change. It argued that Athanasios had a coherent vision of the ideal Christian prayer and hymnody. For Athanasios, ‘orthodox’ Christians—lay and ascetics, educated devotees and common believers alike—should derive their practices of devotion and liturgy from the Bible—the Psalter and the Biblical odes—rather than other sources. Athanasios‘ programme of devotional and liturgical orthopraxy centred around the Biblical ideal is part of his broader project of bringing unity to the division-riddled church of Egypt. The bishop conceived of the Scripturally-cued shared patterns of praying and hymn-singing as one of the means to unify scattered Christian communities. Although not as self-consciously formulated as e.g. his polemic against the ‘Arians’ or Meletians, Athanasios pastoral programme of a uniform Biblical devotion surfaces across his writings with consistency. A further Suggestion was that Athanasios’ project of promoting standardized, Bible-based ritual practices of prayer and hymn-singing was an individually conceived regulatory programme that wasenforced through episcopal frameworks of power. This project was targeted against the diversity of modes of prayer and hymn-singing practiced across a variety of doctrinally, ecclesially, and socially different communities. The paper also explored the impact of the divide between urban (Alexandria-based) and rural (chōra-based) networks of parishes and ascetical communities in both promoting and subverting communication of episcopal regulations regarding prayer and liturgy.

The second panel began with Cristiana Facchini, from the University of Bologna and a fellow in Erfurt, and her paper “Utopias and urban imagination in the early modern period”. The paper argued that utopian literature has been generally placed against the backdrop of different Christian undercurrents, and consequently it has been treated as a genre that both speaks about politics and religion. Rooted in ancient Greek thought, this genre became particularly relevant in the early modern period, as one of the consequences of the discovery of new continents. Fuelled by disappointment or sarcasm about political and religious warfare and strife, the idea of utopia unleashed European imagination about ideally planned communities which were parallel to the concrete founding of new urban environments. The paper explored a set of interrelated questions, both from a theoretical and a historical perspective. On the one hand, it investigated what kind of religious environment utopian thought was likely to imagine, especially against the backdrop of increasing religious strife. On the other one, it analysed how utopian thought might have influenced urban projects that were enhanced in new environments, either as idealized utopian polities or new urban projects, mostly visible in some American areas. Finally, some theoretical reflections were formulated in reference to the striking relevance ‘utopian imagination’ played in urban thought, up to the point where it overlapped with dystopian delusion.

Finally, Martin Christ, a post-doctoral fellow of the Project, considered “Rituals of Death in Early Modern German Cities”. The paper considered the ways in which rituals connected to dying and death were invented, performed and perceived by a range of actors living and working in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The paper concentrated on important German towns and cities in the early modern period to assess how rituals of death changed in this tumultuous period of European history. The religious, political and cultural changes of the early modern period had a profound impact on the ways in which men and women died and were commemorated and remembered. The paper took these big changes as a starting point and explored what processes like the Reformation and Catholic/Counter Reformation, changing discourses around medicine and hygiene or the European expansions in the New World did to rituals of death. It conceived of dying and death as a process with many actors and spaces, all of which have to be considered. They included private spaces, like the bedchamber, but also churches or graveyards which shaped the look of a town. The paper illustrated how rituals of death were in a reciprocal relationship with urban spaces, affected by these spaces and influencing them in turn. In this way, the paper asked about the specific ways in which urbanity influenced dying, death and commemoration in a range of German cities and argued that understanding how someone died is a crucial aspect of early modernity.

Collectively, the anels showed that many features of past and present religions were the outcome of specific effects and uses of city-space and their social and cognitive bases rather than as inherent characteristics of a specific ‘religion’. Many religious phenomena, and especially major religious changes, can be better understood by viewing them in spatial terms, that is, as a result of a dialectic of “co-production” (Day) of city-space and urban life, on the one side, and religious representations and practices, on the other. Therefore, change is not conceptualized by presupposing religion and the city as two static entities, but rather implying a “continual process in which the urban and the religious reciprocally interact, mutually interlace, producing, defining, and transforming each other” (Lanz). Designating a process in which religion and the urban are involved, ‘urban religion’ is the formula that defines the state of a religion which is shaped by the interaction with the urban spatial environment and which can periodically crystallize into major changes whose assessment and naming is a responsibility of the scholar. Focusing on changing urban environments against the backdrop of long-term periodizations such as the Roman empire, the rise of Islam, and the European age of explorations (with the Reformation and the development of colonial empires), this panels reflected on forms of connectivity (cooperative or/and conflictual) and targeted religious dynamism through the lenses of religious intellectualization and ritual invention. These are two kinds of religious changes that appear recurrently in the cross-culturally entangled, world-wide history of religion and urbanism.

Erfurt-ness

A few thoughts on the spirit of Erfurt city in the footsteps of Meister Eckhart and Martin Luther

Biology has stressed the relationship between thought and the brain for a long time – an idea that cognitive neurosciences and neuro-psychological studies object to today.[1]

The attempt to associate a physical location, in the human body, to thought remains an open question. But what about localising thought on a more global, social level? Can certain thoughts and philosophical approaches be linked with particular places? This short essay is an invitation to consider the relationship between logos and topos, thought and place. Do certain places entail “inspirationality” per se and what are the constructs of this inspirationality?

