Urban Matters: Material Engagements with Communities and Borders in Times of Movement

Plenary Panels

The conference will host four plenary panels.


1. Community in cities, migration, and the materiality of media (artist talk; organized by Maaike Bleeker)


2. ‘Material Approaches to Religion’ Meet ‘New Materialism’: Resonances and Dissonances (organized by Birgit Meyer)

So far there have been surprisingly few exchanges between scholars advocating material approaches to religion and scholars advocating versions of new materialism. This panel seeks to open up the conversation by taking stock of potential resonances and dissonances. Resonances pertain, for instance, to the critique of a longstanding materiophobia in the humanities and social sciences (including the study of religion), the anchoring of research in the materiality of being in the world, and the productive use of the notion of assemblage as including people, objects, and even gods. Dissonances may pertain to a number of issues. For instance, while material approaches to religion tend to approach religion as a human matter and pay much attention to materially grounded dynamics of signification and meaning making, new materialists emphasize the post-human and reject anthropocentrism. While new materialists appear to embrace materialism as a new viable ontology, many scholars of religion tend to regard ontologies as data, but resist making ontological statements themselves. And while scholars of religion want to understand how figures of God, gods and spirits become present and real for people, many of them would resist materializing God, gods and spirits to such an extent that their realness is affirmed ontologically.

What are the potentials and limits in materializing religion? To what extent can the idea of God, gods and spirits at all be materialized, without being destroyed? How can both new material approaches to religion and new materialism(s) contribute to a fundamental critique of mentalistic stances that underpin Eurocentric presumed universalisms, and open up towards recognitions of alternative forms of knowledge production, for instance from the Global South? How to develop a material approach to religion without lapsing into a materialism that has no room for human figurations and sensations of the divine, and thus dismisses religion as illusion? How to account for the power of the imagination – for which religion arguably forms a prime case – in the frame of new materialism? If society, culture and religion are both ‘materially real and socially constructed’ (Frost and Coole), how to break new grounds for a productive conversation between new materialists and scholars working on religion from a material angle who necessarily emphasize the human dimension, for instance by a focus on the city and religion as part and parcel of urban matters? In how far can this conversation serve as an important and insightful try-out for exploring possibilities to materialize the humanities and social sciences?

  • Moderator: Birgit Meyer
  • Pooyan Tamimi Arab: “Spinoza and the Material Religion Approach: A Love-Hate Relationship”
  • Peter Bräunlein: “Studying Religion Non-anthropocentrically? Some Considerations on New Materialism and New Animism”
  • Marian Burchardt: “Infrastructuring Religion: Materiality and Meaning in Ordinary Urbanism”
  • Discussant: Iris van der Tuin


3. Taking Stock of New Materialism (organized by Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin)

New materialism has a long history at Utrecht University, alongside and intersecting with other material theoretical approaches. This plenary panel goes back to the futures of this living history and takes the measure of the new materialisms, broadly conceived, by discussing genealogies, methodologies and conceptual innovations in an interdisciplinary conversation. Acknowledging that a ‘Utrecht School’ of new materialism may not exist as a totality, as we facetiously argued in a September 2008 edition of the Contemporary Cultural Theory seminar, but that it nonetheless functions as a hub of scholarly production, what coherence can be discerned in new materialist scholarship? How do scholars from the Faculty of Humanities contribute in diverse ways to provoke a turn to matter, materials, materiality? How is a material turn interdisciplinary? How do we relate to post humanism, animal studies and the critique of species-ism, and matters still unthought? To the materialist vital philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, posthumanism, OOO and different variants of speculative realism, social theory, linguistics? What perspectives do we offer for the Humanities in the 21st century? Discussants come from cultural inquiry, media theory, comparative literature, gender and performance studies, and include Rosi Braidotti, who coined the term ‘new materialism’ in the mid 1990s, Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, who published New Materialism: Interview and Cartographies in 2012, Maaike Bleeker, Kiene Brillenburg Wurth and Kári Driscoll. Martijn Oosterbaan and Arun Saldanha (University of Minnesota) are discussants.


4. The study of religious and urban matters (organized and introduced by Martijn Oosterbaan)

Confirmed speakers: Dr. Stephan Lanz (European University Viadrina) on ‘The Urban Infrastructure of Entrepreneurial Religion in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas,’ and Dr. Markha Valenta (Radboud University Nijmegen) on ‘Our Bodies, Our Walls: The Substance of Sanctuary.’


Full details will be announced asap. Thank you for your patience!