Metamorphoses of Urbanities: Grasping Differences

Metamorphoses of Urbanities: Grasping Differences

KFG Religion and Urbanity (DFG, 2779), University of Erfurt
Vom - Bis
22.06.2022 - 23.06.2022
Diana Pavel, Max-Weber-Kolleg, Universität Erfurt

The international workshop Metamorphoses of Urbanities: Grasping Differences is the latest workshop organised on behalf of the Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations (DFG, FOR 2779) at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, University of Erfurt, having taken place on the 22nd-23rd of June at Haus Dacheröden in Erfurt. The workshop addressed a series of questions related to constantly changing urbanities and perceptions thereof not only within one city itself, but among different cities as well. Specifically, its aim was to produce a better understanding of how religious pluralities and differences addressed on a social level can be acknowledged from an emic/etic perspective and how these contribute to the metamorphoses of urbanities.

As the keynote speaker of the workshop, ANNETTE HAUG (Kiel) proposed a series of aspects through which to analyse the processes of urban change, building upon the example of the Roman city of Pompeii. Such aspects include considerations regarding the emic/etic perspective as well as the scale of transformation pursued in the analysis, to incorporate the spatial, temporal, and social scales. In considering the triggers of urban change, a selection of several such factors have been more amply discussed, the first of which represented by the social and political competition and conflict that is also reflected in the urban fabric of the city, from the larger scale seen in the arrangement of the neighbourhoods to the architecture and decoration of a house itself. Other such factors are represented by the economy, with the economic competition reflected through the city as well, or by war and politics that can also be acknowledged through the destructions, restorations, or monumentalisations of the cityscapes. Other factors, to include climate change or environmental factors such as earthquakes or eruptions, also need to be better explored when considering urban changes, as well as demography that is interlinked with all the aforementioned factors. Haug emphasised both the internal as well as external triggers of processes of urban change. The same is the case for a series of interrelated categories, as established and developed within the Excellence Cluster ROOTS at the University of Kiel, to include urban agency and urban perception, architecturally and materially defined urban space, mental concepts of urbanity, material and immaterial resources, environment, should be considered in analysing the processes of urban change.

For GIL KLEIN (Los Angeles), the perspective switches to considering the ways in which agonistic structures can be observed (and preserved) in the fabric of the city itself. This is particularly the case of the Roman acclamatio as a practice meant to regulate conflicts within and between different social classes. The talk aimed to show the role of architecture as a “canvas” for agonistic structures since these are not only present as a ludic practice accompanying the competitions and the spectacles of the circus or the debates of the symposia in a more domestic context. On the contrary, these are also reflected in the buildings constructed as a result of a certain type of elite competition that opens up the potential for contestation, particularly when considering the evolution of the city throughout time. At the same time, the acclamatio can also be preserved in the architecture itself even through carvings and inscriptions, whose purpose could once again be manipulated through time. This is therefore particularly noticed in the case of the Rabbinic transformations of such practices and the reinterpretations brought to them during the Late Antiquity observable in the cities of Roman Palestine.

On the other hand, RAMINDER KAUR (Brighton) highlighted the fact that the evolving urbanity of the case study related to the city of Amritsar is linked to the narratives brought to it through different perspectives. As such, the urbanistic changes are addressed through certain discourses that aim to place a certain emphasis on a selected perspective, perhaps against other, competing ones. As a result, the metamorphoses of the city are addressed through three interrelated (at times overlapping) perspectives at the core, the first one being represented by the foundational tropes, namely the legendary and mythical stories linked to the foundational horizon of the city’s architecture. A second perspective is represented by the resilience trope, where the metamorphosis of the city is visible in the socio-political fabric of the city and where historical events are engrained in the architecture of the city and maintained as reminders within the constantly evolving urbanity in order to preserve these specific narratives. Thirdly, the heritage tropes are explained as the competing perspectives through which certain architectures are perceived through the aspects of heritage to the detriment of others (that can be deliberately ignored) in what can be experienced as “fragmentary heritage”. At the same time, certain places within the city have been deemed to overcome differentiations of a socio-religious nature and bring people of different social backgrounds together.

RAHUL PARSON (Berkeley) focused on the way that literature deals with the urbanistic views of the city of Kolkata and how different communities of a cultural and religious background pertaining to its urban fabric incorporate certain narratives addressing this diversity on the background of the city. These different communities portray the cityscape in differentiated manners, selecting and emphasizing specific images of the city and presenting various and often idealised perspectives of the city. An often-found literary motif seems to be the narrative concerning the appeal of the past, as in the Marwari novel “Kalikatha via Bypass”, where the flashbacks to the past are triggered by the spaces in the city, intrinsically linking therefore the urbanism with the idealised narrative of the past and its ideological consequences brought to the present. The narrator of such a novel becomes therefore an agent of history and promotes the urbanism of the city to encapsulate the history of the city, with the city consequently becoming “a depository of history”. In other cases, the motif of the city itself or of the ‘urban’ is seen as a metaphor of the community, whereas its antithesis, the ‘rural’, is associated to the other, to the outsiders or to the foreigners.