It is striking that the German city of Erfurt witnessed the presence of two audacious figures of Western religious history and philosophy: Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) and Martin Luther (1483-1546). Despite the century and a half separating them, both clerics are remembered for their concerns in bringign together reason and faith[2] and for their concern with the accessibility of the Bible. Looking at this puzzling convergence, I wish to continue the discussion engaged by Ruedi Imbach on the relationship between philosophy and its place of genesis (Imbach 2018). Imbach looks at the concomitant presence of Meister Eckhart, Lulle and Dante in Paris in 1310. He shows in the discussion of his paper “Relations parisiennes (…)” that the philosophical thought often rises in a particular place at a particular time (Imbach 2018):

Les textes cités et les annotations qui les accompagnent montrent bien que le questionnement philosophique surgit fréquemment dans un lieu précis et à un moment temporel précis. (Imbach 2018, 116)

Imbach does not just insist on the place, but also on the temporality of the meeting. I wish here to pursue his fascinating approach, and to enlarge the period of interest in order to focus on the impact of the place on the thought – without binding it to a specific time. Is it possible to identify, irrespective of time, a particular place, connected with a particular spirit? As an answer to the Hegelian Zeitgeist (or “spirit of the age”) – a cultural conditioning of a particular time, let us explore the potential existence of a “Raumgeist”, resulting from the originality of a place.

Meister Eckhart and Martin Luther are two celebrated figures of Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia. Their names still haunt the city lanes, encouraged by local institutions and authorities (concerned with the promotion of Erfurt heritage and history) to invade posters, flyers and visitor programmes. Both names are advertised widely, so that it is certainly no exaggeration to consider Eckhart and Luther as the modern patrons of Erfurt heritage.

Playmobil Luther Figurine sold as a souvenir of Erfurt. ((c) Sara Keller)

Apart from this modern cultural partnership, Eckhart and Luther share genuine features. Both were clerics and theologians (Eckhart was a Dominican Prior, Luther an Augustinian monk), they are particularly remembered for their efforts in promoting the vernacular language, and thus in facilitating the access of biblical and religious knowledge to the laity. Eckhart preached and partly wrote in Mittelhochdeutsch (Middle High German). Luther translated the Bible in a comparable language[3] from 1522 to 1534, which had, at the time of printing, a tremendous socio-religious impact. Both were accused of heresy and had to answer to the Vatican about their work and theological positions.

Martin Luther was born 155 years after Meister Eckhart’s death, so that, unlike Lulle, Eckhart and Dante in Paris, the question of a potential meeting can easily be excluded. Yet both of them spend a good amount of time in Erfurt: So the impact of the place on their thoughts has to be considered. Meister Eckhart, who was born not far from Erfurt, stayed several times in Erfurt, especially when he joined the Erfurt Dominicans around 1275 and later in 1294 as he became Prior of the Dominican monastery. Martin Luther studied at the Erfurt University in 1501 and resided on several occasions in the Augustinian monastery. (See also our city walks for a discussion of some of tehse Features).

Martin Luther’s knowledge about Eckhart’s work has been discussed and there is no doubt that the Eckhartian theology inspired Luther’s path.[4] But apart from this philosophical affiliation, did the environment of Erfurt impact Eckhart and Luther’s thought? Is it possible to identify ties that were idiosyncratic to Erfurt’s environment and that could have linked Eckhart and Luther across time?

What about language?

Language is key for both Eckhart and Luther’s work, since they both engaged in promoting the linguistic vernacularisation of religious and philosophical knowledge. Eckhart’s efforts in transcribing Latin concepts into German words included the coinage of new terms that affected German philosophy till Hegel and Heidegger.

Il reste que Maître Eckhart est bien le créateur d’une terminologie nouvelle, philosophique et théologique, en langue allemande. (Knaebel 2002, 21)[5]

In this effort of expressing Latin concepts with German words, Knaebel insists on Eckhart’s appeal to the “génie propre de la langue allemande” (Knaebel 2002, 20). Thus, Eckhart’s work cannot be restricted to a translation task: It is a real philosophical effort in order to shape new terms fitting the linguistic and cognitive potential of Mittelhochdeutsch.

It is significant that during their stays in Erfurt, Eckhart and Luther shared a common semantic space, and, thus, were immersed in an identical linguistic and cognitive environment. Language conveys thinking patterns and conditions thought processes. A detailed linguistic study of German terms could certainly help tracing and visualising the impact of the “génie propre de la langue allemande”, and more particularly of the Erfurt linguistic environment, on Eckhart and Luther’s thought. Language, undoubtedly, represents the large cognitive canvas against which Eckhart and Luther developed their thoughts.

What about urban landscape?

Eckhart and Luther also shared a common urban environment during their tenure in Erfurt, though they did not reside in the same institutions or city quarters: Eckhart was in the Dominican monastery in the southern part of the intra muros area, while Luther stayed at the Augustinian monastery in the North-East quarter. Yet both of them must have known and visited, as educated theologians, common places of education and religion (like the Dom, the Collegium Maius and other religious and university buildings), possibly also influential political and economic urban places.

