Routes and Rites to the City: Migration, Emplacement and Religious Diversity in Johannesburg

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon
Lorena Nunez
Peter Kankonde Bukasa
Bettina Malcomess

This project aims to chart, through a collectively produced monograph, conference and exhibition, the intricate cartography of religion in Johannesburg, covering a significant diversity of practices and spaces.  Developing the concept of ‘super-diversity’, the study aims to account for the radical proliferation and spatial proximity of diverse religious orders in the city, and the intersection of these with the intense migration into the city in the postapartheid era. The project explores how urban space is produced and transformed through the intersecting phenomena of migratory processes and religious ritual, and argues that these phenomena powerfully shape urban spatialities, administrations and moral orders.

Postapartheid Johannesburg provides a pointed case study due to the super-diverse character of its population, along with the dense historical and contemporary patterns of migration that have shaped the city.   It has often been alluded to as a ‘city of migrants’, and yet the dominant framing of the city in existing literature has been as a secular urban metropolis. Challenging this line of thought, we argue that religion is a powerful force in creating the cityscape and orienting the lives of those seeking to find work and wellbeing within it.  Engaging with contemporary urban theory, the research maps how the ‘right to the city’ is claimed through religious rites, and how these in turn shape, and are shaped by, migratory routes. 

In this project we draw on perspectives and methodologies from religious history, anthropology, sociology, theology, and critical aesthetics to develop the flourishing body of theory on religion, migration and urbanism showing how the transnational dimensions of migration and religion are localized and emplaced in the urban setting.     

The book ‘Routes and Rites to the City’ is edited by Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, Lorena Nunez & Peter Kankonde Bukasa, with visual editing by Bettina Malcomess. The authors explore the radically diverse, but spatially dense patterns of migration and emplacement as a lens into the ways in which religion is integral to place-making and belonging in the city.  Religion offers both material and symbolic entry points into the life-world and economies of the city.  It provides both sites of refuge but also contributes to contestations around urban space. It produces sites of value, meaning and power that intersect with the regional and global circulation of capital and labour but are not reducible to these. It fosters symbols and socialites that are deeply enmeshed in the urban fabric.

Chapters span Christian traditions including evangelical, Pentecostal movements, prophetic and African Independent Churches, along those Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. These studies are situated in the historical context mapping of both contemporary and historical migratory processes and place-making.  

The themes of this book revolve around four broad and intersecting themes:

  • The spatial and temporal diversity of migration and religion in Johannesburg
  • The sacralization and appropriation of urban space
  • The politics and economy of religion in the city
  • Spaces of refuge and conflict