Urbanity: History, Concept, Uses

Urbanity: History, Concept, Uses

Klara-Maeve O’Reilly, KFG „Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”, Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt
Vom - Bis
16.11.2022 - 18.11.2022
Aileen Becker, Max Weber Centre, University of Erfurt

The international conference “Urbanity: History, Concept, Uses” was organized by the Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” in Erfurt as an interdisciplinary event with different formats including theoretical concepts, a World Café, talks and discussions. It took place in Ettersburg castle (Weimar) and continued on the results of two summer workshops “Typologising Cities” (May 2022) and “Metamorphoses of Urbanities” (June 2022). The conference looked at the concept of urbanity and its possible variations. How do we live (together) in dense urban spaces? How has urbanity been defined so far, how can we contribute to better grasping and describing it?

SUSANNE RAU (Erfurt) and JÖRG RÜPKE (Erfurt) looked back to four funding years of the Religion-and-Urbanity research group. The works have brought new insights into the historical diversity of the formation of urban lifestyles as well as into the "city" as a model and a form of socialisation. Urbanity has been defined as both, a historic concept (meaning culturally determined and needing to be contextualised) and a concept of form to better understand the spatial configurations and transformations of the city, to which “religion” represents one essential factor. The international projects resulting in a long list of publications and the development of new ideas and collaborative projects. After a positive evaluation by the German Research Foundation (DFG), they look forward to the second funding period until 2026.

MARTIN FUCHS (Erfurt) gave an insight into what “living together” means in modern India, where religion and urbanity are very much entangled and individualization is an important aspect of the lifestyle. In the most pluralist religious region in the world, he sees contemporary trends of diversity and segregation, inclusivist and exclusionary contexts in the relation of belonging. Urbanity finds different interpretations in modern India because of the diversity of communities, of social and religious groups. There can only be multiple definitions.

The conference went on with theoretical concepts. Four of them have been progressed so far to present and discuss them together: Co-Spatiality, Heterarchy, Spatial Fix and Spatialisation were presented by ELISA IORI (Erfurt), SIMONE WAGNER (Erfurt), SARA KELLER (Erfurt) and MARTIN CHRIST (Erfurt).[1]

MARTIN CHRIST and SARA KELLER started the first round of table discussions about co-authored papers with a contribution about court cities as an urban typology in Europe and South Asia in the early modern period. Long-term, continuous royal presence in cities has produced a number of designations that indicate the unique character of such settlements, often referred to as capital or royal city. In addition to the monarch’s presence, these cities shared a number of elements that distinguished them and made life in them urban. This justifies understanding them as unique urban systems, which can best be referred to as a “court urbanity” for the benefit of cross-regional studies.

MARA ALBRECHT (Erfurt), JUDIT MAJOROSSY (Vienna) and SUSANNE RAU (Erfurt) presented a draft chapter about typologies of cities and the usefulness and limits of typologising itself, especially in a trans-cultural comparative perspective. City types always suggest a certain staticity. Cities can change rapidly because of the people living there and their embeddedness in trans-local networks of trade, migration, and knowledge transfer. They are fundamentally dynamic entities. Instead of focusing on religious actors or institutions, another way of forming city typologies from a religion-and-urbanity perspective would be to elaborate on the structural effects of dealing with religious conditions, such as the ways of segregating or integrating diverse religious groups in the city or dealing with religious mobility, or to highlight activities.

EPSITA HALDER (Kolkata) and ANNE MURPHY (Vancouver) started the second round with a discussion of the mutual emergence of religious formation and cultural production associated with urban development in early modern Bengal and Punjab. They presented case studies from the two South Asian regions, sharing a comparative interest in localised Bengali and Punjabi perspectives on urbanisation in South Asia. By tracing its relationship to religious community formation that is further regionally varied, and its expression in vernacular literary forms, they explored variations of the idea and practice of urbanity.

ANNETTE HAUG (Kiel) and GIL KLEIN (Los Angeles) presented a paper that examines boundaries and boundary making in the cities of the Roman empire. They particularly looked at the transformation of the roman urban block (insula) as a component of the Roman city from its inception as a cosmically oriented portion of the landscape to a built, inhabited and living residential unit. They argue that the insulas’ diversity of architecture and ritual across the Empire of the 1st century BCE to the 2nd century CE allows for the identification of significant underlying processes and perceptions of Roman urban life.

NORA LAFI (Berlin) started a series of interdisciplinary case studies with a contribution to the nature of urbanity in several cities of North Africa during the Ottoman era. She challenged established visions that tend both to minimize the capacity of local societies to create the conditions for the existence of forms of complex urbanity and to attribute in an undiscussed way urbanity in its perceived local weak form to religion. Reflections on the cities of North Africa in Ottoman times suggest a collective redefinition of urbanity at the interface between characteristics of coexistence in diverse societies, participatory governance and negotiated regulation of the use of urban spaces.

