Towards Urbanism – Ritualizations and the Growth of Settlements

Organisers: Christopher Smith, Asuman Lätzer-Lasar, Jörg Rüpke
12-14 June 2019, Erfurt

Original Call for Papers 2019 “Towards Urbanism: Ritualizations and the growth of settlements (Late Bronze Age to Archaic period, Mediterranean basin)"

co-organised by the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, Erfurt, and Ancient History, University of St Andrews

Religion has affected dramatic developments in the history of cities such as foundations, waves of immigration, transformations, (re-) ghettoization and genocide, as well as much less dramatic changes in patterns of settlements, urban life styles and images about one’s own and ideal cities. Rituals have shaped shared spaces and seclusion and the very notion of ‘public’ or ‘city’ has at times been defined by religious phenomena. Vice versa, the spatial, social, and political setting of cities small or large have influenced, if not decisively shaped rituals, conceptions of ‘gods’, location, accessibility and division of labour, the location and ontology of ancestors and how to relate to them (and other ‘spiritis’, ‘demons’ or ‘semi-gods’ or just ‘powers’) and the very notion of ‘religion’ and how to live one’s life in the face of the gods.

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Our research project on ‘Religion and Urbanity’ intends to tackle these aspects of mutual formation by bringing together historical and contemporary research (in particular across Europe and Asia) with regard to three questions: What role has religion, that is above all, ritualisation, played in urbanization, how has urbanity changed religion, and how do they continually influence one another? In this conference we wish to focus on the transformative phase from growing settlements to incipient towns in a specific space and period. Across the Mediterranean basin, the transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age is characterised by reshaping of the environment, new social and economic relations, and shifting political formations. At this critical juncture, which some have termed proto-historic or proto-urban, what was the role of religion? How can one answer such a question without written sources or reliable literary evidence?

One way is to look at the material traces of religious activity through ritualization, with a close focus on a lived religion methodology, that is, analysing religion not as fixed rule-base system, but as a ‘special’ way to act in different contexts. We take ritualization to be the most visible (and traceable) way of actors to produce this ‘special’ character, keeping in mind that it is the imagined addressees, from ancestors to ‘gods’ that inform the actors’ strategies.

We envisage the following topics to be treated:

  • Ritualization and communication
    How might ritualization have supported communicative action within growing settlements?
  • Ritualization and foundation
    What is the evidence for the role of ritual in foundations of settlements?
  • Ritualization and extensions of power
    Can we see ritualization working to extend power over space?
  • Ritualization of offices/roles
    What is the evidence for ritual roles? How does this map on to gender?
  • Ritualization and economy
    In what ways can we see a relationship between ritualization and the economy?
  • House society
    One model which has recently been suggested for this period is that of house societies – might this be a helpful way forward? And how might it relate to ritualization?
  • Local versus external – contribution to wider debate on orientalising/colonizing
    Can ritualization get us beyond debates about exogenous/endogenous developments?
  • Ritualization and urbanity
    In what ways did the move towards urban form facilitate or preclude specific forms of ritualization?
  • Ritualization as a spatial practice
    How did ritualization shape growing settlements by creating ephemeral or permanent focal points in the centre, on the borders or in the periphery? How did multifocality relate to urban agglomeration?

Christopher Smith – Asuman Lätzer-Lasar – Jörg Rüpke

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