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(Re-)placing the City: Sacralizing Migrant Materialities

(Re-)placing the City: Sacralizing Migrant Materialities
Croft Chapter House, University College
Time: Apr 12th, 9:30 am End: Apr 13th, 5:00 pm
Interest Categories: Visual Studies (UTM), Urban, South Asian, Sociology (FAS), Religion, Study of (FAS), Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations (FAS), Latin American, Information, Faculty of, Geography & Planning (FAS), East Asian Studies (FAS), Diaspora/Transnational, Cities and Humanities, Caribbean, Art (FAS), Anthropology (UTM), Anthropology (FAS), African, 2000-, 1950-2000
Interdisciplinary workshop and art exhibition about religion, migration, and cities

The Jackman Humanities Institute Program for the Arts on Location/Dislocation is pleased to present:

(Re-)placing the City: Sacralizing Migrant Materialities

April 12 and 13, 9.30-5.00
Croft Chapter House, University College, Toronto (see below for maps)
This event and the associated art exhibition are free and open to the public. No registration is required.

Our workshop aims to explore three, interrelated questions relating to religion, migration and cities as overlapping spaces of articulation and de-articulation. We investigate ritualized action carried out by migrants in establishing sacralized spaces, but also ask how urban spaces frame more diffuse forms of (re-)enchanted action, intersecting with diverse migrant temporalities and transnational locations. We bring scholars based in Canada, the US and Europe and from anthropology, sociology, religious studies, geography, architecture, and political science to present papers on these issues.
Simon Coleman (Religion) and Valentina Napolitano (Anthropology), University of Toronto

Thursday 12 April

9.15-9.30 – Welcome and Opening Remarks

Session One

The Subject of Prevention:  Security, Salvation, and Sponsorship in the Americas
        Kevin O’Neill, Religion/Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a faith-based 501(c)(3) facilitates a child sponsorship program that connects upwardly mobile North American Protestants with at-risk children in one of postwar Guatemala City’s most structurally violent neighborhoods: La Limonada. Pitched in the name of gang prevention, child sponsorship helps create a context in which these Guatemalan kids might choose God over gangs. Based on fieldwork in North Carolina and in Guatemala, with both sponsors and the sponsored, this article explores ethnographically how child sponsorship makes the work of gang prevention indistinguishable from the work of self-cultivation. It is an ethnographic approach attuned to what this article understands as the subject of prevention, that is the individual imagined and acted upon by the imperative to prevent. This includes the at-risk youth, in all his racialized otherness, but also (and increasingly so) North American Protestants who self-consciously craft their subjectivities through their participation in gang prevention. The subject of prevention’s observable outcome is a new kind of segregation with its own spatial logic. For the practice of Protestant prevention ultimately produces an observable kind of inequality, a visible kind of violence, that says something about the surgically selective nature of Central American security today. Some Guatemalan youth connect with upwardly mobile North Americans. Others get left behind.

9.55-10.20    Taking Back Dagenham: Ghanaian Pentecostals in London and Spiritual Warfare
        Girish Daswani, Anthropology, University of Toronto

Cities, such as London, are permeated with the ethical practices and prayer performances of African Pentecostals who migrate there for a better life. These same Christians, who are generally described in the British media through negative associations to witchcraft and ritual killings, struggle to replace the moral decay they find within London with an ethics of positive Christian transformation. In this paper I look at how forces invisible to the ordinary eye become sites of spiritual warfare and ideological contestation of this struggle to extend their influence and take back their lives in an economy that marginalizes them and in a city possessed by demons.

10.20-10.30    Discussant’s Comments: Simon Coleman, University of Toronto
10.30-11.00    General Discussion

11.00-11.15    Tea/Coffee Break

Session Two
11.15-11.40    Global Migration, the Sacralization of Urban Space and National Memories: Reflections from the European Region
        John Eade, University of Roehampton and Migration Research Unit, University College, London

After the Second World War, Western Europe moved from being an area of emigration to becoming a magnet for immigration. This change in global migration impacted particularly on Western European cities and increasing cultural diversity was expressed in new forms of sacralized space, e.g. mosques, temples, gurudwaras and Pentecostal churches. These changes did not go uncontested and the resistance to attempts to develop new forms of sacralized space such as the ban on purpose-built mosques in Switzerland is only the most dramatic expression of such resistance. Among the elements at work in such resistance is the influence of nationalism, especially beliefs about collective memory and the ways such memory changes in globalizing conditions. This paper will explore these connected developments by focussing not only on particular Western European countries but also the changes brought about through the expansion of the European Union since 2004. I will focus here on the ways in which religious diversity has become embroiled in debates about a supra-national European identity and how these have again been worked out in urban conditions.

