In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Urban Religion

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews: Readers and Anthologies
  • Classic Monographs on Urban Religion
  • Theoretical Works
  • Consolidating the Field of Urban Religious and Urban Religious Cultural Studies
  • Immigrant Religions in the Global City
  • Religious Place-Making
  • Religion and/as Civic Participation in Cities
  • Faith-Based Urban Popular Cultures and Creativity

Urban Studies Urban Religion
Petra Kuppinger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0030


In the early years of urban studies (urban sociology took shape in the 1920s and consolidated in the post–World War II era; urban anthropology emerged in the 1960s), few scholars paid much attention to religion in modern/modernizing cities, especially in Europe and North America, but also elsewhere across the globe. Into the 1970s, the role of religion in cities was not a central issue in urban studies, as many researchers seemed to assume that religion, religiosities, and spiritual activities would slowly disappear in cities. Indeed, some mainstream Christian congregations in North America, and even more in Europe, struggled with dwindling numbers, which seemed to suggest a more comprehensive decline of urban religion. Some churches closed, while others quietly adjusted to smaller congregations. Many mainstream Christian communities tried to accommodate the changing times by incorporating new pop cultural elements, different media, and other features into their congregations. In the 1970s, new religious communities (often founded by immigrants) and spiritual movements (e.g., “New Age” movements) emerged. Many grew rapidly and flourished. The arrival of millions of rural to urban and transnational im/migrants to cities and diverse spiritual quests often rooted in countercultural movements of the 1960s remade urban spiritual geographies. New religious venues, emerging spiritual practices, diverse faith traditions, new congregations of global faith traditions (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism), New Age spiritualism, and revivalist and charismatic religious movements localized in North American and European cities. Cities all over the globe witnessed diverse revivalist movements and the emergence of charismatic religious leaders and new mass religious movements. While religion had obviously never left cities, in the final decades of the 20th century, urban religion had become more visible. When diverse pious individuals and groups asked for their rights in the city, insisted on faith-based participation, and challenged the secular nature of global/globalizing cities, it became clear that individual pieties, religious communities, and faith-inspired activities continued to play relevant roles in cities. Established urban religious communities absorbed newcomers, new religiosities, and faith-based socialities. New modes of meeting, worshipping, and religious learning remade existing spiritual geographies. These transformations and the renewed visibility of religion triggered considerable scholarly interest in dynamic urban religions, spiritual activities, and geographies. By the 1990s, a growing number of scholars of various disciplinary backgrounds (sociology, anthropology, geography, religious studies) studied emerging and changing urban religious communities, individual pieties, and the localization of new/immigrant faith communities. At the dawn of the 21st century, the study of urban religions, urban religious cultures, and the role of religion and religiosities in ordinary urbanites’ lives gained momentum as scholars analyzed the transformations of globalized urban spiritual expressions, the localization of new faith-based communities, and the transformation of established congregations. Researchers started to challenge notions of the secular nature of contemporary cities and to reevaluate the role of religion in globalizing cities.

General Overviews: Readers and Anthologies

A number of readers and anthologies illustrate the empirical and theoretical scope of the study of urban religion. They also chronicle the emergence of the field and its guiding questions and resulting transformations. Warner and Wittner 1998 examines the arrival and localization of immigrant faith communities in American cities. It pays attention to processes of adaption within faith groups and communities and how these communities take over new tasks for their members and in the city at large. Orsi 1999, by now a classic in the study of urban religion, examines the continued importance of religion and religiosities in American cities. Contributors analyze very different empirical contexts and describe how diverse religiosities are lived in cities and are reflected in rituals, places of worship, and small unexpected spaces where people practice their religions or are guided by faith-based ideas. Livezey 2000 is another classic collection that examines transformations in the spiritual geography of Chicago. Stepick, et al. 2009 examines the localization and activities of immigrant and minority faith groups in Miami and shows how religious engagement often leads to further civic engagements both by faith-inspired individuals and religious communities at large. Pinxten and Dikomitis 2009 examines religion and religious transformations in the context of rapid urbanization, globalization, and immigration. Becci, et al. 2013 discusses how religions constitute dynamic urban elements and how faith-based individuals and communities produce aspects of urban cultures and spaces in globalizing cities. Becker, et al. 2014 seeks to shed light on a vast range of religious groups, contexts, and manifestations all over the world, and argues for more research and engagement with urban religion and a revised/updated theorization of urban religions. Garbin and Strhan 2017 explores the complex interactions of global flows and local presences with regard to concrete religious groups, communities, and experiences in rapidly changing global cities.