Church of the Dominican monastery (Predigerkirche), Erfurt ((c) Sara Keller).

Thus, both theologians shared a spatial experience made out of urbanity, feeling of space and data codification via visible socio-religious references and symbols. In a similar pattern as the language, this common built environment must have impacted, if not conditioned, their Weltanschauung.

Apart from the tangible landscape, it is the entire thinking patterns, news about urban life and common ideas performed in the city of Erfurt, as a larger collective data set, that must have played an invisible, yet significant, role. Both of them had a partly secular life, far from the seclusion of regular monks. Their immersion in the city life and their interaction with a public laity certainly exposed them to local dynamics, such as the development of education (Erfurt has one of Germany’s oldest universities) and Erfurt’s early capitalist environment (based on woad production and a dynamic city market).[6] Lindner underlines this in a conference entitled “Der lange Schatten Erfurts in Luthers Werk” that:

Luther aus seiner Erfurter Lebensphase sehr viele Eindrücke und Einstellungen mitgenommen hat, die sein Denken und Handeln im Negativen wie im Positiven entscheidend geprägt haben, ohne dass dazu späterhin immer ausgedehnte Reflexionen von ihm existieren (Lindner 2010, 1).

It is clear for Lindner that the urban experience of Luther was fundamental to his thought process:

(…) im Rahmen der Biographie Luthers stellen sein Erleben dieser Stadt und sein Leben in dieser Stadt das Fundament seines Handelns dar (Lindner 2010, 15).

It would be difficult to precisely or statistically measure the impact of the Geist of the place on the work of Eckhart and Luther, but I hope to have raised challenging issues regarding place and thought. I do not mean here to speak for a strict spatial conditioning (are we subject to our special milieu as we suffer the tyranny of time as “prisonnier de son temps”?). My argument rather aims to consider the participative impact of place to the growth of ideas. Both Eckhart and Luther travelled and their thoughts, if at all, resulted from a constellation of influences that were encountered and experienced in different places. Yet that does not take anything away from the spirit of the place and its significant identity, just as Toth underlines for the “pensée occidentale”:

La pensée occidentale est un grand fleuve formé d’affluents venant de partout et son eau se verse dans tous les océans. Du point de vue de son autonomie spirituelle, ce qu’on désigne par le terme de « pensée occidentale » dispose pourtant de certains traits distinctifs qui le rendent spécifique et unique. (Toth 2006, 4) [7]

Looking at Eckhart and Luther, it is worth considering the place as a bearer of cognitive processes via the agency of language, urban landscapes and economic and political dynamics. The urban Raumgeist emerging from this complex configuration could be compared to the city identity as it is expressed in India by the Hindi nominal suffix “-pan” added to city name. The paper presented by Pralay Kanungo in the framework of our internal summer colloquium recently drew our attention to the concept of urban identity commonly referred to by substantives that could be translated into English as “<city name>-ness” -“Varanasi-ness” for example in the case of Varanasi’s spirit (वाराणसीपन or Varanasipan in Hindi).

The example of Eckhart and Luther suggests the existence of an “Erfurt-ness”, expressed by an ambitious engagement towards the democratisation of knowledge. The city of Erfurt seems to have been the fertile breeding ground for the idea of disseminating knowledge, but also for the audacity demonstrated by Eckhart and Luther who stood against contemporary legitimacy.

Naturally, the real question is not to prove the past existence of an Erfurt Raumgeist, but rather to understand its faith and to identify its posterior resurgence(s). Is Erfurt likely to revive its bright and bold spirit?

Wall painting in the Spielbergtor Street, Erfurt (by Capstan & Tulip), Radeberger Pilsner Campaign #likemyheimat. ((c) Sara Keller).

Sara Keller

Sara Keller is a post-doctoral researcher in the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. She specialises in medieval Indian history, especially water works in western India.


[1] On attempts to locate the thought in the human body : Schniewind, Alexandrine. 2015. “Où se situe le lieu de la pensée ? Au sujet du rapport âme-esprit.” Le Carnet PSY 2015/4 (N° 189), p.40-43. Chauviré, Christiane. 2012. “Y a-t-il un sens à situer spatialement la pensée ? Peirce, Wittgenstein et les signes.” Intellectica 57,  p.101-114 . See also Paquot, Thierry and Younès, Chris (eds). 2012. Espace et lieu dans la pensée occidentale. De Platon à Nietzsche. La découverte.

[2] “Cela signifie que, selon Eckhart, on peut réellement parler d’une convergence entre la raison et la foi.” Imbach, Ruedi. 2018. “Relations parisiennes : Lulle, Eckhart et Dante à Paris. À propos du rapport entre la philosophie et le lieu de sa genèse.” Enrahonar. An International Journal of Theoretical and Practical Reason 61, 113.

[3] Martin Luther strategically choose the Saxon court language (sächsische Kanzleisprache) for his translations in order to be understood by a larger public.

