Keynote lectures

VI GNPT Consultation | 03–06/Oct/2022 | Curitiba

Public Theologies in Vibrating Cities: Precious and Precarious

Amira Osman

The river, the city and a dream: African urban imaginaries

Amira Osman (Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria)

In the “Return to Sinnar” by the Sudanese poet Mohammed Abd El Hay, the complexity of the African city is portrayed as a place where the lost ones return “Singing in one tongue, Praying in another”, further expressing the triple heritage of Ali Mazrui in “the Africans”. Abd al Hay proclaims that he is: “A pagan who worships the land, A blind Sufi who worships miracles and the fire of the God”. A western-dominant narrative portrays much of what Africa has to offer as backward and insignificant. A colonised mindset leads many Africans to deny the value of their own heritage. Many “progressive” Sudanese deny the value of “Sinnar” as an idea and a place.

Yet, Sudanese urbanism is unique; almost every urban centre was established around a centre of religious learning. The distinctive conical dome of a shaykh’s burial place can sometimes be found at the centre of even small villages. The yearly “plastering” festival at the Djenne mosque in Mali is a unifying feature and a symbol. The fact that the built form of the mosque changes with every replastering is an expression of community building and shared ownership that is at odds with western and modernist perceptions of architectures that are fixed, conceptualised in the mind of one person and preserved as “precious” or “unchanging” heritage in a, perhaps rigid understanding of “conservation”?

The decision not to build is an architectural decision. The sufi “halaqa” – a circle of worshipers in an open space – exemplifies the fluidity and gracefulness of simple, daily acts of place-making.

The decision to build is an architectural decision. Building culture, technology, design and space are never neutral. Everything we do is value-based. How we build, where we build, how we make decisions about our cities and neighbourhoods says something about our belief systems.

In Africa, the religious leader sometimes has more prominence than the political leader and urban centres were many times established by a shaykh of a Sufi sect and often where there was previously no settlement. The homogeneity and the lack of variety in built form and colour is related to unwritten social compacts, simplicity in physical expression, cycles in the use of space and, sometimes, a respect for Sufi values of frugality. Historically, in northern Sudan, spaces were more mono-functional; with the advent of Muslim Arabs, spaces became more multi-functional. Nomadic patterns are still found in the use of space within the home and in streets and open spaces.

If we look beyond the dominant narratives, big government and big capital, we will find highly evolved grass-root initiatives; these governance systems and financial support systems and decision-making mechanisms may be the answers to conceptualising an alternative future where the focus is on decentralised, and local systems of innovation rather than grand political gestures. These types of systems emerged strongly in South African cities during the covid-19 crisis; many times the first point of call for city migrants is a religious centre, and these played a vital role during the pandemic.

We may apply a different lens and see African cities for what they are: sites of incredible creativity.

Cláudio Carvalaes

Streets, Crossroads, Forests, Aldeias, Terreiros: Bending Christian Theologies To Other Enchantments

Cláudio Carvalhaes (Union Theological Seminar)

So much of the most vibrant forms of religious knowledges in Brazil are located in distinct and different places and times, often made invisible or demonized. These knowledges happen during the day and at night, in the margins of the cities, in indigenous and black communities who are in relation or not to Christian sources. This lecture will show some of these crossings of divinities, enchantments, liturgical holy artifacts, gestures and knowledges and how they pose fantastic challenges to Christian theologies.

[Pt-BR] Ruas, Esquinas, Matas, Aldeais, Terreiros: Dobrando Teologias Cristãs a Outros Encantamentos

Muitas das formas mais vibrantes de conhecimentos religiosos no Brasil estão localizados em lugares diferentes e distintos, muitas vezes invisibilizados ou demonizados. Esses saberes ocorrem de dia e de noite, nos lugares marginais das cidades, em comunidades indígenas e negras que se relacionam ou não com fontes cristãs. Esta palestra mostrará alguns desses cruzamentos de divindades, encantamentos, artefatos sagrados litúrgicos, gestos e saberes e como eles criam desafios fantásticos às teologias cristãs.

Cyril Hovorun

Symphonia with Civil Society

Cyril Hovorun (University College Stockholm) 

Eastern Christianity, during the centuries of its existence in the shadows of empires, preferred to have as its main partner the state. The church’s special relationship with the state has been called “symphonia.” During the twentieth century, Orthodox churches continued cultivating symphonic relationship with civil authorities, which often led to supporting various forms of dictatorship. The recent war in Ukraine demonstrates how dangerous such a support can be. An alternative to the symphonia between the church and the state is needed. This can be a symphonia between the church and civil society. The paper explores possible features of such symphonia.

Richard Kearney

Cities and Tents

Professor Kearney (Boston College) 

My talk will address the legacy of Abraham’s encounter with the strangers at Mamre. In addition to offering a reflection on the famous moment of hospitality in Genesis, the talk will also reflect on the Jewish and Christian readings of this inaugural scene of divine-human relations. The question will be asked: how does such an Abrahamic hermeneutics of hosting apply to the social and political question of home and homelessnes today.