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'Governing Religious Diversity in Cities', by Dr Julia Martínez-Ariño

24 April 2020

Dr Julia Martínez-Ariño is Assistant Professor of Sociology of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen and is the editor of the recently published Governing Religious Diversity in Cities. Critical Perspectives (Routledge 2020). This collection of articles addresses the question of how cities govern and regulate religious diversity.

Focus on governance processes

Martínez-Ariño: ‘This collective publication aims to contribute to the expanding field of research on religious diversity in cities by offering a variety of studies that closely examine governance processes in cities, the accompanying policy instruments, the actor constellations involved and the resulting regulatory frameworks and normative categories. Unlike previous undertakings in this area, this collection focuses on governance processes rather than the religious practices themselves. In other words, the emphasis is on the interaction between state and non-state actors and the regulations of religion that emerge from them. This collection starts by examining evidence from previous research suggesting that urban religious landscapes are diversifying and that this diversification is often accompanied by a variety of challenges and controversies involving state intervention.’

Wide variety of topics

The book consists of eight chapters by different authors, all of them academic researchers who study the governance of religion in urban contexts. Martínez-Ariño is the editor of the publication and the author of the introduction and of chapter 4.. Martínez-Ariño: ‘This collection includes numerous case studies from cities in various European countries as well as in Canada. Its main goals are: 1) to take stock of current research on the municipal governance of religious diversity; 2) to put forward new concepts and empirical analyses to enhance this field of study; and 3) to identify potential lines for future enquiry to help the field move forward. The contributions cover a wide variety of topics, including the role of laws, state contracts and urbanism in governing religious diversity, comparisons between diverging governance trajectories in various cities within one country, e.g. the Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona, and controversies surrounding the celebration of religious events in urban spaces, such as the controversy generated around the organization of an International Day of Yoga in the city of Vancouver.’

‘Acceptable’ religiosity?

‘My own chapter analyses how three French cities (Rennes, Bordeaux and Toulouse) deal with religious diversity. In particular, I examine the policy measures taken at the municipal level to deal with the religiously diverse populations in these cities regarding matters such as places of worship, cemeteries, school canteens, religious symbols, use of public spaces for religious celebrations, etc. More specifically, I examine three municipal fora set up by these municipalities to regulate religious diversity, in particular Islam,’ explains Martínez-Ariño. ‘These consultation bodies bring together municipal politicians and civil servants, religious representatives, members of other civil society organizations, such as cultural and atheist associations or NGOs, and university experts. In these meetings, people discuss what advice to give municipal governments when it comes to regulating issues such as: Can a municipal gardener pray in the street while wearing a municipal uniform? Can a school canteen offer halal or kosher food? Should sports coaches be allowed to wear religious symbols when coaching children? What is interesting is that these consultative bodies produce ideas on what is “acceptable” religiosity, that is, which practices are deemed “appropriate” and which are not. It also reveals that these bodies often function as a space for establishing under what conditions Islamic religious practices in particular are deemed acceptable. This is interesting because it shows that despite a very strong discourse of laïcité in the French public sphere, in practice, state secularism is actually negotiated and enacted in a multitude of ways.’

Current research

Dr Martínez-Ariño, could you tell us a little about your current research and role at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies? ‘I was appointed Assistant Professor of Sociology of Religion at the University of Groningen in March 2017 and I teach classes on the sociology of religion, research methods and religious diversity. I am also the coordinator of the Religion and Cities research cluster of the Centre for Religion, Conflict and Globalization. I specialize in the sociological study of religion. This means that my interests lie at the crossroads of religion, society and politics. I am interested in how religion shapes and is in turn shaped by society and politics.

My most recent project deals with the topic of apostasy. In particular, I am analysing the narratives of people who decided to formally leave the Catholic Church (which entails asking for their personal details to be removed from the Church’s archives) in Spain and Argentina. I am interested in their motivations and justifications as well as the ways in which they frame apostasy as political action. I am also examining collective mobilizations around apostasy in both countries, particularly inspired by the fight for the separation of church and state and by feminist mobilizations.’

Last modified:12 June 2023 8.20 p.m.
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