[4] Li, Y. 2019. “On Martin Luther’s theological illumination by Meister Eckhart.” Logos and Pneuma – Chinese Journal of Theology 2019(50): 267-300. Also: Mieth, Dietmar. 2017. “Der Aufstieg des „Gewerbes“: Mystik, Luther, Max Weber.” Conference at the “Von Meister Eckhart bis Martin Luther: Berührungen, Vermittlungen, Kontraste.” Congress. München, 10-12.03.2017.

[5] Knaebel, Simon. 2002. “Maître Eckhart, précurseur de la dialectique hégélienne ? ” Revue des Sciences Religieuses, tome 76, fascicule 1, p. 14-32.

[6] Lindner, Andreas. 2010. “Der lange Schatten Erfurts in Luthers Werk”. Conference Series “Erfurter Gesellschaftsbilder”, 16.11.2010, Erfurt. Accessed online on 30.07.2019: https://www.db-thueringen.de/servlets/MCRFileNodeServlet/dbt_derivate_00021865/Luther-Erfurt-Erbe.pdf

[7] Toth, Imre. 2006. “La philosophie et son lieu dans l’espace de la spiritualité occidentale. Une apologie.” Diogène 2006/4 (n° 216), p.3-35.

CfP for EAUH Antwerp: “Religious Guides to Urbanity” and “Religion, Mobility and Co-spatiality in Cities”

We are pleased that the DFG-funded KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” has received two sessions at the European Association for Urban History conference 2020. The conference takes place in Antwerp from 2 to 5 September 2020. We invite applications for papers to be presented at the two sessions.

The first one, organised by Martin Christ, Emiliano Urciuoli and Charlotte Elisheva  Fonrobert, concerns the topic “Religious Guides to Urbanity”. The session focuses on the regulation of urban life of both migrants and long-term residents through orders, council decrees, ordinances, guild statutes, instructions and other forms of written authoritative communication that are spurred by religious motivations, betray religious concerns, or target religious behaviors and misbehaviors. It asks how such regulations sought to fix urban behaviour in cities which were constantly changing and how the movements within the cities influenced the instructions in turn. It takes a broad chronological and cross-cultural view in order to compare urban productions as diverse as anti-idolatrous regulations authored by late antique Christian and Jewish religious specialists, sets of rules like the Muslim hisba, church ordinances of early modern European towns (Kirchenordnungen), and several other textualized strategies to promote or impose a ‘safe urban life’. As suggested by the notion of urban religion, which considers the spatially informed dialectic of co-production of urban life and religious communication, the focus of the panel is twofold: on the one hand, it addresses the regulation of religious life and the ways in which religious texts aim to shape the urban conditions of living and, on the other hand, it looks at how urban spaces, actors, and ideals of urbanity generate more or less binding projects of religious normativity. The panel takes a source-based approach and seeks to take a close look at individual sources and their interpretation to enable meaningful comparisons across cultures past and presents as well as a diverse range of regions. 

The second session, led by Susanne Rau, Jörg Rüpke and Michel Lussault, concentrates on “Religion, Mobility and Co-spatiality in Cities“. It proposes that urban space is characterized by multiple overlapping spaces, created by the imaginations and use of space and complicated by the movement of different people and groups. Religion offers an interesting lens into this phenomenon, as it is as much a technique to mark out space by ritual usages, ephemeral or lasting sacralisations of space, as it is a cultural technique to imagine and perform the transgression of concrete space with a view to divine addressees etc. Thus, its use of space is very different from other uses of spaces. Hence, it is conflicting or has the potential of being instrumentalised for different purposes. The organisers particularly welcome case studies European, Mediterranean and Asian cities of all epochs on double or parallel uses and interpretation of space, especially when they are caused by religious groups. Theoretical papers are welcome, as are considerations on simultanea or shared use of temples by different groups, appropriations of urban space by religious migrants, processions, sacred places in present metropolises and architectural space and sacred metaphors.

We look forward to receiving proposals for both these sessions through the official EAUH website.

The call closes on 04 October.

Religious Places in Motion

On 18 July 2019, the second edition of our city walk on “Religion and Urbanity” in Erfurt took place. (For a short repot on our first walk, see here). The warm and sunny morning prompted us to stay in the shade of Erfurt’s churches and wander in the shadows of religious authorities, premises and groups.

The theme of this new walk was “Transformation of Religious Spaces”. Our aim was to look at a selection of religious spaces and their non-linear history. Historical disruptions, spatial competition, social and religious conflicts, natural and man-made catastrophes, but also growth and beautification, evolution of religious and social practices, reappropriation, reuse and rehabilitation: These were some of the reasons for transformation affecting religious spaces in urban context. The theme highlighted the complexity of multi-layered trajectories for most of the religious spaces. Even seemingly well-established constructs were and are in motion.