CARMEN GONZÁLEZ GUTIÉRREZ (Cordoba) researches the western suburbs of the Islamic Madinat Qurtuba (Cordoba). Under the Umayyad caliphate, the city grew significantly in the 10th century. New suburban areas emerged, sprawling neighbourhoods developed outside the city walls, but well connected to it. She focuses on a specific area from those districts recently restored by urban archaeology. This shows the need to enlarge suburban areas to accommodate more people, although it needs to be further explored how these changes were operated legally or economically.

ZOĖ OPAČIĆ (London) presented an intersection of medieval ritual and urban setting on the example of medieval Nuremberg and Prague. Within the 14th century they changed immensely architecturally. Novel ideas of urban decorum, deriving from Italian concepts of planned public spaces. The cities have singled out the square as a configured space, which came to be through an interplay of architecture and social structure. The notion of a square as a space not only created by certain social groups and institutions to fulfil particular needs, but which also has a formative effect on them, resonates at Hauptmarkt of Nuremberg and its evolving scenography.

KATALIN SZENDE (Budapest/Vienna) looked at religious sites and institutions that were decisive in the foundation and early history of Buda, Pest and Óbuda, with a special focus on Buda. Which factors were instrumental in shaping their urban spaces at the outset? Szende proposed to use the concept of co-spatiality to illustrate the complexity of secular and religious dimensions of the settlements on either side of the Danube, a river too broad for a bridge, but relatively easy to cross and binding enough for people living there to share the same religious and social space.

LAURA VERDELLI (Tours) talked about Chennai’s contemporary riverine waterfronts and how the renewal of the link between city and water became a central theme for the contemporary development and “modernization” of the urban system and for the enhancement of its identity. The economically weaker inhabitants undergo authorities’ projects of relocation into new state-planned districts. These spaces attract more and more attention and being configured as areas of urban influence which have a different connotation from other areas of the city and which are capable of offering spaces which meet increasing urban expectations.

AUSTIN COLLINS (Durham/Erfurt) described the city of Angoulême and how the civic leadership attempted to showcase their influence, history and relevance during a royal entry in 1565 by Charles IX. As the end point of the entry, the cathedral Saint-Pierre took on a prominent significance, illustrating how religion and urbanity interact in the context of urban spaces. The cathedral benefited from housing the tomb of John, Count of Angoulême. Despite this, the local authorities never found success in having the monarch see Angoulême as being the centre of France. The civic leadership had so desperately tried to remain relevant that creating this image of Angoulême became their identity.

BABETT EDELMANN-SINGER (Würzburg) talked about imperial funerals and concepts of urbanities in Rome and Constantinople. Regarding the example of imperial burials in Rome like the mausoleum of Augustus and the one for Constantine in late antique Constantinople she pointed out that ideas about what constitutes “the urban” are long-lived and shaped by tradition. This applies even more so to the idea of the urbanity of a capital or metropolis. Concepts of urbanity are often linked to a founding figure like Romulus to whom Augustus regularly referred.

JÖRG OBERSTE (Regensburg) continued thoughts about urban centres as religious centres with royal funerals and the topography of saints in Merovingian Paris. He focused on how Paris acquired metropolitan significance as early as the 6th and 7th centuries through the presence of rulers and important saints, although the city did not historically occupy a prominent position among other Merovingian cities. A close topographical and symbolic connection of residence, royal burial and veneration of saints emerged, which is constitutive for the dynamic development of Paris throughout the Middle Ages.

NIMROD LUZ (Sea of Galilee) presented a project about Tel Aviv urban religion as a case of contemporary urbanity in relation to religious sites. He stresses the persistent role of religion is shaping cities and underline on the power of informality. He explored struggles and conflicts over sacred places while engaging with Lefebvre’s notion of the right to the city. He offered a more expansive understanding of how a cultural-political analysis of the sacred, and heavy engagement with matters of control and ownership, may benefit from introducing the ways in which people experience the landscape.

NAVEEN KANALU (Paris) has mapped imperial privileges and property claims in Mughal India. Focusing on the practice of Hanafi law in Mughal Delhi’s suburban agglomerations, he examined the nature of Delhi’s urban expansion and its impact on the interaction between state, communities, and individuals in everyday city life. Suburban growth was supported by imperial privileges granted to the military elite to settle agglomerations with merchants and artisanal communities. Based on newly discovered documentary evidence and the analysis of Hanafi law, he argued for a fresh assessment of Mughal imperial authority’s central role in legally administering urbanity in precolonial South Asia.

SUPRIYA CHAUDHURI (Kolkata) contributed her case study of the historically layered site of the Alamgir mosque in Varanasi, built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1669 after demolishing the Bindu Madhav (Vishnu) temple that had stood there earlier. The temple was subsequently rebuilt as a modest structure nearby, at the Panchaganga ghāt, a broad series of steps leading from the mosque to the river. The complex is an intersection of mosque, ghāt and temple at this site and the temporality that binds them in a narrative of obliteration and renewal, forgetting and re-invention, characteristic of urban space in Varanasi.