11.40-12.05     Diasporic Urbanism: Concepts, Agencies and ‘Mapping Otherwise’
        Nishat Awan, Technische Universität Berlin

The term “diasporic urbanism” addresses the difficulties of operating with diasporic space and of accommodating the material complexities of migrant lives. It proposes displacement and reterritorializations as methodologies and “mapping otherwise” as a tool for representing and working with migrant spatialities. Diasporic space is theorized as a relational space that connects topologically across distances and temporalities (Deleuze, Grosz), whilst diasporic subjectivity is described as “nomadic consciousness” (Bradidotti) and performed through subversive modes such as “mimicry” (Bhabha). The politics of the diaspora are addressed through the need to accommodate conflict (Mouffe) and through introducing “things” and “matters of concern” (Latour) into the democratic relationship.
     These concepts were elaborated upon and tested in practice through my research, which focuses on localized examples of diasporic agencies in the everyday. From the domesticated interiors of Turkish and Kurdish social clubs (kahve) that are highly gendered (male) spaces, to the public-ness of a street whose physicality forces a certain visibility on to those who traverse it (and which also makes it an ideal space of protest), to a park in East London that through being claimed by one diasporic group has come to symbolize wider notions of political representation. The mapping of these particular spaces has addressed the question: Within the networked, global condition of the migrant, what objects, subjects and processes can play the role of mediation and
translation that is required between “here and there”, or between the layers of this multiple subject? This has been achieved through a politics of “mapping otherwise” that includes the lingual, gestural and embodied, as well as the more standard modes of mapping.
     The need for such approaches is apparent in the increasing diversity and segregation of European cities. The everyday geographies of people’s lives can easily lose themselves in the enormity of the questions and the complexities of the issues surrounding migration. Yet, it is exactly the specificity of individual lives, the way that geo-political borders and territories inscribe themselves onto the intimate topology of migrant and diasporic bodies, half-here and half-there, that is so difficult to account for. This then is the challenge set down for “diasporic urbanism”: How to make the conditions necessary for those other than the privileged to participate in the imagining of our cities, and how to do this in the context of increasing heterogeneity, where there are inevitable dislocations between these different imaginings.

12.05-12.15    Discussant’s Comments: Valentina Napolitano, University of Toronto

12.15-12.45    General Discussion

12.45-1.45      Lunch

Session Three
1.45-2.10    Re-imagining the Religious Past in the City of Antakya
        Secil Dagtas, Anthropology, University of Toronto

According to the Alawis in southern Turkey, the followers of a syncretic version of Islam that mixes Shi’a, pagan, gnostic and Christian elements, God reveals himself through a trinity of the meaning (mana), the name or logos (isim) and the gate/door (bab). This presentation juxtaposes the theological meanings of the gate metaphor in Alawism with the materiality of the archways in Antakya, a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious city near Turkey’s border with Syria. In so doing, it aims to capture the historically shifting meanings of the various religious symbols engraved on these archways. As the thresholds (or interfaces) between the outer domain and the privacy of the houses and the courtyards, these archways have symbols that express the religious affiliation of the former owners of these houses who emigrated in the making of national borders between Turkey and Syria, or announce the journeys of pilgrimage to the Kaaba. In its embracement of different religious traditions existent in Antakya, the metaphors of the door in Alawi theology demarcate the conditions of possibility for contemporary state discourses of inter-religious dialogue in Turkey to convert the visual memory of these past journeys of migration and pilgrimage into a nationalist narrative of tolerant coexistence.

2.10-2.35     'The Last Big Blast': Mapping the Spiritual, Imperial City
        Pamela Klassen, Religion, University of Toronto

2.35-2.45    Discussant’s Comments:  Donna Young, University of Toronto

2.45-3.15    General Discussion

3.15-3.30    Tea/Coffee Break

Session Four
3.30-3.55    The Gospel in the Sacred Groves: Negotiating Tribe and Religion in Northeast India
        Glen Chua, Anthropology, University of Toronto

The supposedly secular state of India is known for being host to a variety of religions, each laying claim to their own sacred spaces and practices. Still, Christianity in particular has come to be popularly viewed as antithetical to national integration and the nation-building project, as represented by such Hindu nationalist groups as the Rashriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Based on recent fieldwork in Meghalaya, this paper looks at India’s heavily missionized Northeast to examine the ways in which migration from neighbouring nations, in addition to the continued influx of non-tribal populations from India’s mainland states, raises issues of cultural encroachment and religious threat for tribal Christian communities as a greater non-Christian presence is established. Analysis of a Baptist church community in Meghalaya’s capital explores how a re-emerging call to evangelization foregrounds the anxiety over, and mobilized efforts to address, alternate epistemologies of what it means to be tribal, Christian, and Indian.