The Hanseplatz in Erfurt ((c) Sara Keller)
The Hanseplatz in Erfurt (© Sara Keller)

Our walk started at the Hanseplatz (or place of the Hanseatic League), a large and green open space, suitable for a nice stroll and also containing a playground. However, this pleasant square had a more sinister function, as it served as a place for executions up until the eighteenth century. Executions were strictly regulated and performed by religious agents. In death, religion and law interacted in fascinating ways. Public executions were well attended public events with a religious framework, including the presence of clerics, reading of religious texts, reference to the destiny of the souls of the to-be-executed persons. All this justified the sentence and strengthened religious authority. The executioner was respected for the performance of his duty and sometimes had medical knowledge. But his trade was also considered as dishonourable. Remains of more than 40 executed persons were found during excavations for underground parking, where past notions of hell are now buried alongside the dead.

We then walked to the Barfüsserruine, remains of a church which are preserved as a ruin and now serve as a memorial to the bombing of the Second World War and the destruction it brought. A scared space was initially built there in the thirteenth century as the monastery church of the recently founded Franciscan Order. Its history is significant for the religious property and competition for influence of monasteries and confessions in the dense pre-modern urban canvas from the medieval period until the post-Reformation time. After the 1944 bombing that heavily damaged the church nave, the remains were secured, the ruin now serving as a performance space for cultural events. The church is still subject of discussions about a potential reconstruction of the roof and about the meaningfulness of evidence of bombing as a reminder of war.

The Barfüsserruine in Erfurt ((c) Sara Keller).
The Barfüsserruine in Erfurt (© Sara Keller).

Our walk continued to the Predigerkirche, a monument built as the monastic church of the Dominican monastery in the thirteenth century. Dominicans introduced a solution to the social and spiritual needs of the increasing city population, thus justifying the importance of having monastic premises within the city wall. In the course of the Reformation, Protestant sermons were held in the church, which is significant for the designation of religious places and parishes as Protestant or Catholic. This shift, as well as issues of property ownership and disputes between monasteries, are representative of the constant territorial competition of religious institutions. The Predigerkirche is also remembered as the church of the mystic Meister Eckhart who was prior of the monastery in the early fourteenth century.

From the Predigerkirche, we went to the Magdalenenkapelle, a thirteenth century chapel with a history connected strongly to death and burials. Initially, it was a cemetery chapel for poor people and foreigners. It was then used as a burial space for the Sankt Martin Hospice in the Fischmarkt. The chapel was eventually profaned and afterwards used as a theatre. The monument returned to its original funerary function in 2014 as it was rehabilitated as a columbarium, answering the increasing need of urn space. The Erfurt artist Evelyn Körber designed fifteen columns made from limestone from Solnhofen and containing urn spaces, which can be customised. The long waiting list for the urns of the Magdalenenkapelle indicates the trend towards cremation and the great demand for successful projects like the Magdalenenkapelle’s columbarium.

Our final station was on the Petersberg, where we had a glimpse of the Peterskirche, unfortunately closed at the moment and wrapped in a large restauration canvas. The church’s history is shaped by clerical and profane military functions. The church, dedicated to St. Peter und St Paul, was a roman basilica built in 1060 as the church of the Benedictine monastery. It was constructed on the top of a hill that presents evidence of pre-medieval settlements. The city of Erfurt developed on the foot of the hill in the early medieval period, while the monastery area was chosen for its dominant and strategic position. In the seventeenth century, a fort was built on the Petersberg and it was occupied in the 19th century by Napoleonic troops, then the Prussian army. In this context, the church was profaned, it lost its spires and was used to store military equipment. For the 2021 Bundesgartenschau, a national gardening exhibition, the church is being renovated, while colourful parterres will be added to the surrounding area.

Much more could be said and discussed about the turbulent history of religious places in Erfurt, so that during our talk we had to cut short some of our discussions. The visit of the old synagogue, initially planned as part of the walk, also had to be dropped because of time constraints. But this has led us to schedule a third city walk soon – a new edition, will contain fewer statiosn to leave enough time for discussions and be more interactive.

— Sara Keller

Sara is a post-doctoral researcher in the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. She specialises in medieval Indian history, especially water works in western India.

Asuman Lätzer-Lasar to Deliver Paper on Religious Ancient Place Making

On Tuesday, 9 July 2019, KFG post-doctoral fellow and steering group member Asuman Lätzer-Lasar will present a paper as part of the colloquia held at the Max Weber Centre. The paper considers the concept of “place making” in antiquity and combines insights from archaeology, urban planning, history and religious studies to explore the ways in which religious space was shaped.

The choice of location of a sanctuary was mainly dependent on its sacred geomancy, recognized, for instance, through an augurium during the Roman period. However, in dense and crowded places such as a city, there were also other needs and requirements that had to be respected, such as urban topography, infrastructure and accessibility, as well as policy, economy, local legislation, or even traditions. Establishing a place for religious communication, be it a sanctuary, a grave or the erection of a dedication to a deity therefore had to be a negotiation between the religious communicator and the physical and non-physical pre-existing environment.

However, even in antiquity the establishment of places of religious communication in dense and diversely crowded cities cannot have been taken place as mere top-down processes decided only by elite, ruling actors without taking any significant and urban-related factors into account. Lätzer-Lasar argues that the decision-making process, when creating a place for religious communication, was an interplay of spaces, objects, actors, practices and imagination (, i.e. aspirations and semantics) that lead involuntarily to reciprocity.

