Cospatiality: Changing rules of double use, excluding, inviting, imagining

Organisers: Elisa Iori, Susanne Rau, Jörg Rüpke
11-13 November 2020, Erfurt

The 2020 annual conference of the research group Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations focused on phenomena of supposition and entanglement of spaces or their double use, in other words phenomena that we summarily call cospatiality

Urban space is characterised by multiple overlapping spaces, created by the imaginations and use of space and complicated by the movement of different people and groups. Religion offers an interesting lens into this phenomenon since it is as much a technique to mark out space by ritual usages, ephemeral or lasting sacralisations of space, as it is a cultural technique.

According to the geographer Jacques Lévy cospatialité is „une des interspatialités caractérisée par la mise en relation de deux espaces occupant la même étendue” (Lévy 2003, p. 213). Under purely Euclidean conditions, co-spatiality is essentially impossible. The concept, however, invites us to search for places or spaces that are used, viewed or interpreted by different groups, simultaneously or consecutively, for different purposes. The occupation of these spaces can thus be real or imagined. Sacred and profane uses of a place can coincide. An interesting question is also whether such double or parallel uses require regulation or whether they simply belong to the everyday practices of an urban society, internalised by inhabitants and tacitly picked up by visitors. Would cospatiality thus be a sign of urbanity? In cities as typical "machines of synchronisation and inclusion" (Nassehi) such phenomena are particularly frequent. The "milles plateaux" by Deleuze and Guattari could also provide theoretical input on the phenomenon of the overlapping or nesting of spaces.

Instead of focussing on already frequently examined sacred buildings or sacred spaces, the annual conference was interested in zooming in on the (primarily) non-sacred spaces in cities, which different groups, also religious ones, appropriate.

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Approaches from different disciplines were explicitly invited. When looking at religious activity beyond the confines of architecturally distinct sacred areas one of the main challenges, for instance of archaeology, is to track and to parse the material evidence of religious and ritual activity from daily, repetitive or occasionally practices connected to the different social groups using the place. This is not an easy process. However, ethnography and textual sources offer us so many examples of urban cospatiality in non-sacred spaces that we are invited to produce useful theoretical and methodological approaches for looking into this phenomenon. The monumental carved stepwells of Medieval India are an illustrative case in point: First serving urban communities as a main source of water, these places became charged with religious significance and were used for rituals and offerings. In practices as well as narratives they were shared by several religious and social groups, and especially by women. Other examples of urban cospatiality are offered by public areas and buildings of the caravan cities from China to the eastern Mediterranean area synchronically used by people from different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Yet even within a more domestic sphere, that is, in residential areas and city quarters associated with commercial and industrial activities from Sardis (Turkey) to Monte Albán (Mexico), evidence of recurrent ritual activities has been found.

The contributions highlighted specific points in time and were concerned with a topological analysis in the narrower sense. Contributions examining the sequential use, appropriation and production of complex urban spaces over time, and potential changes included, were especially invited. Thus, studies on the negotiations of different religious groups over public spaces or their competition were presupposed rather than invited; the focus instead rested on the consequences of long term multiple usages with regard to norms, imaginations, narratives and concepts of what it is to live in a city (= urbanity). Contributions were devoted to all historical epochs with a geographical focus on Europe, the Mediterranean and South Asia.

Elisa Iori, Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke

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