JÖRG RÜPKE (Erfurt) focused on the mutually constitutive processes between religion and urbanisation, to incorporate also the spatial, normative, intellectual, affective dimensions that come into play during such dynamic transformations. Considering metamorphosis through the lens of substantial continuity despite shifts in form and appearance, several aspects should be taken into account in order to analyse such dynamic processes. There are four main dimensions incorporated into a grid of such an analysis to show the relationality between all these different dimensions. Specifically, these dimensions are represented by the social, to include a range from the subjectivised self to the self-determining or determined group, by the ecological, referring to the interaction with the material world – either natural or artificial –, by the spatial, and considering the co-existence of spaces, and by the temporal, referring to both past and future and the co-existence of temporalities. These four aspects that should reflect a high level of dynamism can therefore be used in order to conduct an analysis of the religious processes and of urbanity also in their mutual influences.

BABETT EDELMANN-SINGER (Munich) takes into consideration the funerary processions of the Early Roman Empire as a relevant example of a type of ritual practice that presents the interconnectivity of rituals, religion, and urbanity. These funerary processions are linked to the urban space and to its perception since they require the physical space for the actual movements, as well as for the construction of the affective discourse based on the selected urban architecture. Furthermore, the social and material dimensions of these processions are also important elements contributing to the discourse aimed at by the ritual agents. At the same time, these funerary processions also present an arena of contestations and conflicts, particularly when considering the funerary processions of the Roman elite. The transformations brought to these processions emphasize also the importance of architecture that aids to the promotion of certain ideological discourses, as exemplified in the case of the funerary processions taking place under the rule of Augustus and of his successors, aiming to reinforce the authority of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The transformations brought by agents to the urban processions can also lead to differentiated perceptions of urbanity that can be further transmitted through conflicting perspectives in the literary sources.

MARTIN FUCHS (Erfurt) aimed to explore the way the plurality of communities can be defined and characterized through the urban elements. A first question that arises in this regard is the consideration of these diverse communities living together and how the elements of affect, inclusion, and exclusion come into play into defining such a sense of plurality. The exclusions and segregations of certain communities are also observable in the architecture of the city, for example in the accessibility and connectivity of certain neighbourhoods. At the same time, it is also worth questioning how these groups can be characterised through their local or urban associations given the modern transformations and interconnectivity processes that come to minimise the differentiation between ‘local’ and global’. This is for example the case of expat communities, migration processes, and of families living abroad. This might presuppose a sense of ‘urbanity’ outside of the physical space of the city. Given the plurality of communities of a social and religious standing, there can only be multiple definitions of ‘urbanity’, and perhaps a more adequate use being represented by ‘urbanities’ instead. Most of these urbanities are further being linked and influenced through the religious processes.

ANNE MURPHY (Vancouver) focuses on the early modern Punjab by exploring the construction of the narratives associated to the “court cities” and by further examining their ‘urbanity’ in contrast to that of developing religious centres. Specific religious communities are during this time building their own forms of organisation borrowing also aspects of discourse from the political sphere. This is particularly the case of the shrines built in connection to important Sufi figures. As such, a strict dichotomy between religious centres and political centres cannot be applied onto the documented material and the notion of “court” should be seen through multiple perspectives without being predominantly used towards the political sense. At the same time, these religious communities and their formations might also have conflicting or antagonistic relations to the state-associated formations and to the state power. This might rather suggest once more the need to address and consider the different forms of urbanities rather than a uniform ‘urbanity’.

The workshop has delved deeper into discussing several aspects related to the dynamic processes presented by the constantly changing urbanities, seeing their metamorphoses as multifaceted processes. Several strands do however remain open for further discussions into the mutual influences of religion and urbanity, to include the important role played by concepts such as power and mediation, as well as emphasising once more the social aspects of urbanity. The discussions have once again shown the plurality of perspectives through which the concept of urbanity can be approached.

All in all the many coexisting or even competing urbanities even in the same place – and not least across periods and regions – came out very prominently. At the same time, the concept of urbanity was proved in its analytic force. The research group now faces the task to further systematise and historicise these results.

Conference overview:

Key Note

Annette Haug (Kiel): “The Production of Urban Change. The Example of Roman Pompeii”

Gil Klein (Los Angeles): “Satirical Cities: Play and Conflict in the Late Antique Urban Street“

Raminder Kaur (Brighton): “The Spirit of the City: Narrativising the Metamorphoses of Amritsar, India“

Rahul Parson (Berkeley): “The City’s Raking Lights: Haunting Urban Imaginaries of Kolkata's Religious Minorities“

Jörg Rüpke (Erfurt): “Metamorphoses of urbanity: A heuristic“

Discussion Round 1
Chair: Martin Christ and Sara Keller (both Erfurt)

Babett Edelmann Singer (Munich): “The Changing Urbanities of Urban Processions in the Early Roman Empire“

Martin Fuchs (Erfurt): “Besieged Plurality: Middle Class and Subaltern religious assertion in Indian metropolises“

Anne Murphy (Vancouver): “Imagining ‘urbanity’ in early modern Punjab, from court to religious community”

Discussion Round 2
Chair: Susanne Rau (Erfurt)

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