Christianity, the City, and the Public Sphere, 1918–2000

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 2:30 PM
Grand Hall D (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Elayne Oliphant, New York University
This essay explores the significance of Christian architecture and symbols in the creation of urban public spheres in the capital cities of France, England, Italy, and the Netherlands. Sociologists of religion, such as David Martin, have described the 19th and 20thcenturies as periods in which Christianity was ‘de-territorialized’ in Europe. Numerous historians have described the ‘transfer’ of the sacred from sites of religious practice and devotion to the rituals and monuments of the state. Using the concept of the ‘visual economy,’ this essay works to rethink this unidirectional, teleological narrative so key to secularization theses of modernity. Instead, I look to how the distribution of the sacred and profane is shared between Christian spaces and those of the state, between monumental sites and more ‘vernacular’ spaces in London, Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam. Many worry that the multiple and remarkable Christian sites in these spaces are nothing more than spaces of ‘heritage,’ temples emptied of their enchanted significance in the present. By paying heed to how such spaces contribute to the creation of modern publics through the privileged and flexible space given to Christianity in the present, I will explore how Christian architecture and symbols continue as living and active sources of the sacred, both religious and secular. 
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