Urbanity: History, Concept, Uses

Conveners: Susanne Rau, Sara Keller; Organiser: Klara-Maeve O'Reilly

16-18 November, Weimar

From the concept note:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space. (Calvino, 1974, p. 165)

Just as Italo Calvino’s Marco Polo trusts human beings to develop “who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno,” we investigate how people in cities made life livable, how they gave it permanence and spatial form. For Calvino, cities are like dreams, because both are built of desires and fears. Wittingly or unwittingly, Calvino thus places himself in an older tradition of attempting to define the city: for a city consists not only of a collection of built structures but also of its dominant ways of life, as well as of the ideas, perceptions and aspirations of its inhabitants and visitors. With this thought, we are right in the midst of the topic of urbanity – and its different forms over time and place (Rau, 2020a).
Looking at the urban within a large geographical and historical framework, members of the research group “Religion and Urbanity” have observed a great diversity of urban life, both on a material level and on the level of the subjective experience (Rau & Rüpke, 2022). They have also noted the amplitude of factors contributing to the shaping of the urban, its changes and its varying perceptions: ecological factors and atmospheres are essential, as are monumental and changing sceneries, variable and multi layered spaces, ideas, aspirations and attitudes, as well as narratives and city images. Moreover, the subjective character of urbanity invites to name audiences and differentiate actors: the nature of urban experiences are shaped by the identity of individuals and groups, their ethnic, social and religious background, their dreams, agenda and values. A Christ believer in antique Ephesus, an abbot in the medieval German-speaking town of Kempten and a contemporary Shia Muslim community in Kolkata each would report differently about their urban experience. Thus, urbanity as a unique way of "being in the world" (Werlen, 2022) in the context of the city, can only be understood as a complex, intertwined and changing set of threads. To this set, religion contributes, just as being constantly informed by it.

The conference looks at the concept of urbanity and its possible variations. How do we live (together) in dense urban spaces? How has urbanity been defined so far, how can we contribute to better grasp and describe it? The first session of the conference – “Retrospectives”– looks back at the multiple definitions of urbanity by practices and concepts and in different regions and historical periods, as well as in the more recent historiography. Here, the aim is to recapitulate the reflections and theoretical tools identified in the research group’s discussions on urbanity on a larger scale (Rau, 2020b): We will return in particular to the concepts of heterarchy, cospatiality and spatialisation, keeping in mind the essential role of religion, or the reciprocal formation of religion and urbanity more generally. How useful are these concepts in grasping urbanity/urbanities? How can we enrich/improve this methodological resource?

Table of Contents

  • Typologising Cities: Historical and Systematic Reflections: Mara Albrecht, Judit Majorossy & Susanne Rau
  • Court Cities as an Urban Typology in Europe and South Asia, c. 1400-1700: Sara Keller & Martin Christ
  • Building, Dwelling, and Ritual Interactions: Urban Domestic Architecture and the Roman City: Annette Haug & Gil Klein
  • The Mutual Emergence of Religious Community Formation and Cultural Productio Associated with Urban Development in Early Modern Bengal and Punjab: Epsita Halder & Anne Murphy
  • Urbes non magnae: Macedoniam Cities and the Question of Urbanity: Marlis Arnhold
  • History and Memory in Urban Space: A Case Study from Varanasi: Supriya Chaudhuri
  • Angoulême: Constructing a Royal Connection in the Forgotten Periphery: Samuel Austin Collins
  • Imperial Funeraly and Concepts of Urbanities in Rome and Constantinople: Babett Edelmann-Singer
  • Living togetherThe Western Suburbs of an Islamic city: Urban and human Landscape in Madinat Qurtuba (Córdoba): Carmen Gonzalez Gutierréz
  • Mapping Imperial Privileges and Property Claims: Practicing Hanafi Law in Mughal Delhi's Suburban Agglomeration (c. 1680s): Naveen Kanalu
  • Participation, Deliberation and the Nature of Urbanity in North African Cities of the Ottoman Era: Nora Lafi
  • Contemporary Urbanity and Religious Sites: A View from Tel Aviv. Urban Religion, Decolonization and Grey Spacing: Nimrod Luz
  • Royal Funerals and Saint's Topography in Meovingian Paris: Jörg Oberste
  • Staging Urbanity in the Late Medieval City: the examples of Prague and Nuremberg: Zoe Opacic
  • Medieval Buda and its Agglomeration: Urban Pluralism and Religious Entanglements: Katalin Szende
  • Building Chennai's waterfronts: Global Models, Dreamed Projects, Ongoing Changes, and their Narratives: Laura Verdelli
  • Sanctuaries as Urban Timescapes in Hellenistic Asia Minor: Pergamon and the Askepieion: Christina Williamson


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