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Iconic Religion in Public Space (Part 1/2)

Panel Chair: Kim Knott | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m.

Within ongoing processes of pluralisation across Europe religious icons are becoming increasingly important. Religious icons mediate between religious concepts and objects and materialize religion in the public space. In this two session panel we will consider to what extent such icons, in the form of sacred buildings and sites, clothing, public events etc., generate social imaginaries about different religions and their co-existence. In what ways do they invoke or feed into debates about the place of religion in ‘secular’ public life, and the management of religious diversity? Do they stimulate positive or negative encounters? Examining religious icons in relation to the encounter between different religious traditions and between the religious and the secular, the panel will discuss how ‘iconicity’ is denoted or generated, the extent to which icons express or encapsulate encounter, and how icons may impact on and shape public space.

Birgit Meyer

Iconic Religion: An Introduction

In this first paper we introduce the HERA-Cultural Encounters project ‘Iconic Religion’. We use a broad notion of icon. It serves as a generic term for pictures as material expressions of mental images as well as for any natural or artificial object that is visually perceivable and communicable. Conceived as such, icons impact upon communication and action, and participate in the structuring of urban space, thus requiring an approach that combines material-aesthetic, spatial, and semiotic-communicative theories and methods. Religious icons materialize religions – making the invisible visible – and offer inducements for encounter, between different religious traditions and between the religious and the secular. They stimulate both affirmation and conflict, as case studies on Berlin, Amsterdam and London will amply show. Although there are no religious icons sui generis, iconic religion, in our understanding, crystalizes imaginaries about the world, beliefs, actions, and experiences, and is at the core of personal and collective identities.

Susanne Lanwerd

Investigating Berlin Sites

Visibility and invisibility are key elements in the history of the dynamics of religion. What about in contemporary society? This paper will focus on two Berlin case studies. (1) The House of One (“Bet- und Lehrhaus”) will be built in the near future. Led by the Protestant parish of St. Peter and supported by Jewish and Muslim partners, its goal is “a new kind of multi-faith center built not by a ‘neutral third party’ but rather by the cooperation of religious groups (2) The Fatih Camii in Berlin Kreuzberg is both a mosque and Kulturhaus. Outside it visitors get an impressive view of the neighbouring tower of Saint Marien/Liebfrauen, a Catholic church which offers space for Tamils as well as Polish Catholics, and which exists alongside the Protestant Tabor Community. I will analyze how local devotional or associational practices and objects forge transnational connections and support the visibility of religions.

Daan Beekers

Material conversions: Iconicity and the politics of re-allocated church buildings in Amsterdam

In this paper I argue that the re-allocation of church-buildings in Amsterdam can be understood as an iconic process, in which politicized discourses become linked to concrete materialities. The religious landscape of Amsterdam has been shaped by the decline of operative churches on the one hand and the arrival of new houses of worship on the other. These developments converge in the phenomenon of converted churches: church-buildings that are re-allocated into office space, housing, theaters, ‘migrant churches’ or mosques. Such material conversions are sources of heated controversy concerning the preservation of Christian heritage, the accommodation of diversity and anxieties about Islam. Indeed, converted churches can be seen to make these concerns concrete and palpable. I examine three cases of church conversion in Amsterdam: the conversion of a Reformed church into a Pentecostal ‘migrant church’, of another Reformed church into a mosque and of a Catholic church into a dance school.

Steph Berns

Bring Out Your Dead: The Role of Burials in the Making of Iconic Sites in London

This paper explores the role of human remains and the ways they mark the urban landscape within inner London. From a prostitute’s graveyard to the Southwark Martyrs, what is it about bodies that makes certain sites iconic? Iconicity is neither inherent nor permanent. It takes an ever-changing assembly of people and ‘things’ to replenish and rescript the pasts, presents and futures of particular sites. Burials lie at the root of many London landmarks, and provide spaces for individuals and communities to memorialise their loved ones. However, they require continuous vigils, offerings, guided tours, signage and legislation to maintain and defend their iconic status. Employing principles from assemblage theory and drawing on original fieldwork, I consider how these dynamic assemblages elicit different forms of encounter. In what ways do these encounters shape the locality and one another? How do these interactions connect and fracture relations between the living and the dead?


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