The rite of urban passage

The rite of urban passage: The spatial dynamics of Muharram processions during the Iranian urban transformation

Reza Masoudi Nejad

completed


The Rite of Urban Passage investigates the passage of Iranian traditional urbanism into the modern world, a transformation that was the consequence of the modernization project initiated by the Pahlavi Dynasty in the 1920s. The book investigates this process by focusing on the spatial dynamics of Muharram processions. This ritual commemorates the tragic massacre of Hussein and his few companions in 680 CE. The Rite of Urban Passage offers not only an alternative approach to understanding the process of urban transformation, but also a spatial genealogy of Muharram rituals that provides a platform for developing a fresh spatial approach to ritual studies.

The Rite of Urban Passage investigates the dynamics of religious rituals as part of urban processes, thus offering a substantial contribution to ritual and urban studies. This contribution is based on a spatial reading of the history of Muharram rituals, and investigation into the re-organization of Muharram processions during the transformation of Iranian cities since the 1920s.

The first section of the book articulates the ritual as a spatial practice in two chapters. First, it addresses the question of ritual and space, and the ambiguity between the place of ritual and the spatiality of ritual. While the orchestration of rituals and sacred places is extensively studied, there is a little theoretical development on the spatial understanding of rituals. The idea of ritual as a spatial practice is particularly developed based on David Parkin’s Sacred Void (1991). Then, a spatial reading of Muharram rituals genealogy offers a fresh approach to articulating the historical processes by which the rituals developed.

The second section of the book looks at the dynamics of Muharram processions as an urban process, thus addressing the lack of attention to the religious practices in urban studies. It argues that the urban Marxist scholars, such as Lefebvre, made splendid contributions to urban studies; however, their intense focus on class struggles and everyday life neglects religious rituals as part of urban processes. The four chapters of the second section discuss the transitions of old Iranian cities during the modernization process by investigating the dynamics of the processions routes. Although this section offers first-hand ethnographic and oral history materials, its main contribution is in the articulation of urban transformation through the prism of the ritual.