Main Session at the 8th International Conference on Urban History
Urban Europe in Comparative Perspective
Stockholm, 30th August - 2nd September, 2006
Confronting Modernity: Religions and the Big City
Call for Papers
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
Dept. of History
P.O.Box 100 131
PD Dr. Joachim Schlör
P.O. Box 60 15 53
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