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Religion and Cities Unit

Call for Proposals

The Religion and Cities Unit seeks papers that analyze the interactive relationship between religion and urban environments at the AAR’s Annual Meeting. What theoretical models do we draw upon to engage the infrastructure, activities, and culture of cities across the globe? We are open to papers or panels that engage the ecological relationship between religion and cities in a variety of ways. We especially encourage papers or panels proposed from non-profit-scholar collaborations.  

Inspired by the 2023 Presidential Theme, “La Labor de Nuestras Manos,” we are particularly interested in the following topics:


Potential Co-Sponsor Session with Religion and Memory Unit
Right now, cities across the globe are experiencing what one observer has called an “epidemic” of church closures as churches, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship permanently shutter their doors. Declines in religious affiliation and worship attendance have driven much of this trend, but so too have aging congregations, rising costs of real estate, and other fluctuations accompanying gentrification and the historic preservation of old buildings. In some places, these empty houses of worship have been reimagined as homes, places of business, or the site of new religious communities as churches and synagogues becoming masjids or temples. In other places, they remain abandoned. 

This session calls for papers or projects that examine the narratives, histories, transformations, religious reincarnations, or secular afterlives of abandoned places of worship in urban spaces across the globe. What does the repurposing of these spaces tell us about the nature of religion in the modern world? What role does the scholar of religion have in the preservation or transformation of historic places of worship?


Potential Co-Sponsor Session with Religion and Economy Program Unit 
The story of the Riverwalk in San Antonio is one that links the city, the environment, the economy, and religion. In 1921, a category 1 hurricane hit Texas, resulting in massive flooding that resulted in $19 million in property loss and the death of 50 people in San Antonio. To prevent the future loss of life and property, architect Robert H. H. Hugman proposed the riverwalk, a design that simultaneously tamed the river while reviving colonial Spanish mission architecture for urban development through tourism.  

Inspired by this history of the Riverwalk, the Religion and Cities and Religion and Economy units invite papers and panel proposals for a co-sponsored session that considers the labor of producing and contesting urban and environmental landscapes. This could include literal landscapes of economic and environmental change, infrastructures and land use, green spaces, and urban ecologies. We also welcome proposals focused on the labor of producing imaginative landscapes, including landscapes of memory, border landscapes, and pathways through the city.


Potential Co-Sponsor Session with Native Traditions in the Americas
For a possible co-sponsorship with the Native Traditions in the Americas Unit, a panel or papers exploring the urban Indigenous experience, particularly in light of our location in San Antonio.


Non-Profit Collaborations
In recent decades, religious studies scholars and theologians have shifted from researching in communities to researching with communities. We welcome papers and projects to examine how collaborating with community members and/or non-profit organizations has transformed the study of religion and theology in the city. How does partnering with a non-profit organization inspire us not only to reevaluate how and why we do research, but who we do research for? How do community members challenge us to rethink the academic-non-academic divide? And how might religious studies and theological perspectives offer more just solutions to city officials?

Gender, Religion, and the City
From women protesting the morality police in Iran to the Biden Administration raising the transgender flag to celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility to Ms. Marvel visualizing feminism in a mosque in Jersey City, it is an important moment to examine the intersection of gender, religion, and the city. We are interested in papers or projects that examine who has the right to the city through a gendered lens. 

Statement of Purpose

This unit engages in critical analysis of ecological relationships between religion and cities. We are interested in exploring the cooperative and conflicting relationships between cities across the globe and their religious communities in the struggle for social justice, especially in response to racial capitalism and settler colonialism. Our work is interdisciplinary and includes scholars from Religious Studies, History, Anthropology, Social Ethics & Urban Sociology, Architecture & Urban Planning, and Gender Studies.


  • Fatimah Fanusie, Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies
    1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
  • Rupa Pillai, University of Pennsylvania
    1/1/2018 - 12/31/2023

Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members