Imagining the Urban Religious Landscape: Using Photo Essays to Conceptualize Religion in the City

Authors: Maxim Samson*, DePaul University
Topics: Religion, Cultural Geography, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: Religion, Education, Sacred Spaces, Imagined Geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In spite of growing attention in geography to the diversity of religious spaces, young adults’ engagement with notions of religious geography remains relatively under-researched. In response, this paper draws upon an assignment set for undergraduate students (the vast majority of whom are not Geography majors or minors) to explore the religious spaces and symbols of a selected Chicago neighborhood. Having studied the ways in which different ‘unofficially sacred’ sites and spaces may be imbued with personal religious meaning, students were asked to share ten photographs of anything they deemed offered evidence of religion in their specific district. They additionally wrote summaries of the ways in which their photographs can enable an understanding of the local religious landscape, forming a ‘photo essay’ as a result. Some of the evidence shared by students included murals, storefronts, banners, bumper stickers, manhole covers, tattoos and clothing, as well as places of worship and educational institutions. The assignment may thus help facilitate more nuanced conceptualizations of religious space, and represents a novel example of an undergraduate activity that might be used or developed by other researchers interested in engaging students in related issues and in other urban contexts.

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