Interrogating the role of religious actors in shaping urban planning: reflections from Middle Eastern and Latin American cities

Dr Azadeh Mashayekhi, Dr Noura Wahby, and Dr Camila Pereira Saraiva

Funding period: 1 October 2023 – 30 June 2024
Type of funding: Seminar Series

Host institutions: The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (United Kingdom), The American University in Cairo, Public Policy and Administration department (Egypt), and Universidade Federal do ABC, (Brasil), Programa de Pós Graduação em Planejamento e Gestão do território/ Laboratório de Estudos e Projetos Urbanos e Regionais (Brazil).
Dates: October 2023 (Sao Paulo), February 2024 (Cairo), and June 2024 (London).
Lead organisers: Dr Azadeh Mashayekhi (UCL), Dr Noura Wahby (American University of Cairo), and Dr Camila Pereira Saraiva (Universidade Federal do ABC)
Team members: Dr Thaisa Comelli (UCL Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction) and Dr Vafa Dianati (UCL Bartlett Development Planning Unit).
Contact: Dr Azadeh Mashayekhi

Abstract: This seminar series aims to contextualise, unpack, and compare the ways in which religious (or religious-inspired) actors engage with planning systems and governance processes, and the perceived impact on trajectories of urban development in cities. Despite the increasing recognition of the role of religious groups and actors in planning and development of cities (Sandercock, 2006; Bayat, 2007; Harb, 2011; Fawaz and Harb, 2010; Manouchehrifar and Forester, 2021; Pontual, 2016; Touris, 2021), there is still little evidence of the ways in which these actors might be influencing urban development and planning in a more global and nuanced perspective, that is, the ways they operate as key actors of urban development. Engaging with these actors, their material (rather than spiritual) practices and tactics is central to advancing urban debates on urban politics and governance, especially in the global south, where there is a deep gap between normative planning discourse (often liberal, Eurocentric and secular) and situated processes of city-making.

By jointly analysing Middle Eastern and Latin American cities, this seminar series seeks to expand the epistemic horizon of urban studies by unpacking the role of religious actors that are increasingly active – politically and spatially – yet absent in planning theories. We do so by focusing on the involvement of various religious (or religiously inspired) actors in initiatives that tackle perceived urban problems and inequalities through their own framework of values. Such endeavour entails exploring spatial tactics deployed by religious actors to reconfigure relations in certain areas to align with their ideological and political lines of dominance.