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Iconic Religion in Public Space (Part 2/2)

Panel Chair: Kim Knott | Thursday, August 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

In the second of two sessions we will continue to 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. The semiotic contribution of Peirce will be examined in relation to the attribution and generation of the ‘iconicity’ of religious objects. This will be followed by papers which investigate the geography, visibility and contestation of religious icons in diverse urban public spaces, and the discourses, representations and encounters they generate.

Volkhard Krech

Iconic Religion: Reflections on a Monistic Approach to Religious Phenomena

Religion is usually considered a special kind of socio-cultural reality based on certain meaningful concepts. On the other hand, religion always refers to sensual experience and physical matter. The paper argues that these are two sides of the same coin. There is no socially constructed religious meaning without relating to psychic, organic and physical processes. Applying the threefold semiotic approach of Charles Sanders Peirce, it will be suggested that cognitive, content-related, and material approaches find their synthesis in what might be called iconicity. Religious icons mediate between objects and their religiously meaningful representation. Religious meaning materializes in objects and their perception, while at the same time objects as religious ones enter the sphere of socio-cultural reality by being attributed with religious meaning. The paper draws special attention to the two directions of materialization and attribution within religious icons beyond the alternative of either idealism or materialism.

Hew Wai Weng

Sights and Sites of Inclusive Islam: Chinese-style Mosques in Urban Malaysia and Indonesia

Across cities in Malaysia and Indonesia, since 2000, there is a growing trend of building Chinese-style mosques. Viewing such mosques as both ‘sights’ and ‘sites’ of inclusive Islam, this paper discusses how and under what conditions Chinese Muslim organizations and Islamic authorities aesthetically and spatially promote Islam as an inclusive religion. By ‘sights’, I refer to the architectural design and aesthetic formation of such mosques (e.g. the use of the Chinese pagoda style). By ‘sites’, I refer to the social activities and spatial arrangements in the mosques (e.g. Chinese New Year celebrations). Symbolically, such mosques are sights that make Chinese Muslim cultural identity unequivocally ‘real’ and visible. Practically, such mosques are sites where Chinese Muslims practice and perform their identities. By mixing Chinese and Islamic elements, both ‘sights’ and ‘sites’ often overlap and interconnect to communicate a message to wider audiences that ‘there can be a Chinese way of being Muslim’.

Christopher Cotter

Seeing a Secular Space? Photo Elicitation and the Discourse on Religion in Edinburgh’s Southside

Since October 2012, I have been engaged in doctoral research into the discourses on religion in a particular locality within the City of Edinburgh, Scotland. This research is built on the argument that “non-religion”, “secularity”, and related categories, are best understood discursively, as relational categories implicated in particular societal discourses on “religion”, and that locality is a refreshing and appropriate container for engaging with such discourses. This paper begins by introducing my theoretical framework, my discursive and spatial methodology, and my data sources – including in-depth interviews with individuals from a variety of religious and non-religious identifications who consider themselves to have strong ties to Edinburgh’s Southside. The paper will then address a photo elicitation exercise conducted during these interviews to illustrate the contested and entangled discourses surrounding visual manifestations of “religion” in this locality, and their implications for conceptualizing religious/secular public/private space.

Irene Stengs

The Falling of an Icon: The Afterlife of the Anne Frank Tree, Amsterdam

This contribution will focus on the iconicity of the so-called ‘Anne Frank Tree’, the chestnut tree that stood in the garden behind the Secret Annexe where Anne Frank and her family were hiding during World War II. The tree derives its special, ‘sacred’ value from having been ‘touched by the eye’ of Anne Frank, who mentions its comforting presence in her diary. The tree fell in an August storm in 2010. Yet, as an instance of the social memory of the persecutions of Jews in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, and by implication of the Holocaust, doing away with the tree may be equated with doing away with the memory of the suffering of Anne Frank, her family, and all other Jews under the Nazi occupation. The paper discusses how the tree, as a matter of local and international concern and contestation, continues to live on in a multiplicity of forms and places, and constitutes a sacred geography.


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