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Beyond Sacred/Secular Cities - Exploring Politics of Memory, Space, and Religion in Middle Eastern Nationalisms

Funding agency: SRA-MECW. Duration: 2022-2025

The project is devoted to exploring ‘the city’ as a stage for the construction and contest of nationalist imaginations in the Middle East (and beyond). It aims at unpacking how nationalism, in various national contexts and urban localities, comprises entangled and ambiguous religious/secular imaginaries, providing critical perspectives on conventional dichotomies of the ‘sacred’ versus ‘profane’ and ‘traditional’ versus the ‘modern’ – and how cities charged with symbolic significance tend to be regarded as carriers of such characteristics and legacies.

The project comprises two main components. An empirical study will be conducted in/of four cities conventionally associated with such bifurcated imaginaries: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Istanbul, and Izmir. The study will contextually and comparatively explore local-urban memory institutions in the four cities (focusing on museums and public commemorative spaces), in relation to local and national debates on ‘nationalist values’, aesthetic legacies, and the commemoration of historical/ritual fixtures.

The project’s second component consists of the creation of the multi-disciplinary research platform ‘City/Religion/Nationalism’, as a forum for theoretical development and comparative perspectives on religion, secularity, and nationalism in urban contexts. Through its seminar series and workshops, engaging national and international expertise, the project aims at creating an international hub for research on cities, religion, and nationalism at Lund University, co-hosted by the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies and the Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies.


The purpose of this project is twofold:

  • to empirically explore how contesting orchestrationsof nationalism in the Middle East navigate and negotiate ambiguities of ‘the sacred’ and ‘the secular’, with a particular focus on Turkey and Israel;
  • to contribute to (re)theorisation ofand methodological innovation in the analysis of the multi-modality, multi-vocality, and multisituatednessof nationalist (and counter-nationalist) sentiment, within and beyond nationalsettings and religious traditions.

Seminar Platform 2023

The project is arranging a series of seminars on “Urban Memory Politics" during the spring of 2023.

12 January (16:15-17:30)

Memory, territoriality, and scripting of public space

Mattias Kärrholm (Lund University) and Barbara Törnqvist-Plewa (Lund University)

21 March (16:15-17:30)

The City as a World in Common? Contested Reconstruction, Syncretic Place-Making and Urban Memory in Beirut and Beyond

Gruia Badescu (University of Konstanz)

13 April (13:15-14:30)

Heritagization & conflict transformation - from toxic to curative heritage of conflict

​​​Annika Björkdahl (Lund University) [co-hosted by CMES Research Seminar series]

1 June (13:15-17:00)

Symposium: Framing Turkish Memory - Image, Space, and Nationalist Affect in the Context of the Republican Centenary

Biray Kollouglu (Bogaziçi University), Elif Gezgin (Kadir Has University and Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University), and Canan Nese Kınıkoglu (Medeniyet University)

13 September (16:15-18:00)

Greek-Turkish Relations From the ‘Megali Idea’ to the Population Exchange of 1923

Rainer Liedtke (University of Regenburg) [co-hosted by CMES Research Seminar series]

Seminar Platform 2024

29 February (13:15-14:30)

Occupying Urban Memory - The Construction of Jerusalem at the Tower of David Museum

Torsten Janson (Lund University) [co-hosted by CMES Research Seminar series]

13 May (13:15-16:00)

Roundtable: Conditioning Spaces of Memory

Robert Vosloo (Stellenbosch University), Henry Mbaya (Stellenbosch University), Lisa Strömbom (CMES and Political Science, Lund University) and Torsten Janson (CMES and CTR, Lund University) [co-hosted by CMES Research Seminar series]

3 June (15:15-17:00)

Haifa – Memories of Jewish-Palestinian Futures

Elad Lapidot (University of Lille)  [co-hosted by CMES Research Seminar series]


Janson, Torsten (2023) "Lovers of the Rose: Islamic Affect and the Politics of Commemoration in Turkish Museal Display", in Raudvere, C and P. Onur (eds) Neo-Ottoman Imaginaries in Contemporary Turkey. Modernity, Memory and Identity in South-East Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Svenungsson, Jayne (2022). "Reappraising Weber’s Disenchantment Narrative: (Second) Thoughts about the Re-Sacralization of Nature and Matter", Eco-Ethica, 10, 25–42.

Svenungsson, Jayne (2023) "Religion and secularity as supersessionist categories: Contemplating diversity and otherness after 9/11", Zeitschrift für Religion, Gesellschaft und Politik.

