Faith and suburbia: secularisation, modernity and the changing geographies of religion in London’s suburbs

Authors


Email: claire.dwyer@ucl.ac.uk

Abstract

Spectacular new religious buildings on London’s outskirts are often cited as evidence of London’s multicultural diversity. However, the suburban location of these new buildings is usually dismissed as incongruous, drawing on familiar tropes of the suburbs as sites of modernisation, materialism and secularism. This paper uses this assumed incongruity to address the complexity of relationships between religion and suburban space by tracing the significance of religion in changing suburban geographies through a focus on London’s suburbs. The paper begins with a critique of the absence of religion in suburban studies, which emphasise secularisation and homogeneity. The rediscovery of the creative potential of the suburbs gives little consideration to religious creativity. Similarly recent work on diasporas and religion have little to say about the significance of the suburban. Our paper uses three case studies, of different faith groups, from North and West London to explore three distinctive articulations of the relationship between religion and suburban space that we call ‘semi-detached faith’, ‘edge-city faith’ and ‘ethnoburb faith’. These examples are not intended as ideal types but as analytical categories that open up the relationships between space, faith and mobilities. We argue there is a need to more carefully theorise the ways in which faith communities have engaged with the challenges of suburban geographies including processes of secularisation and suggest that the study of faith in suburbia offers new ways of thinking about the complexity of suburban space.

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