The paper describes the term “placemaking”, which derives from the disciplines of urban planning and geography, in order to elucidate its advantages and disadvantages for the research of ancient cities and religions. The cocnept is developed into a specific form, “Religious Ancient Placemaking”. The paper is a first attempt to make the concept suitable for the discipline of archaeology and enrich it with examples from the ancient city of Rome – because it is an exceptional city that provides a plethora of material and written sources and therefore guarantees a qualitatively broad variety of phenomena – and then to apply the conceptual framework on a specific case study, which will be the Provincia Hispania.

The paper takes place from 10 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. on Tuesaday 09 July at the Max Weber Centre, Erfurt.

How can one describe a bazaar? A first attempt: Walking over the “Big Bazaar” in Calicut

In April 2019, when I accepted an invitation to give a lecture at Kannur, our partner university, I combined my stay with initial on-site research on our research project “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. I already had a first idea of what I wanted to investigate in selected West Indian coastal cities. As with any historical research question, I first wanted to check whether the necessary sources were available to answer my questions – especially since this is a completely new region that I am currently exploring. So I used my stay to visit museums, libraries and archives in Kerala and to get an overview of existing objects and texts. One of my excursions took me from Kannur to Calicut (or, as it is called in the national language: Kozhikode). Since I didn’t want to repeat the adventure of a three-hour bus ride (for about 90 cents), I bought a ticket in an air-conditioned train compartment for 12 April 2019 (for about 7 EUR and only a two-hour ride).

Train in Calicut, India (© Susanne Rau).

Arriving at the station in Calicut, I approached the city on foot and, turning left shortly before the SM-Street, famous for its sweets, reached the Railway Bridge. On the right I see a mosque, straight ahead, after the crossing the Bazaar Road starts, which is called MA-Road for the first half. This bazaar in Calicut is in fact a street, as the name says, and not a market with stalls or a kind of big department store that could carry the name bazaar in modern times. It is essentially a wholesale market, although one can still buy there as an individual consumer. To the right and to the left of the street are stores lined up, at first mostly metal goods, but a few meters further there are already dried fruits, dates, nuts, but also rice, sugar, chili, spices (a lot of turmeric and other local spices) in large quantities to choose from. Many products can be tested, i.e. viewed, touched, compared and tasted. Large bags are loaded onto trucks, which sometimes block the road, and brought to the countries or the storage rooms behind them, which can be reached via alleys and courtyards between the shops. It is loud with the horns of motorcycles, cars and trucks, but also with people on the phone and communicating across the street. People draw attention to themselves, negotiate prices or shout something to the loaders. At the other end of Bazaar Road there are warehouses again, then a standing snack where some young men eat something – and again a mosque.

This morning it’s so incredibly hot that the next thing I do is call a taxi, or rather one of those yellow-black autorickshaws. But the driver has no time, he has to go to the mosque to pray and therefore drives on. So I walk a few steps further and come to the Beach Road that runs parallel to the Arabian Sea. I walk as far as Gujarati Street, then finally an autorickshaw driver has mercy on me and drives me to the archive further north in the city, which is located in the Civil Station. In the Regional Archives Kozhikode I am allowed to look through some finding aids. But I also have to think about this Bazaar Road, which is also called “Valiyangadi” in Malayalam. Since when does it exist? What is it about this conspicuous structure that there are mosques at both ends?

In the evening, after the visit to the archive, I go back to this street and record a 15-minute video with my mobile phone by slowly walking the street from front to back again. This is a 1.5-minute short version of this, cut by Fritz Unruh:

https://www.db-thueringen.de/receive/dbt_mods_00038712

Then I must hurry to the train and continue my reading. I read in Narayanan’s History of the City of Calicut, where I also find some interesting reference to this street (Narayanan 2018, p. 25-27, 66, 96, 98, 246): It has been documented in the sources since 1442. At that time, of course, it was not yet paved. It was asphalted under British rule in the 1930s. For some time there must have been tracks on which wooden shutters were used to transport the goods. For centuries Muslims, Jains, Hindu Seths, Gujarati and Marwari moneylenders as well as Tamils and Andhra Chettis have met here. They are the actors of this place, where large quantities of goods and money are handled. This must have been a hub of South Asian trade, which Calicut has been since the late Middle Ages. Religion played and plays a role here not only by the present representatives of different religious groups, which came from the north, east, from the Arabian peninsula, from Persia and since the end of the 15th century also from Europe.