Törnquist-Plewa, Barbara & Pietraszewski, Igor (2023) "Creating Cultural Heritage for a Better Future", International Journal of Heritage Studies, 29(9): 908-923.

Research Activities

  • Paper presentation by Torsten Janson at the conference Smyrna as Symbol: From the 19th Century to September 1922 at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 11-13 May 2023: "Overwriting Smyrna: Urban imaginaries in Turkish-nationalist commemoration".
  • Roundtable organized for Seventh annual meeting of the Memory Studies Association, Newcastle, 3-7 July 2023: “Contested memoryscapes: Politics of commemoration, celebration, and forgetting in/of the Turkish Republic.” Chair: Barbara Törnqwist Plewa
    • "From agonistic memory to epistemic justice: framing memory debates in Turkey in the Centenary of the Republic"(Devrim Sezer, Izmir University)
    • "Memory and forgetting in Alevi conceptions of Atatürk’s Republic" (Hege Markusen, Lund University)
    • "Triumph and trauma: commemorating the conquest of Izmir in state and (trans)local narrative" (Torsten Janson, Lund University)
  • Paper presentation by Torsten Janson at the Second Annual SWEMENA Conference, Stockholm University, 24-25 August 2023: "İzmir revisited: dramaturgies of urban memory in Turkish nationalism"
  • Guest lecture by Torsten Janson at the Swedish Theological Institute, Jerusalem: "Om myter och makt i 'Davids stad':  Jerusalems museer och konsten att ockupera (med) minnen", 2 December 2023. 
  • Guest lecture by Torsten Janson for Lund University PhD course Existential sustainability: expanding the discourse on sustainability: "Occupied (through) memory? Museums and the construction of spatio-temporality in Jerusalem/al-Quds", 18 December 2023.
  • Presentation by Mattias Kärrholm at the Department of Architecture and Built Environment, Lund University: "Commemoration, nationalism and the territorialisation of public spaces - cases from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv", 17 January 2024.
  • Invited presentation by Torsten Janson at CTR Masters’ Meetings, Lund University: "Sleepless in al-Quds: four field paradoxes pre/post 7.10", 6 March 2024.
  • Invited presentation by Torsten Janson at film seminar: A World Not Ours (M. Fleifel, 2012). Organised by Lund Academics for Palestine, Lund Students for Palestine, and Malmö Students for Palestine. 20 March 2024.
  • Conference presentation by Torsten Janson at Urban transformation and urban historiesat Malmö University: "Occupying urban memory: the construction of Jerusalem at the Tower of David Museum", 15-17 April 2024.
  • Seminar organized by Jayne Svenungsson at Lund University: "The Heavenly Jerusalem in Medieval Imagery and Imagination", 7 May 2024.
  • Conference presentation by Torsten Janson at Now, then, and forever: how the past and future shape the present, Lund University: "Memory violence: nationalising occupied space through cultural memory in/of Jerusalem", 23-24 May 2024.
  • Conference presentation by Torsten Janson at Remembrance, religion and secularity in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond, Warsaw: "Performing the nation in local spacecentenaries as dynamics of religio/secular memory-contest in Turkish nationalism", 13-15 June 2024.
  • Conference presentation by Barbara Törnquist-Plewa at Remembrance, religion and secularity in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond, Warsaw: "The city as a stage for the construction and contest of nationalist imagination", 13-15 June 2024.
  • Invited presentation by Torsten Janson at Almedalsveckan, 26 June 2024, Kriget mellan Israel och Hamas.
  • Conference participation at the Third Annual SWEMENA Conference, Lund University, 22-23 August 2024.

Research Team

Torsten Janson, CMES Researcher and Senior Lecturer in History of Religions and Religious Behavioural Science (Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University)

torsten [dot] janson [at] ctr [dot] lu [dot] se

Jayne Svenungsson, CMES Researcher and Professor in Studies in Faith and World Views (Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University)

jayne [dot] svenungsson [at] ctr [dot] lu [dot] se

Barbara Törnquist-Plewa, CMES Researcher and Professor in European Studies (Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University)

barbara [dot] tornquist-plewa [at] slav [dot] lu [dot] se

Mattias Kärrholm, CMES Researcher and Professor at the Department of Architecture and Built Environment (Lund University)

mattias [dot] karrholm [at] abm [dot] lth [dot] se (mattias[dot]karrholm[at]abm[dot]lth[dot]se)