Monday, January 9, 2012

The Multicultural City and the Politics of Religious Architecture: Urban Planning, Mosques and Meaning-making in Birmingham, UK


Mosque buildings constitute an increasingly important feature of British urban landscapes. This is confi rmed by the statistics on offi cially registered places of worship, which indicate that whilst in 1964 there were only nine offi cially registered mosques in England and Wales, by 1998 the number had increased to 614 (Peach, 2000). Many of these mosques are in converted buildings, such as houses, factories and warehouses, but others have been purposely constructed, incorporating architectural features that draw upon conceptions of tradition in Islamic architecture. Such designs have often been publicly contested, in terms that construct them as symbols of ‘alien’ cultural presences (see for example Naylor and Ryan, 2002).
There is now growing sociological and geographical literature documenting contestation over sites of worship, in which the semiotic role played by such buildings in the articulation of opposing social identities constitutes a central theme (see for example, Eade, 1993, 1996; Gale and Naylor, 2002; Naylor and Ryan, 2002). The present paper complements this literature by exploring the place of urban planning procedures in setting the parameters for such contestation, an issue that is receiving increasing academic attention (see for example, Gale, 1999; Dunn, 2001; Nye, 2001; Gale and Naylor, 2002; Isin and Siemiatycki, 2002). Moreover, the paper extends this theme by moving beyond the concern with aesthetic contestation per se. It attempts to show that urban planning mediates processes of social boundary construction that coalesce around mosque designs and becomes in turn a nexus in which some of the meanings and associations that accrue to such sites are articulated.

birmingham central mosque, photo by Ted and Jen
birmingham central mosque, photo by onlinejones

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