Religion's Role in Urban History: An Overlooked Relationship?Roundup: Historians' Take
Los Angeles County's recent decision to remove a tiny cross from its seal has inspired an enormous protest from the region's evangelical community and its conservative allies.
The issue seems likely to embroil the county in a storm of lawsuits and lead perhaps to a divisive ballot measure during the next few months. Yet the whole battle smacks of a kind of amnesia about the roots of urban places.
Contemporary discussions of urban issues revolve around many things, from high-technology development to racial and sexual politics, but rarely mention the role of religion — churches, synagogues and mosques, and indeed, moral order — in city life. That's the postmodern, secular American approach, but it surely would have seemed odd to our urban predecessors for whom the linkage between the city and worship was utterly obvious.
The earliest cities of Mesopotamia, for example, were themselves largely directed by priests, who established coherent rules for the community. The temple, erected at the center of the town, was almost invariably the largest and most inspiring building.
This pattern can be seen virtually everywhere, from the cities of Mesoamerica and Peru to China and India. Babylon, the greatest metropolis of Mesopotamia, derived its name from Babi-ilani, or"the gate of the gods," the place from which the divinities were believed to have descended to Earth. Inca urban society rested on the belief that their rulers were gods and that their capital, Cuzco, constituted"the navel of the world."
The religious role in urban history goes well beyond architecture. City life, in contrast to nomadic or rural village life, has always depended on a community's ability to establish a common moral order among strangers from outside the family or clan.
In the earliest cities, priests, or kings who derived their authority from the gods, were the ones who devised the codes that kept increasingly complex societies operating in what we might call a civilized manner....
comments powered by Disqus
- The six-day war: why Israel is still divided over its legacy 50 years on
- "Space archaeology" transforms how ancient sites are discovered
- A military cemetery whose African American history is hidden in plain sight in Philadelphia
- Texas Senate increases education board's textbook veto power
- The Secret Transcripts of the Six-Day War
- AHA joins protest of Trump’s plan for drastic cuts to the NEH
- Diane Ravitch says the Democrats paved the way for the education secretary's efforts to privatize our public schools
- Mark Moyar explains why he came to believe the Vietnam War was winnable
- How should Texas high schoolers learn history?
- What's the 'greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history’?