“Without us there will be Hamas”: the reconfiguration of religious institutions’ role in the urban public sphere

 Ram Moriel and Meirav Aharon Gutman 

In this paper, we examine the ways, means and extent in which religion shapes the urban public sphere. The literature on modern planning tended to disregard the importance of religion in general, and religion institutions in particular, to the different relations and interactions of the urban public space. However, as cities are becoming more and more culturally heterogenic, ethnically diverse and significantly more poly-cultural in nature, there is a growing relevance for understanding and deciphering the functions of religious loci within the city.  In our research we examine what happens to public religious institutions when the urban sphere which used to sustain them, and for which they were constructed in the first place, undergoes substantial social and political changes. One case study deals with urban synagogues in the mixed city of Acre in Northern Israel. A considerable number of these houses of prayers were originally used in order to commemorate a specific ethnic identity of disenfranchised Jewish immigrant communities. However, significant demographic alterations in the pattern and landscape of the Israeli city in general and Acre in particular, which resulted among other things, from a national strategy of Judaization, have affected these synagogues’ ascribed functions. More specifically, due to various causes the number of Palestinian residents within neighborhoods that were mainly populated by immigrants Jews have significantly increased. The urban demographic shift have led the latter to re-envision the synagogue as a national stronghold in the city rather than a site of memory and heritage.  The research explores the contours of this shift, and place it vis-à-vis the overall discussion on religious social institutions in the contemporary urban sphere.