Urbanity and the Formation of Religious Groups

Urbanity and the Formation of Religious Groups

Martin Christ, KFG Religion and Urbanity (FOR 2779), Focus Group "Group Formation"
Haus Dacheröden
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
15.06.2023 - 16.06.2023
Constanze Schaller, Universität Erfurt

How, when and why did religious groups form and how were they (in)visible in cities? How are individuals motivated to form or join a group and how can religious groups be described in general, especially in urban settings? The exploratory international workshop “Urbanity and the Formation of Religious Groups“ discussed questions regarding the phenomenon of religious group formation(s) while drawing on case studies from different locales, spaces and times considering the mutual formation of religion and urbanity. Among the main foci for the formation of groups (or failed attempts of group formation) were violence, imagination and differentiation. The workshop was organised by the focus group “Group Formation, Segmentation and Fragmentation“, coordinated by Martin Christ and part of the DFG-funded Center for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” (FOR 2779).

MARTIN CHRIST (Erfurt) opened the workshop by introducing the research field and raising the fundamental question of what a group is. Mainly sociologists tried to answer this question so far. Social cohesion, social identification and the need of belonging are crucial for group formations, which have been studied since the beginning of the 20th century. To describe groups in general one could use for example self- and external definitions of groups, comparisons to reference groups, collective and unifying as well as spatial aspects or look at primary and secondary groups. An example cited by him for these processes was the city of Hoi An in Vietnam in the early modern period. For the workshop, group formation in historical perspective was particularly interesting and it was concluded that groups studied in history are often connected to terms like community or neighbourhood and that theoretical approaches to group formation in a historical perspective are lacking, especially regarding religion and urbanity.

The first session was started by MARA ALBRECHT (Erfurt), who focused on religious rituals of groups and how they can result in conflict or be connected to violence. She introduced two case studies: First, in Belfast a Protestant minister caused a riot in 1857 after a series of open-air-preaching events that substantially contributet to the still ongoing conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Second, in April 1920 the first riots in post-Ottoman Palestine occurred when the annual Muslim Nabi Musa procession transformed into a political demonstration in order to demonstrate strength and unity. She pointed out how collective performances within urban space can claim cities, reinforce religious identities as well as social cohesion and lead to violence by seeing “others” as enemies.

Another example for violence caused by group formation was given by TOM HAMILTON (Durham), as the Wars of Religion in 16th century France. He focused especially on the agency of individual actors within groups and considered group formation alongside processes of confessionalisation. Eight civil wars in France between 1562 and 1598 were fought between Catholics and Protestants in order to gain control over cities. Starting from those events, he argued for attachment as a useful analytical category and raised the question, how cities are bound together by using an approach by Serge Paugam1. Stepping aside from the debates about “strong” and “weak” forces of confessionalisation, he proposed to follow social actors in their decisions to form or break different kinds of associations.

Starting the second session, HARRY O. MAIER (Vancouver), endeavored to define what a group is by looking at three examples of failed group formation attempts. First, he looked at urban patronage and solidarity as group formation in Paul’s Letters, where rhetoric was used to try to create networks and unity through shared beliefs. Secondly, he considered failed religious group formation in the works of the Greek bishop Irenaeus, who wanted to achieve unity by controlling diversity at the end of the second century CE. This example shows how group formation also invites considerations of porous boundaries. The third example focused on the Theodosian Code, which outlined a robust version of being a Christian. This legislation created imagined spaces and inhabitants, which helped invent a space and led to an image of the city as a place promoting right belief and practice. The example showed a variety of (attempted) groups and different versions of “Christianity”.

Moving to another century, BENEDIKT BRUNNER (Mainz) asked which group formations are described in funeral sermons, elaborating on the dying as a group in and of itself and the importance of communities consisting of living, dying and mourning in Protestant thought. By looking at funeral sermons, he worked out how death and the afterlife had normative effects on urban communication contexts. He presented examples from Basel to show imagined spaces and their normative effects on the living: one funeral sermon compared the Heavenly Jerusalem to earthly cities and the other regarded the question about where the soul is housed after death and that souls of unbelievers go to Hell. He drew attention to the imagined communal life in the Heavenly Jerusalem, which includes unity, heavenly treasures and bonds of love, which meant, life should be directed to the afterlife in Heaven. Brunner argued that norms are important for understanding group building.

HEINRICH LANG (Erfurt) concluded the section by focusing on Mediterranean trade diasporas. He argued that the concept of trade diasporas opens a sociological perspective on communities of Genoese and Florentine merchant bankers and their experience of otherness. By presenting characteristic features of Mediterranean trade diasporas like constantly developing cultural diversity, the internal use of a common language as well as the pragmatic adaption of identities, he showed how networks of merchants worked. Trade diasporas were complex constitutions of economic networks, that could influence an urban style, for example through church buildings and thus showed the connection of religious and urban aspects. This was especially illustrated by the case study of the Natio Fiorentina in Rome, which was founded by Pope Leo X and was institutionalised in 1515.

SUSANNE RAU (Erfurt) provided a preliminary summary and brought Max Weber’s theories on cities and communities into focus. She showed that groups are not given, but emerge and form in complex processes. An important factor for those processes are individual perspectives regarding questions like “who is seen as a member or representative of a group?” and individuals asking themselves “Do I see myself as a member of a certain group?”. Furthermore, cities do not consist of just one group, they are changing conglomerates of different ones. In a city, different groups, which can and do overlap form spatial and sociological networks without having clear boundaries and different levels of bonds exist. Individuals can belong to multiple groups according to choice or their specific moment of life, so differentiation in describing groups is crucial.