Religious practices were integrated into the daily routines of trade. This can be seen not only with my rickshaw driver, who had to pray instead of driving me to the archives, but also in the commercial practices and morals for which the religions have always formulated rules. And it is evident in the urban structure (mosque – bazaar or suk), which can be found in many Islamic cities. Whether this is an urban planning concept remains to be clarified for Calicut. At the one end, near the Railway Bridge, is the Sunni Masjid, at the other end (seaside) the Khaleefa Masjid. Myths have formed around the long-lasting prosperity of the urban centre of Calicut, which the inhabitants pass on orally. Narayanan tells of a legend about Mangatt Achan, the first secretary of Zamorin Raja. „After a long and difficult penance, the Achan had succeeded in having Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, appear before him and offer a boon. He made her promise to wait in the same place until he returned, then went home and committed suicide. The clever idea was that the Goddess, unable to break her oath, will stay permanently in Valiyangadi (Big Bazaar), where the devoted Secretary had left her, and that is why prosperous trade continues in that street in spite of all sorts of changes. Besides illustrating the intelligence and self-sacrificing loyalty of the First Secretary, this popular tradition tries to offer a mythical explanation for the steady progress of trade in Valiyangadi from medieval to modern times. It provides an insurance against slump, and a source of confidence.” (p. 26-27)

The bazaar of Calicut, its historical depths, the worldwide interdependence of people and goods, the religious practices and urban structures that characterize the everyday life of this street have captivated me. I would like to know more about it – more about the different interdependencies and mutual formations of trade, religion and urban development in this ‘global city’ avant la lettre; but also more about the connection between piety and trade in cities influenced by Islam. Because only this should be undisputed so far: that bazaars, like the fairs in Europe, are a distinguishing feature. They seem to have existed only in cities, whereas there were cities without bazaars and without fairs.

In the coming weeks I will continue to read, go to the bazaars of different world cities and then report again…

— Susanne Rau

Bibliography:

M.G.S. Narayanan, Calicut. The City of Truth Revisited, Kozhikode 2018 (first published: 2006)

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, Bazars and markets in medieval India, in: Studies in People’s History, 2, 1 (2015): 61–70

Saskia Sassen, The global city. New York, London, Tokyo, Princeton, N.J. 2001 (2nd edn.)

New Book: History, Space, and Place by Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau, project leader of the KFG, has recently published a book entitled History, Space, and Place (Routledge, 2019). This book offers the first comprehensive introduction to the theory and methodology of historical spatial analysis.

Spaces, too, have a history. And history always takes place in spaces. But what do historians mean when they use the word „spaces“? And how can spaces be historically investigated?

History, Space. and Place by Susanne Rau

Susanne Rau provides a survey of the history of Western concepts of space, opens up interdisciplinary approaches to the phenomenon of space in fields ranging from physics and geography to philosophy and sociology, and explains how historical spatial analysis can be methodologically and conceptually conceived and carried out in practice. The case studies presented in the book come from the fields of urban history, the history of trade, and global history including the history of cartography, but its analysis is equally relevant to other fields of inquiry.

Recently, Susanne Rau has also reviewed a book which might be of interest to readers of this blog. The review concerns the volume La bourgeoisie statutaire de Lyon et ses privilèges. Morale civique, évasion fiscale et cabarets urbains (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles) by Olivier Zeller and can be read here.

Lived Urbanity: Religion and the City in Erfurt

Our core group experienced urbanity and religion in the lanes of Erfurt. Members of the KFG prepared short presentations at spots connected to Religion and Urbanity along a route through Erfurt. 

The walk on the 4th of June aimed to explore our theme “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” through the history of Erfurt. Starting from the Max-Weber-Kolleg, six stations in the city gave us the opportunity to discover city spaces and some of Erfurt’s iconic monuments through the perspective of the entangled relationship between city formation and religiosity.

A brief introduction to the city history reminded us that Erfurt had its golden age as ‘Messestadt’ (fair town) in the late medieval period: Its flourishing economy was based on the cultivation of the precious woad plant (isatis tinctoria), the major European blue dye of the time. (If you want to know more, see the temporary exhibition on the colour blue (‘Blau und Blaues. Farbbetrachtungen der besonderen Art‘) at the Museum für Thüringer Volkskunde.)  Following the increasing enthusiasm for Marian devotion (the Virgin Mary wore a blue mantle), blue, unpopular until then, was in high demand from the 12th and 13th centuries onwards. Erfurt’s fortunes rested on religion and the evolution of religious practices.

Our first station gave us the opportunity to discover the Augustinian monastery (Augustinerkloster), a well preserved architectural complex and an example of the long and dynamic religious life of the city. Erfurt not only witnessed the creation of multiple churches, chapters and convents, but it also fostered a rich theological and intellectual life. This eventually helped the foundation of the university in 1392 (our second station), and influenced the paths of great theologians, philosophers and reformers, such as Meister Eckhart and Martin Luther.

 

Erfurt’s Cathedral (Dom) and the Severikirche.

 

The Dom with its peculiar monumental platform and north side portal is an important landmark of the city. The Cathedral, alongside the church St. Severi next to it, (stations five and six on our walk) continue to dominate the city. One of the memorable chapters of Erfurt’s history was written by the Jewish community that actively contributed to the wealth of the place.

Well embedded in the core of the city fabric, the Jewish buildings testify by their presence and location to the entanglement of urban and religious life. They also bear the marks of terrible clashes that repeatedly resulted in the complete disappearance of the Jewish community. The visit of the mikwe (station three) showed us how water and religious practices were taken care of in the tense urban context. Another spot of Jewish life in Erfurt is the impressive Old Synagogue. Station four, at the ‘Kunsthalle’, originally known as the ‘Haus zum Roten Ochsen’ (‘house of the red bull’), provided an opportunity to discover lively and colourful depictions of planetary gods on a Renaissance façade freed from medieval religious codes.