CHRISTINA WILLIAMSON (Groningen) examined how temporal dynamics interacted at the shrine of Asklepios near the ancient metropolis of Pergamon. She briefly presented a timeline of the shrine, across its 700 years of functioning, and then focused on the second century AD, when the sanctuary acquired a form that made it one of the most famous healing centres in the Roman empire. In her opinion, the shrine of Asklepios came to embody the urbanity of Pergamon, particularly by being the locus of the values that it prized most highly – culture, empire, and of course good health. She showed the triangulated relation between empire, the city and its primary god.

MARLIS ARNHOLD (Bonn) presented her work on some of the smaller cities of Hellenistic Macedon. They were players within the wider Hellenistic world. Although mostly small in size, their connection to members of the social, political and all the same military elite and the kings ensured a constant influx of knowledge and ideas, as well as of elements of material culture. This was driven by the focus of self-presentation within Macedonian society on practices that involved high numbers of precious objects. This habitus of the upper social circles thus became urban and defined life in the cities to a certain extent, even though many details of the latter elude us.

The conference concluded with a discussion chaired by Susanne Rau and Sara Keller, who highlighted the major outcomes: Focusing on urbanity, rather than only the city, helps opening up the discussion to a meta-level; cities and urbanities are entangled so that we need both concepts; urbanity has a strong aspirational nature, although it is also felt, experienced and reflected upon. They pointed out the potential of the non-locality of urbanity, with striking examples of urban experiences outside the city, such as the Asklepieion of Pergamon or the peri-urban neighbourhood of Umayyad Cordoba and Mughal Delhi. On the other hand, the discussion addressed the question of small towns and how the larger cities radiate to them. Last but not least, important theoretical ideas were discussed and applied to many of the projects so we can be curious how they will develop further.

Conference overview:

Susanne Rau (Erfurt) / Jörg Rüpke (Erfurt): “Mutual Formations -Looking back at the first four years of UrbRel”

Martin Fuchs (Erfurt): “Living Together: Metamorphoses of religious co-existence in Indian urban contexts”

Elisa Iori (Erfurt): “Co-spatiality”

Simone Wagner (Erfurt): “Heterarchy”

Sara Keller (Erfurt): “Spatial Fix”

Martin Christ (Erfurt): “Spatialisation”

Comments by Emiliano Urciuoli (Erfurt) and Discussion

Round 1

Martin Christ (Erfurt) / Sara Keller (Erfurt): “Court Cities as an Urban Typology in Europe and South Asia, c. 1400-1700”

Mara Albrecht (Erfurt) / Judit Majorossy (Vienna) / Susanne Rau (Erfurt): “Typologising Cities: Historical and Systematic Reflections”

Round 2

Epsita Halder (Kolkata) / Anne Murphy (Vancouver): “The mutual emergence of religious community formation and cultural production associated with urban development in early modern Bengal and Punjab”

Gil Klein (Los Angeles) / Annette Haug (Kiel): “Building, Dwelling, and Ritual Interactions: Urban Domestic Architecture and the Roman City”

Case Studies, session 1

Nora Lafi (Berlin): “Participation, Deliberation and the Nature of Urbanity in North African Cities of the Ottoman Era“

Carmen González Gutiérrez (Cordoba): “The Western Suburbs of an Islamic city: Urban and Human Landscape in Madinat Qurtuba (Córdoba)”

Zoe Opacic (London): “Staging Urbanity in the Late medieval City: the examples of Prague and Nuremberg”

Katalin Szende (Budapest/Vienna): “Medieval Buda and its agglomeration: urban pluralism and religious entanglements“

Laura Verdelli (Tours): “Building Chennai's Waterfronts: Global Models, Dreamed Projects, Ongoing Changes and Their Narratives”

Austin Collins (Durham/Erfurt): “Angoulême: Constructing a Royal Connection in the Forgotten Periphery”

Babett Edelmann-Singer: “Imperial Funerals and Concepts of Urbanities in Rome and Constantinople”

Jörg Oberste: “Royal funerals and saints' topography in Merovingian Paris”
Nimrod Luz (Sea of Galilee): “Contemporary Urbanity and Religious Sites: A View from Tel Aviv Urban Religion, Decolonization and Gray Spacing”

Naveen Kanalu (Paris): “Mapping Imperial Privileges and Property Claims: Practicing Hanafi Law in Mughal Delhi's Suburban Agglomerations (c. 1680s)”

Supriya Chaudhuri (Kolkata): “History and Memory in Urban Space: A Case Study from Varanasi”

Christina Williamson (Groningen): “Sanctuaries as Urban Timescapes in Hellenistic Asia Minor: Pergamon and the Asklepieion”

Marlis Arnhold (Bonn): “Urbes non magnae: Macedonian Cities and the Question of Urbanity”

Discussion and Closing by Susanne Rau (Erfurt) & Sara Keller (Erfurt)

[1] See https://urbrel.hypotheses.org/glossary (09.12.2022). Here you will find the UrbRel glossary with the discussed theoretical tools.

Veröffentlicht am
Weitere Informationen
Land Veranstaltung
Sprache(n) der Konferenz
Sprache des Berichts