This project intensifies the focus on urban spaces in Eastern Europe and aims to develop a new research perspective at the intersection of urban, diversity and religious studies. The complex interconnections between religious diversity and post-socialist cities remain largely unexplored. Urban spaces in the South Caucasus are a specific laboratory of cultural diversity, where the resurgence of visible religiosity and atheist lifestyles is felt to a similar degree in politics and everyday life. In the context of ethno-political conflicts, however, growing religious diversity and its manifestations pose a challenge to local administrations and everyday concepts of coexistence.
Based on selected case studies (the cities of Baku in Azerbaijan and Batumi in Georgia), the project seeks to investigate and compare patterns of religious pluralisation in the South Caucasus. Over the last two decades, new religious movements and practices – including charismatic churches and new ‘purist’ Muslim communities – have been observed alongside the established churches and mosques. In both countries, debates are emerging about the design, use and meaning of urban sacred spaces, which are experienced as contested spaces to varying degrees of intensity.
Different institutional parameters are indicative of the different values that guide the two countries in this area. Azerbaijan is in the process of replacing its moderate religious policy with a more restrictive approach, particularly towards Islam, and is pursuing a policy of multiculturalism as a top-down administrative tool. A different situation prevails in Georgia, where state elites share their power with the institutionally privileged Orthodox Church. The project investigates the development of new state-sponsored places of worship while also exploring informal, alternative religious practices and the appropriation of urban spaces. The main objective is to find out how the state regulates religion and religious diversity in terms of legal parameters and urban spatial structures in the conflict region South Caucasus, and to assess the extent to which religious practices and actors contribute to the transformation of urban spaces and the concepts of solidarity.
- How do local authorities regulate growing religious diversity in the cities of the South Caucasus in spatial and institutional terms?
- Under what conditions do urban spaces become sites of religious conflict?
- How do state restrictions affect religious activism and what new strategies and tactics are religious minorities developing to secure greater recognition?