The following discussion highlighted the question of what a group is. Does form and size matter in defining groups? To which extent are the feelings of unity, collective identities and imagined communities group-forming effects and which collectives are considered a group in the first place? The self- and external definitions of (religious) groups, the limitation and dissolving of groups, but also failed group formation must be taken into account when discussing group formation as well as how to deal with exclusion, the risk of breaking away from groups for individuals and people who are members of groups unintentionally. Additionally, the (in)visibility of groups indicates the fluidity and porousness of group definitions.

The last session started with MIRI RUBIN (London) who talked about medieval cities and showed how buildings and religious communities were bound together. She argued that religious communities could express their identity through buildings and uses of space as well as through the production of distinctive sounds and dispositions of time. From this, cities emerged as assemblages of people, materials and ideas, where buildings can be boundaries, show diversity in cities and in- or exclude people by tracing codes of accessibility. The visibility of groups was especially important. For example, Jewish buildings with special architecture, with windows placed to avoid certain sights, illustrated this point. Besides visual aspects, other sensual experiences in the medieval city, like sounds or smells were discussed and were brought into connection with emotional and ephemeral communities.

Focusing on Upper German medieval cities, BEN POPE (Manchester) presented urban and rural elites as distinct groups. He focused especially on religion and religious identity in the process of group formation by looking at a case study of Nuremberg, referring to different churches and religious houses. Urban patricians in towns wanted to limit external influence, for example by controlling churches within the city walls, contributing to the formation of urban groups. Therefore rural elites were gradually excluded from urban religious life. Pope argued that urban and rural elites as religious groups experienced the same differentiation as they already experienced as political, economic and kinship groups. The gradual differentiation between rural and urban elites in the early 16th century lead to a redefinition of this group formation. ‚Town‘ and ‚nobility‘ were differentiated as antagonists, which enabled the formation of a noble identity based on opposition to “the towns”.

JON KEUNE (Michigan State) finished the session by introducing Ambedkarite and Buddhist organising in Nagpur, India. The Ambedkarite community formed in 1956 through a mass conversion based on the philosophy of B.R. Ambedkar who adapted Buddhism to his time and political convictions. With Ambedkar dying shortly after the conversion, leaving behind 22 vows and his writings, which can be interpreted in different ways, the Ambedkarite community is an example for a group with a diffuse “identity”. Ambedkarite activities within and outside India range widely. Keune explained the ongoing challenge within the Ambedkarite project of developing new modes of self-identification and defining what an “Ambedkarite lifestyle” means. He discussed how the community is reforming itself constantly. Based on his research he presented two arguments regarding the influence of diffuse identification within a community and inter-cohesion of activities across multiple fields for group formation processes.

MARTINA STERCKEN (Zürich) summarised the workshop in order to lead the participants into the final discussion. She pointed out that it is crucial to look into spatio-temporal conditions of group formations to describe how groups form, dissolve and change. Who is assigning a group identity, who belongs to groups and who is thought of belonging to a group are not easy questions to answer. Whereas sociological methodology provides a basis for working on group formations, the question of a shift in perspective from social to cultural studies emerged. New concepts are needed to describe, for example, the visibility of groups, the shaping of religious and urban groups and spaces and also to compare different cultural “groupness” and approaches to form a group.

The following discussion focused on rituals and processions as multifunctional phenomena that are important for group formations because of their unifying effect by creating temporary symbolic as well as social landscapes and the need for more research in that particular field. This also led to discussions on how groups can bring individuals together as equals and how emotions play an important role in this process. Groups as mixtures of diverse people need unifying aspects, which were thoroughly discussed as well as the temporality of groups and their members.

The discussion showed that precision is needed because group formation in general differs from religious group formation. In order to specify what a religious group is, the participants agreed that definatory work on a shared vocabulary is important. How group formation will be moved into a theory or into concepts will be developed in the near future.

Workshop overview:

Martin Christ (Erfurt): Welcome and Introduction

Section I: Violence & Group Formation (Chair: Sara Keller)

Mara Albrecht (Erfurt): Claiming the City as Our Own: Group Formation through Religious Rituals and Violence in Contested Urban Space

Tom Hamilton (Durham): Urbanity & the Formation of Confessional Groups in Sixteenth-Century France

Section II: Real & Imagined Groups (Chair: Aileen Becker)

Harry O. Maier (Vancouver): Some Illustrations of Urbanity & Group Formation in Early Christianity

Benedikt Brunner (Mainz): Heavenly Communities in Life &Death. Normative Implications of the „New Jerusalem“ for Urban Societies in Nuremberg, Basel, London and Boston (1600–1750)

Heinrich Lang (Erfurt): Mediterranean Trade Diasporas in Late Medieval and Early Modern History. An Outline of a Concept

Joint Discussion (Introduction: Susanne Rau)

Section III: Building & Imagining Differences (Chair: Elisa Iori)

Miri Rubin (London): Building Difference in Medieval Cities

Ben Pope (Manchester): Urban & Rural Elites as Integrated and Diverging Religious Groups in Late Medieval Upper Germany

Jon Keune (Michigan State): Diffuse, Multiple, and Overlapping: Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organizing in Nagpur

Joint Discussion (Introduction: Martina Stercken)

1 Serge Paugam, L'attachement social. Formes et fondements de la solidarité humaine, Paris 2023.

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