3.55-4.20    War, Remembrance and Symbolic Space: The Annual Volkstrauertag Ceremony in Kitchener, Ontario
        Jason F. Kovacs, Geography, Nipissing University

Few place-names can be more synonymous with British imperialism than Kitchener. At the height of World War I jingoism, it was imposed on the city of Berlin, Ontario, as the place name of Canada’s “German capital” offended Canadian sensitivities. Nearly a century later, a different model of Canadian identity has a remarkable counterpoint to these earlier sentiments: the public acceptance of an annual remembrance ceremony in Kitchener to the German dead of World Wars I and II. This paper examines the origins of, and evolving narrative that surrounds the annual Volkstrauertag (German “day of national mourning”) ceremony, which is held on the cemetery grounds where the remains of all German POWs who died in internment camps across Canada during the world wars were reburied in 1969.

4.20-4.30    Discussant’s Comments: Victor Rivas, University of Toronto

4.30-5.0    General Discussion

Friday, April 13

Session Five
9.30-9.55    Violence and Sanctification: The Politico-Theological Imagination on a Brazilian Frontier
        Ashley Lebner, Anthropology, University of Toronto

It may be a truism to say that Christianity establishes a meaningful relationship between violent death and the ‘sacred’ – the realm of the supernatural divine. And yet, it is less-often discussed how sites of violence, where dislocations of human action and materiality occur, help produce an ambivalent view of political theology; an uncertainty, that is, as to whether or how the material socio-political world reveals divine will. These reflections are developed around ethnography of a pilgrimage that began in 1980, in the wake of a murder of two little girls at the edge of a new frontier town in Brazilian Amazonia. Then as now, the town and the pilgrimage attract migrants who overwhelmingly espouse a Christianity that is shaped in the interstices of Catholic, Spiritist and Pentecostal orthodoxies. The pilgrimage was initially fostered by the then-liberationist Catholic Church to protest of frontier violence and thus enact a critical political theology. In contrast, now the girls are revered as miracle-performing saints, whose purity was heightened by their violent deaths. This contrasts with liberationist aims, while it resonates with conventional Christian concerns. And yet, discussions with devout comparing the saints to other victims of violence, reveals an uncertainty as to whether divine or diabolical agency is ‘behind’ violence.  Beyond describing religious life on the frontier then – and putting into question the extent to which we can separate the ‘urban’ from the ‘rural’ on the frontier – the ethnography engages an issue in Christianity generally: violence seems to be a point through which the possibility of political theology is interrogated, even though it may be re-affirmed in this Christian context and beyond.

9.55-10.20    Religion, Urban Space and the Politics of Diaspora Engagement among Congolese in the Global City (with film)
        David Garbin, Sociology, University of Kent

December 2011 - 10 Downing Street, Whitehall, London. Blocking the dense traffic, a large group of Congolese women are kneeling around a Congolese flag lying flat on the road in front the residence of the British Prime Minister, which is protected by fences and rows of riot police. Many women are praying intensely, in Lingala or in tongues, some with tears running down their faces, raising their eyes and hands towards the sky, imploring God to intercede for the sake of “their land” (mboka na biso). We are just a few days away from the results of the Congolese elections being made public, elections which many in the diaspora hope will bring change in this nation both “blessed” by its fantastic mineral riches and “cursed” by years of plundering and exploitation by neighbouring countries and Western multinational corporations. Soon, these women are joined by groups of Congolese activists expressing their rejection of the current Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, the head of a government accused of reproducing the “kleptocratic” logic of the 30-year long Mobutu regime. The demonstration had been organized by influential UK-based Congolese Pentecostal pastors and their wives (the “first ladies”) in order to mobilize women, often considered as les moteurs spirituels (“the spiritual engines”).
     This temporary sacralization of a secular and highly symbolic place in the centre of the “Global City”, through prayer and invocation, is a striking reminder of the powerful role that spiritual and religious agency can play in the “politics of home” among diasporic communities. In this paper, I wish to explore the relationship between religion and the politics of home and diaspora belongings among Congolese in London. What forms of citizenship are produced by the intersection of religiosity, ethnicity and diaspora? How are these processes played out within the urban landscape? To what extent do they relate to territorial and symbolic dialectics of centre/periphery, visibility/invisibility, presence/absence in the diaspora context?
     I draw on several years of research among Congolese as part of two major projects: the “Religious of Lives of Migrants and Minorities” project (Funded by Ford and the SSRC) and a large FP7 European project PIDOP exploring political participation and civic engagement among minorities in 9 European countries during which focus groups with second generation Congolese and interviews with church and youth leaders were conducted.

