Over the last decades, new megacities and postcolonial metropolises have become a laboratories and locations for new religious movements that distance themselves from traditional religious communities. This shift has largely been ignored in urban studies; in thrall to outdated theories of modernization, it has commonly equated urban modernity with secularism. Against this background, the research project Global Prayers: Redemption and Liberation in the City investigated new manifestations of the religious in urban space and the influence of urban cultures on the religious. In making use of collaborations between art and science-based researchers, Global Prayers took a new approach to exploring the urban images and sounds, spaces and practices that the religious adopts in the age of globalization. It created trans-regional networks and advances interdisciplinary approaches.

Between April 2010 and March 2014, over 30 academics and artists from more than ten countries worked on case studies in major metropolises such as Istanbul, Beirut, Mumbai, Jakarta, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Berlin, Kinshasa, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico City. The research process was presented to the public through a number of forums and intervention pieces: on-location symposia and workshops in the metropolises provided an opportunity to gain a closer understanding of religious communities and their activities. The “global prayers saloons” provided a forum for discussion on the politics of knowledge. The results of the project’s art-based research were presented in the exhibitions The Urban Cultures of Global Prayers (Neue Gesell­schaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin, November 2011) and Speaking in Tongues, a video-installation by Aernaut Mik (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, December 2013). The Global Prayers Theme Days and the Global Prayers Congress, both of which took place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in February 2012 and in November 2013, included performance pieces, films, readings, and lectures, providing a platform for an exchange of ideas between international scholars, artists, and representatives of new religious formations. Scientific research was complemented by new artistic and documentary works.

Finally, the book Global Prayers: Contemporary Manifestations of the Religious in the City reflects the multidimensional research and representational approaches of the Global Prayers project. Its contributions were developed from knowledge gathered during the project, evolved through scientific case studies, artistic productions and public forums. The volume adopts a trans-disciplinary urban studies perspective to explore, on a global level, the urban constellations where new religious movements have been established.

On the one hand, the book examines the transformation processes in urban space and cultures, and the forms and formations of new religious communities, asking how religious groups—from churches to “Cities of God”—produce their own material spaces; how they generate specific forms of mobility between street parades and transnational diaspora networks; how they use visual and auditory media to mark urban spaces as religious; and how their religious, social and political involvement transforms urban neighborhoods and societies.

On the other hand, the book investigates the influence of the urban on religion. As dynamic and constantly re-negotiated ensembles of material, social, and symbolic spaces and constellations, cities generate specifically urban forms of religion. The city itself often becomes a core element in the aspirations of urban religions: as a hotbed of sin, needing to be cleansed via religious means; as a territory for missionary practices; as an imaginary “City of God.” In this context, the book investigates the global similarities and interlinking expressed in the growth of new urban religious communities and considers the locally specific characteristics of the cities investigated here. The book does not seek to elaborate overarching theories and concepts, but to influence a new conceptual setting that breaks open the assumption of religion and urbanity as mutually exclusive, which has been applied since the start of social science urban research. The intention is to create a conceptual, methodological and empirical basis for understanding and discussing the complexity of the contemporary interconnections between religion and the city, religiosity and urbanity beyond reductionist concepts.

The project “Global Prayers: Redemption and Liberation in the City” was initiated by metroZones–Center for Urban Affairs e. V. and is executed jointly by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Europa-Universität Viadrina, in collaboration with metroZones–Center for Urban Affairs e. V. It is a project of the Forum Transregionale Studien, which also provides significant funding. The project receives additional funding from the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung and the Goethe-Institut.

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