  • Becci, Irene, Marian Burchardt, and José Casanova, eds. Topographies of Faith: Religion in Urban Spaces. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.

    This volume examines complex interactions between urban migration, religious diversity, and transnational religion in globalizing cities. Contributors explore how religious individual identities and associational frameworks change in such urban contexts. They analyze how religion takes place in cities and produces urban localities. Empirically, chapters explore themes such as changing Alevi communities in Turkish cities or the transformation experienced by Somali Muslims in Johannesburg.

  • Becker, Jochen, Katrin Klingan, Stephan Lanz, and Kathrin Wildner. Global Prayers: Contemporary Manifestations and the Religious in the City. Zürich, Switzerland: Lars Mueller, 2014.

    This massive 650-page volume contains more than forty essays and photo essays about a vast range of aspects of religion, religious practices, religious spaces, and material cultures in cities. The book aims to “repopulate urban theory with religion.” Authors explore sectarian spatialities in Beirut, funerary scenes and practices in Kinshasa, material items of mass-produced faith in the Hindu tradition, and the construction of a Pentecostal city in Nigeria.

  • Garbin, David, and Anna Strhan, eds. Religion and the Global City. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

    Chapters in this volume bring together debates about urban religion with broader discussions about globalization and especially global cities. Chapters engage issues of how mobilities affect faith communities, and explore themes of place-making, politics of (in)visibility, and the role of religious media in contemporary cities. Concrete chapters discuss, for example, weddings among Kenyan Pentecostals in London, urban planning and secularism in Shanghai, and the role of newspaper for urban religiosities in Bangalore.

  • Livezey, Lowell, ed. Public Religion and Urban Transformation: Faith in the City. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

    Livezey and his contributors draw a detailed image of Chicago’s diverse religious geography. They examine how well-established and more recent communities serve their members, provide social services, and offer opportunities for civic engagement. Chapters introduce and analyze Christian (majority, minority, and immigrant churches), Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim communities, and how their roles, contributions, and ways of cooperating with each other have been changing, along with how they are parts of or reflect larger urban transformations.

  • Orsi, Robert, ed. Gods in the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

    This volume is a foundational text in the study of urban religion. Chapters tackle and debunk notions of the waning role of religion in contemporary cities. Authors illustrate how religion and religiosities are integral elements of global cities, as immigrants bring new religions/religiosities or remake existing religions or faith communities. Chapters examine issues like the construction of a Hindu temple in Washington, DC, practices of Haitian Vodou in New York City, and the waning years of synagogue in the Bronx.

  • Pinxten, Rik, and Lisa Dikomitis. When God Comes to Town: Religious Traditions in Urban Contexts. Oxford: Berghahn, 2009.

    This volume examines religion in the context of contemporary rapid urbanization. Chapters examine concrete changes experienced by religious communities in different cities. They discuss issues such as immigration and religion, reflect on the success of charismatic and Pentecostal communities in cities, and analyze the changing role of the Catholic Church in Polish cities.

  • Stepick, Alex, Terry Rey, and Sarah Mahler, eds. Churches and Charity in the Immigrant City: Religion, Immigration, and Civic Engagement in Miami. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

    Stepick, Rey, Mahler, and their contributors examine the complex religious landscape of immigrant and minority communities and groups in Miami. They describe how these communities constitute home spaces for their congregants, but also serve as very important links to urban society at large. Chapters illustrate the link between religion and civic engagement among faith-inspired individuals and groups, and between faith communities and broader neighborhood activities and politics.

  • Warner, R. Stephen, and Judith Wittner, eds. Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

    This now classic volume includes a broad variety of chapters that chronicle and examine the religious localization, community, and place-making of diverse ethnic and religious communities in cities in the United States. Chapters explore processes of adaptation of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles, the negotiation of gender relations in a Keralite church, processes of church-building among Rastafarian in New York City, and the localization of Hindu communities in Los Angeles.

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