(Social): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

Religious communities exercised through their ideas and practices a profound influence on cities and urban life in Europe in the 20th century. Similarly, processes of urbanization affected religion as they created space for religion to develop new ideas and different social forms. Thus, we intend to analyze how religion and the city impinged on each other throughout the 20th century.

There is still little historical research on how precisely religious changes (particularly secularization and de-churching) and processes of urbanization influenced each other in the 20th century. For, secularization did not lead to the disappearance of religious forms of communalization, and religious actors did not cease to interpret and shape the city and urban life. Rather, religious communities always actively participated (and, indeed, still participate) in urban modernity. In other words, it is important to emphasize that religion and the city had a profound effect on each other in how they developed throughout the 20th century.

Thus, our session examines how the commitment, ideas and practices of religious actors shaped urban societies. Concurrently, we investigate how religion or religious communities themselves changed when faced with urban upheaval since this upheaval created space for religious innovation, for new theological and pastoral ideas, and for different religious social forms. We therefore analyze the relationship between religion and urban modernity: their complex processes of entanglement, disentanglement, and interaction.

In particular, we focus on how religious actors became involved in political and social conflicts, and how they helped to interpret, solve, overcome or intensify these conflicts. For, cities appear to us to be the central points of crystallization at which social disputes are located and become particularly prominent. Accordingly, we examine how churches and religious communities responded to the challenges arising from urban and industrial upheavals in the 20th century, and what skills religious actors drew upon to play an active role in urban modernity. In particular, we will consider here the conflicts arising from urban segregation, de-industrialization, altered urban design and planning, the loosening of rigid socio-cultural milieus, changing values, as well as growing plurality and denominational mix.

  • Spokesperson: Sarah Thieme, University of Münster
  • Co-organizer(s): Klaus Große Kracht, University of Münster
  • Keywords: Secularization | Cities in the 20th century | Religion and politics
  • Time period: Contemporary period
  • Topic(s): Social | Political
  • Study area: Europe