The walk was an inspiring experience, evidenced by the fact that we did not lose any participants, despite the terrible heat of this Thursday noon. Since the city has many other treasures – open as well as concealed – that could be discovered in a two hour walk, we are intending to continue our exploration with another tour of other stations.  If you are interested in joining our next walk, feel free to get in touch! 

— Sara Keller

Stadt und Religion: Internationale Tagung im Augustinerkloster, Erfurt

Wie wichtig ist Religion für das Entstehen und Bestehen von Städten? Wie tragen Rituale dazu bei, dass aus Dörflern nun Städter werden? Diesen Fragen stellt sich eine internationale Konferenz, die von der Forschungsgruppe „Religion und Urbanität“ organisiert wird, welche seit Herbst 2018 am Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt unter der Leitung von Susanne Rau und Jörg Rüpke von der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft gefördert wird. Die Konferenz wurde in Kooperation mit der schottischen University of St. Andrews (Christopher Smith) organisiert. Die Organisatoren haben Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus ganz Europa und den USA vom 12. bis 14. Juni in das historische Augustinerkloster eingeladen um den Fragestellungen anhand von Fallbeispielen und typischen Konstellationen aus dem Mittelmeerraum von der Späten Bronzezeit bis in die Spätantike nachzugehen.

Mit Blick auf die Geschichte kann man ohne Zweifel behaupten, dass Religion ein bedeutender Faktor bei dramatischen Entwicklungen in Städten war, beispielsweise bei der Gründung von Städten über Einwanderungswellen, tiefen Umbrüchen bis hin zu sogar Völkermord. Religiöse Rituale dienten hierbei um Gemeinsamkeiten zu stiften wie auch Rückzugsräume für die Stadtbewohner zu schaffen und Abgeschiedenheit von einzelnen oder Gruppen zu ermöglichen. Umgekehrt hat das räumliche, soziale und politische Umfeld von Städten, ob klein oder groß, religiöse Ideen und Praktiken geprägt. Vorstellungen von „Göttern“ und verstorbenen „Ahnen“, vom Ort der Verehrung, von der Zugänglichkeit zu Göttern und deren Tempeln, sowie die Vorstellungen über ihre Wirkweisen, aber auch, wie man sein eigenes Leben vor den Göttern lebt, wurden dabei nachhaltig beeinflusst. Das Erfurter Forschungsprojekt „Religion und Urbanität“ widmet sich der Untersuchung dieser wechselseitigen Beeinflussungen in historischen und zeitgenössischen Kontexten und bezieht die Ergebnisse auf das Zusammenleben in Städten.

Die jetzige Tagung beschäftigt sich mit den Anfängen dieser Wechselbeziehung, als sich Städte bilden. Dafür ist der Mittelmeerraum im Übergang von der Bronze- zur Eisenzeit besonders spannend. Hier gab es starke Umgestaltungen der Umwelt, neue soziale und wirtschaftliche Beziehungen und Herrschaftsformen. Welche Bedeutung hatte Religion in solch einem kritischen Moment? Und wie wirkten sich Veränderungen auf nachfolgende Epochen aus? Bisher wurde die zunehmende Gründung von Städten nur einseitig mit dem Verweis auf Handelsplätze und Transportwege erklärt. Gerade die Verbindung von archäologischer und religionsgeschichtlicher Forschung, erklärt Dr. Asuman Lätzer-Lasar als Organisatorin, verspricht neue Aufschlüsse darüber, wie eng die Entwicklungen von Religionen und die Entstehungen von Städten tatsächlich miteinander verflochten waren. Der Tagungsort in Erfurt mit seiner eigenen reichen Geschichte ist dafür sehr passend gewählt.

 Kontakt: asuman.laetzer-lasar@uni-erfurt.de; Programm

Martina Stercken to Deliver Paper on Salvific History and Urbanity

Martina Stercken, fellow of the KFG and professor of Medieval History at the University of Zurich, will deliver a paper in the KFG’s research colloquium on 28 May 2019. The paper is entitled “Embedded in salvific history. Mediating urban time and space in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period”. 

Urban studies have assumed the power of salvific history to be an important element
influencing the medieval notion of towns in Europe. Discourses and artifacts reflecting on the celestial Jerusalem have been examined; scholars have investigated how much this idea has influenced town planning; and performative ways of defining the urban space as a religious area and the urban community as a sacral community have been described. The paper aims for a deeper analysis of texts, images, and maps and their ways of mediating temporal and spatial dimensions of towns between the 13th and 16th centuries, so at a time when the urban landscape was being shaped in Europe. Analysing manifold combinations of maps and historiographical texts relating to Zurich, it will explore the means to create images of the town as a spatial and historical phenomenon embedded in salvific history. It will be argued that urbanization changed the notion of the town’s embeddedness in the history of salvation, and developed multifarious ways to connect representations of space with its historical significance.

The paper will start at 10 a.m. in the Max-Weber-Kolleg, Erfurt.