The continuing debate over public religion and what has been called “post-secularity” in Europe and its relation to cities is gaining the attention of urban planners and scholars, according to University of Groningen geographer Justin Beaumont.
The growth of Islam and other immigrant religions, the rise of faith-based organizations partnering with welfare systems, and such issues as globalization and multiculturalism have been factors in “deprivatizing” religion for those concerned with urban regeneration. Beaumont, who presented his paper at a seminar at Columbia University in late April, noted that the “shift toward not only deploying but actively resourcing faith-based engagement in civil society, public policy, and public service delivery … is one of the most documented academic and policy areas within the past five years …. A key debate has therefore emerged in Europe and elsewhere with regard to the role of religion in the post-secular city as to whether religion has mutated from being a vanguard of social reform into uncritical provider of cheaper public services to hard to reach social groups within a ‘contract’ culture.”
Beaumont adds that the debate over the religious dimensions of multiculturalism, such as the role of Sharia law and the wearing of Islamic scarves; the new attention given to “global cities” as centers of “religio-secular” change; and the revival of language about virtue in public and urban life are behind much of the talk about “post-secularism.” Urban planners are now considering the “idea of the sacred as applied to the development of urban space and community development,” challenging the “modernist planning tradition, with its reliance on rational, scientific, technocratic … models of planning ….”
A new theme in urban geography is interested in asking moral questions (such as “what makes a good city?”), shifting the focus from purely economic and location issues. “Once the focus of this debate switches into the ethical domain, then clearly theologians and faith-based practitioners have much to contribute,” Beaumont says.