I would like to draw attention to three considerations that framed the Global Prayers project, all of which can be understood as knowledge processes. First, how does a research project relate to and interfere with its institutional bodies? Second, to what extend does it enable and stimulate a transgression of knowledge production? Third, how does it correlate to societal settings?
Institutional Settings as Modes of Knowledge Production: What is a Project Good For?
The Global Prayers project was supervised by a set of institutions: the project’s initiator, the metroZones Center for Urban Affairs, which engages critically with urban development; the arts and culture institution Haus der Kulturen der Welt; and two scientific bodies, the Europa Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder and the Forum Transregionale Studien, which have supported the research project over the course of four years.
These institutions mirror the research agenda of Global Prayers, to develop a multi-perspectival combination of scientific and artistic research methods. This approach is based on two underlying presuppositions. On the one hand, an interest in new forms of knowledge production, one that derives from an expanded understanding of research and encompasses scientific and artistic approaches as equally constitutive of their own epistemic practices; on the other hand, it takes up exploratory investigations “between knowing and not-knowing.”
But these continual and fragile movements, discoveries, and investigations of knowledge processes disturb the ordering systems according to which scholarly and artistic institutions are organized. Consequently, all bodies involved saw themselves forced to leave their settled frameworks and thus the assessment criteria of their specialist disciplines. They had to face different research approaches and different forms of presentation in order to reach an understanding of the fragmentary and brittle character of western modernity’s self-conception, the categories and images that have shaped us to this day. Emerging from this was the challenge to reconfigure the relationship between project and institution by reexamining the projects’ institutional categories and presuppositions.
How to Curate a Forum For a Research Project
I would like to extend these concerns with a related thought: How does knowledge become situated, embodied, and consequently related to social settings? And how can one translate a research approach into a spatial-temporal form that unfolds different modes of knowledge processes?
During the February 2012 Global Prayers conference, we chose to approach these questions by implementing a curatorial methodology. The challenge was to translate the Global Prayers research approach into a presentation form in which the engagement with concepts is replaced by actions—perceptual and cognitive. These actions materialized in a concrete spatial-temporal context. Questions concerning the interaction of space, action, and religion, in connection with critical questions concerning the staging of knowledge, formed our coordinates.
We agreed upon a format that would place artistic and academic contributions, as well as the interface between them, at its center. Connections between urban development and sacred practices were demonstrated on several levels through a variety of formats, including conversations, presentations, lectures, film screenings, performances, visual projections, and sound studies. We decided against a conference format, in which particular discursive spaces of knowledge are established in advance. Rather, the event itself was declared to be a research project: the proceedings were conceived as a platform for the generation of insights, spatial-temporal dramaturgies of interference were kept visible, and situations of disturbance and collision were welcomed.
Exhibited at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, the “global ingredients” of new religious movements and their media were temporarily installed in the rooms and extensive common spaces of the HKW’s modern architecture. The inventory of material displayed was directly linked to the sacred spaces in which participating artists and academics carried out their research. White monobloc chairs provided seating, and video-transmission equipment multiplied the presentations within the house, as they do at the meetings of many religious communities. The staged experience of space entangled with the objects of study, the discussions around them, and the chosen presentation formats.
Dramaturgies of Interference
The forum opened with a program consisting of audio and visual contributions, readings, and theoretical position papers by eleven academics and artists addressing the relationship between new religious movements and the transformation of urban spaces, buildings, and atmospheres. The urbanist Nezar AlSayyad, for example, provided insights into religious movements and their influence on the production of urban space, asking with regard to Cairo to whom the city belonged. The cultural scientist Marcia Pally, in turn, presented on New Evangelicals in New York, who advocate for more social justice in cities. And the artist Michaela Meise presented two German-language hymns from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—these hymns became part of the subjective experience of a contemporary artist, to which she gave form by presenting the hymns outside of their religious contexts, in reference to contemporary pop and lyrical traditions.
On the one hand, this program of miniatures created a situation that oscillated between religious and secular experiences. On the other hand, this particular mode of play unsettled categorical separations that have become inscribed in our thinking: research art, expert, amateur, audience. Creating situations that keep the viewer “in suspense” is a challenge for all the participating artists, academics, and visitors, because it remains in question whether a religious chant, a performance by a Muslim rapper, the screening of a Christian Nollywood film, or interviews with a Pentecostal pastor or liberation theologian are religious expressions. We brought rows of chairs, podiums, and projections of stained-glass windows together as elements and illustrated the assumptions often made to answer this question.
The research carried out in the context of Global Prayers makes it clear that urban, religious, artistic, or academic spaces are by no means distinct realities and truths, but are rather “actor-correlates”; it is thus the materiality of the act that constitutes and defines the object. Therefore the goal of the Forum was to bring to life the meaning of urban, religious, and economic routines of inclusion. Indeed, the Forum’s goal was to enable an understanding of the performance of acts. This necessitated placing forms of knowledge beside each other, without denoting them distinctly, so that routines—understood here etymologically as the experience and understanding of the diverse ways in which knowledge is produced—and fields could intersect.