        10.20-10.30    Discussant’s Comments: Thomas Reynolds, University of Toronto

10.30-11.00    General Discussion

11.00-11.15    Tea/Coffee Break

Session Six   
11.15-11.40    Spiritual Warfare and the African City
        Ruth Marshall, Religion and Political Science, University of Toronto

11.40-12.05    Staging the Great Commission: Exorcism, Media, and Place-Making in Brazilian Neo-Pentecostalism
        Manuel A. Vásquez, Religion, University of Florida

According to Jean Baudrillard, late modernity is characterized by the “omnipotence of simulacra,” which act as “deterrents” to any attempts to point to the real, to have unmediated access to materiality and experience. In this paper, I will argue that while Brazilian Neo-Pentecostalism relies heavily on electronically-mediated hyper-reality, particularly on the staging of spectacular exorcisms of the Devil and his minions, it does so as a strategy to heighten the urgency, power, and immediacy of the pneumatic experience of conversion and salvation. This experience is material, i.e., intensely embodied and emplaced. It entails the articulation of disciplined bodies, as well as the carving out of visible heterotopias, the conquering of spaces of redemption in the midst of urban spaces perceived as depraved, as ravaged by invisible demonic forces. In turn, electronically-mediated, mission-driven pneumatic embodiment and emplacement dovetail with Latin American immigrants’ struggles to create “spaces of hope” in the U.S’s increasing hostile, anti-immigrant climate.

12.05-12.15    Discussant’s Comments: Joshua Barker, University of Toronto

12.15-12.45    General Discussion

12.45-1.45    Lunch

Session Seven
1.45-2.10    An Ethnologist Collaborates with an Artist
        Mac Graham, Anthropology, University of Toronto

2.10-2.35    Beyond Buildings and Bodies: A United Church Congregation’s Journey to Trans-Inclusion
        Laurel Zwissler, Religion, University of Toronto

This paper grows out of a larger study on women in Toronto, Canada, who identify as political activists with religious affiliation. I focus here on a United Church congregation, which I call Clearwater. During my fieldwork with them, two seemingly unconnected stories were often recounted. The first involves selling their building and donating the money to charity. The second involves their transformation from a congregation unengaged with LGBTQ issues into a Trans-positive church, an evolution which began with the discovery of the pastor that, to her surprise and delight, she and a female member of the congregation had fallen in love. Here I investigate ways that stories of these two events are interwoven within the community and consider their status as foundational narratives attesting to the congregation's everyday practice of the kinds of progressive political and economic policies they advocate for others.

2.35-2.45    Discussant’s Comments: Edward Swenson, University of Toronto

2.45-3.15    General Discussion

3.30-4.00    Tea/Coffee and Travel to Manifesto

4.00-5.00    Presentations on Art and Ethnography Project, Mac Graham, Anthropology, University of Toronto, and Fabrizio Bianchini, artist, and viewing of exhibition, followed by closing discussion

An exhibition featuring the work of Italian artist and current resident of Toronto Fabrizio Bianchini on themes relating to the conference is also being staged at Manifesto Community Projects, 37 Bulwer St., Toronto, from 12th to 17th of April, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. each day. We will visit the exhibition and discuss Fabrizio’s collaboration with ethnographer Mac Graham during the conference. Fabrizio and Mac collaborated on-site with Italian, Caribbean and Tamil communities based in Toronto. The exhibition will be an installation of paintings and sounds.

Download flyer [pdf]

Map of University College [pdf]

Map of University College with directions to Croft Chapter House [pdf]

Exhibition website

We thank the following institutions from the University of Toronto for their support:

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