The Urbanizing Faith

by Administrator, September 6, 2014

Led by Professor AbdouMaliq Simone

Urbanizing Faith is a multicity research program that examines the conjunction of religious faith and urbanization through considering:
• The ways in which the changing spatialization and sociability of urban life is navigated through religious practices and propositions, which serve as vehicles of contestation, consolidation, and coherence. How religious expression and organization contribute to specificities of distinct urban systems, and how they institute both social-spatial divides and improbable affiliations.

• The role of faith-based institutions in the cultivating improvisations of pathways for young people to secure life and livelihood for themselves. The conditions under which faith-based practices become urban practices, working towards the future, and how they materialize as concepts and capacities to learn how to function collectively, when the terms of affiliation are not prescribed. Here, improvisations of pathways are ways to acquire literacy in a changing urban world: for literacy to read the urban, to understand the rules of the various games played in the urban context, to adjust and adapt to new grammars, to find connections and use them for new, only emerging purposes require a mixture of faith and trust or distrust, of public familiarity, and of courage and creativity.

• The ways in which religious faith is expressed as an inter-mixing of different forces, capabilities, inclinations, styles, and opportunities that stretch and constrain what it is possible to do for residents of any given background or status. That no matter what formal structures, stories, powers, or institutions come to bear on what take place, no matter how they leave their mark, that there is a constant process of encountering, pushing and pulling, wheeling and dealing, caring for and undermining that tends to keep most everyone “in play”—able to manoeuvre and pursue. That this intermixing is neither clearly virtuous or destructive, and entails shifting attention away from the predominance of human inhabitation as the centering node of urban development or sustainability toward ways of valuing the multiplicity of encounters possible in urban contexts.

• The ways in which intensive and extensive processes of urbanization at a planetary scale engender orientations to the present and future that act like faith, and where, problematically, urban living increasingly requires a faith in urbanity, in its redemptive powers to overcome impediments of all kinds and produce new human and material capacities.

The Urbanizing Faith program consists of several discrete yet interrelated projects. Each project emphasises different aspects of the thematic focus of the program and seek to embody different scales, sectors and methodologies of work. These projects include:

1. A research partnership with the Department of Regional and Urban Sociology Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, The Rujak Centre for Urban Studies (Jakarta), the Hyderabad Urban Lab (Hyderabad, India), and the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Abidjan).
The project conducts systematic in-depth interviews of a cross-section of youth of various religious backgrounds in cities of intensely heterogeneous populations. It focuses on ways residents learn how to operate as collective relationships in the city. How relationships among residents, materials, techniques, and spaces make up specific modalities of urban existence; how residents live through these relationships as a means of assembling livelihood; how they figure relationships as a means of producing information-rich environments and instruments of experimentation.

Life in the city has become fundamentally uncertain especially for young people, who are the ongoing future residents of our cities. From Jakarta to Berlin, from Hyderabad to Abidjan and Sao Paulo, young people must design their life projects under the influence of economic crisis and restructuring and cannot assume that they will escape their parents’ poverty, retain their parents’ wealth, or will be able to reproduce their parents’ cultural capital. The project studies the ways in which youth in both the Global South and Global North create pathways to their futures, both as conscious attempts to get somewhere as well as by grabbing opportunities as they present themselves. They have to learn how to use the city, how to take risks and invest in it; and they must have some faith in the city and believe that they can do something with it. A key component of this process of learning involves faith-based institutions. They provide moral orientations, organize interactions and provide stages for voicing, e.g. for practices to make oneself heard, especially collectively.

How do young people envision the future of their city? Where do they define their own role as agents to make that city and how do they engage in some sort of collective urban action? The future might be anticipated and worked toward, or else it could be the thing that happens to begin after each present moment. Still, we aim to discuss how young people measure their involvement in terms of bigger urban goals, moving from their practices of just the city to a faith in a just city. Faith is what both the city and religion can’t do without; both urban and religious faith then come with a set of practices that transcend individual immediate interest.