Making Space for Diasporas and the Sacred

Diaspora is an intrinsically geographical phenomenon. Diasporas can be studied as historical or political occurrences, as expressions of national, religious or cultural otherness, or as sociological and anthropological phenomena.  When combined with a diachronicity which stretches from the dawn of recorded history to the present day, this amazing diversity gives rise to endless possibilities for interdisciplinary research and discussion. As with diaspora, religion and the sacred implicate space and shape geographical imaginations. Are experiences of the sacred changing in our globalized world? Is it possible to find new vocabularies to talk about diaspora and sacred space? Is it desirable?

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The Greek church of St Anna in Ancona, Italy

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    The Leng Noei Yi temple in Bangkok’s Chinatown (photo by Tawirat Songmuang)

Yesterday HARC sponsored a double postgraduate workshop on the themes of diaspora and sacred space, organised in collaboration with the History and Geography Departments and the Hellenic Institute. The event brought together PhD and MA students from History, Geography, Music, English and Politics to share their research and reflect how diasporic identities, faith and geography interact at different scales, through different spaces and media and in different historical contexts.

The morning session focussed on the concept of diaspora with case studies including the sixteenth-century Greek community of Ancona (Italy), a Greek printer in seventeenth-century London and Constantinople, the role of religion in shaping and maintaining diasporic Chinese identities in Thailand, the experiences of North Korean refugees in China and South Korea, Iranian identities in London and Vancouver, and transnational / translocal music in NE Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The afternoon session explored a wide range of ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ sacred spaces ranging in scale from the domestic spaces of contemporary English suburbia and Victorian ‘houses of mercy’ to the concept of the forest as understood by the ancient Greeks and medieval Christians. The boundaries of sacred were further pushed to encompass non-religious spaces, such as secular buildings with Holocaust connections, and the space of the German nation as articulated in nineteenth-century music.

The event was led by George Vassiadis (History) and Veronica della Dora (Geography) and respondents were Charalambos Dendrinos (History), Henry Stobart (Music) and Agnes Wooley (English). Kim Burton, Laura Cuch, Niccolò Fattori, Benedick Felderhof, David Gilbert, Stephanie Hesz Wood, Kit Kembell, Jae-Young Kim, Nil Pektas, Tawirat Songmurang, Priya Vadi, and Susan Woodall presented.

 

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Photo by Laura Cuch (from Making Suburban Faith)

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