[URBANTH-L]CFP: Confronting Modernity: Religions and the Big City

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Thu Jul 7 15:34:37 EDT 2005

CFP: Confronting Modernity: Religions and the Big City

Main Session at the 8th International Conference on Urban History, Urban
Europe in Comparative Perspective Confronting Modernity: Religions and the
Big City

30th August - 2nd September, 2006, Sweden

In the course of modernization and urbanization in the 19th century,
religious groups have often been described as "victims" of socio-economical
and cultural processes which changed the shape of Europe's traditional
societies. The emergence of industrial centers, mass migration from rural
regions into the growing cities, and the dissolution of pre-modern forms of
social organisation have been interpreted as harbingers of a general
secularisation. Religious traditions and values seem to have "lost" in the
confrontation with modernity.

This is obviously too clear-cut a picture, and the proposed session would
like to encourage research and presentations which could help to get a more
detailed and complex view of this confrontation. The proposal tries to
bridge a gap between the traditional fields of research in Urban History and
other fields of interest and to introduce inter-disciplinary approaches by
integrating topics and research methods from Religious Studies, including
the growing field of Jewish Studies - which, at the same time, would profit
substantially from a closer co-operation with studies in urban history.
Moreover comparing the developments of religious groups in different
European cities might further help to get a more complex understanding of
religion in the wake of urbanization.

The interaction of urbanization and religion can be studied on many
different levels. An example from the field of Jewish Studies can illustrate
our point of access: When after 1815 Prussian reformers in formerly Polish
territories (Bromberg/Bydgoszcz) started to break down town walls - a
visible sign of modernisation - they unwittingly destroyed the eruvim, the
Sabbat borders of the orthodox Jewish communities. The following dispute
about the re-erection of the traditional "borders" gives insight into the
different space-related practices of religious communities and into the
changes of mentality Gottfried Korff has described as "internal
urbanization". How did urban planning and policy-making affect religious
groups in the cities, and what were their reactions? How did religious
practices and traditions influence the use of (urban) space? Examples for
the close relationship between religious affiliation and urban space can be
found with regard to Protestant or Catholic groups. 19Th-century-migrants to
the cities or new industrial centers often established themselves in streets
or areas where people from the same region or country and thus with the same
religious faith were living. As a result of migration, different traditions
within the same religious denomination came into contact (Polish and
 "German" Catholics in the Ruhr area, West and East European Jews). Did they
use the same places? Did they quarrel about the form of their religious
practices in public? Studies concerning these questions as well as papers
with comparative approach to the relationship of settlement and religion
would be most welcome.

Secondly, whereas religious traditions and institutions in general seem to
be endangered in the course of urbanization, a kind of religious revival in-
and outside the churches and established religious groups was an apparently
concomitant phenomenon. Charismatic figures like the German-American
Friedrich von Schlümbach in the 1880s or Billy Sunday, one of the first
American radio preachers of the 1920s, mobilised thousands during their
sermons in the big cities. Processions and pilgrimages gained increasing
importance at about 1900. At the same time, new religious groups like the
Salvation Army, the Pentecostalism and other forms of religious "excitement"
emerged in various European countries as well as in the United States and
were deeply rooted in the urban centers. Often, these phenomena were
interpreted as an expression of backwardness directed against "modern" urban
life. But were these phenomena in themselves not part of the "modern" urban
life, using forms of communication specific to the urban culture? Did they
not help to accept or at least to bear the challenges of urbanization?
Apparently, more empirical research will be needed to help us understand the
wide range of different cultural and mental reactions toward urbanization.

A third field of study can be found in the work of religious agencies in the
big cities which covered a wide range of activities directed toward the
"classes dangereuses" in the urban centres. Among these were city and night
missions, settlement houses like Toynbee Hall in London and travellers' aid
societies to name but a few. These activities have been analysed in the
framework of ideological strategies as forms of social discipline, but this
interpretation follows an obviously one-sided and narrow notion. Too little
research has been done in order to get a clearer picture of the practices,
the inner organisation and function of this kind of urban welfare work.

Dr. des. Bettina Hitzer
Bielefeld University
Dept. of History
P.O.Box 100 131
D-33501 Bielefeld
bhitzer at uni-bielefeld.de

PD Dr. Joachim Schlör
Potsdam University
P.O. Box 60 15 53
D.14415 Potsdam

Email: schloer at rz.uni-potsdam.de

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