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Religious urbanisation and infrastructural lives in African mega-cities


While the public role of religion has been increasingly studied around the globe, urbanization and development are usually still conceptualized through secular frameworks. Such perspectives fail to understand the infrastructural reality in African cities such as Lagos (Nigeria) and Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) whose urban fabric has been dramatically transformed by revivalist forms of Christian religiosity. No research has fully examined the development impact of such religious urbanization in African Sub-Saharan contexts. Our interdisciplinary project will fill this gap by exploring the social, moral and economic challenges raised by urbanization driven by non-state, religious actors in Lagos and Kinshasa, the most populated and fastest growing mega-cities in Sub Saharan Africa. In both cities, Pentecostal Christian churches often promote spectacular visions of (urban) development involving monumental projects and the creation of self-contained spaces built on the urban periphery. In addition to providing basic infrastructure (roads, utilities, garbage collection) alongside housing, health and education facilities these faith-based developments link moral subjectivities with middle-class aspirations such as the quest for individual autonomy, economic prosperity and social well-being. How do religious socio-spatial models address challenges of urban social cohesion and inclusion, safety and sustainability? To provide both an evidence-based and practical recommendations aimed at promoting functioning civic urban culture we propose three research and one policy work packages (WP):

WP1 (Connectivity/inclusivity) is concerned with the production and use of Christian urban space in Lagos and Kinshasa, and the intersections between religious urban developments, infrastructures and the provision of utilities. What are the main types and most important examples of religious (Christian) urbanization in Lagos and Kinshasa? What are the tensions caused and limits of inclusivity with regard to public access to urban religious spaces and resources?

WP2 (Citizenship and aspirational cultures of development) will investigate religious notions of the ‘ideal city’ in Lagos and Kinshasa and ways in which such notions become translated within each actually existing city. We consider how models of infrastructural development mobilized by religious actors may conflict with existing regimes of planning. We consider ideals of belonging and citizenship promoted by religious actors at local, national and transnational levels. How religious visions of the ‘ideal city’ are materially articulated in concrete urban developments? Do religious infrastructures ameliorate or exacerbate everyday challenges of safety, inclusion, and security? What form does a religious ‘right to the city’ take, particularly where multiple religions co-exist within close proximity?

WP3 (Public trust and the moral economies of religious infrastructures) will explore how religion responds to the unpredictability and informality of everyday life in Lagos and Kinshasa. It is concerned with unravelling the complex moral economies deployed in the production and use of religious urban infrastructures. Of interest are the levels of trust that urban dwellers place in religious infrastructures compared with trust in state institutions. Do religious institutions provide symbolic and material resources to negotiate unpredictability and socioeconomic uncertainties through the production of urban/infrastructural space?

Our mixed methodology will involve an ethnography of major religious infrastructures in Kinshasa and Lagos, a quantitative survey of local communities around key religious urban spaces, qualitative interviews with religious actors and key stakeholders as well as dedicated workshops.

The project will provide recommendations aimed at promoting civic urban culture in the context of growing inequalities and widespread informalization of urban life in cities where religious actors play significant infrastructural roles.