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Houses of Worship, Objects of Heritage: On Intersections of Post-Imperial Memory and Religion

Thursday, February 3, 2022, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

Across the variegated geography of central and eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East, bygone imperial projects are increasingly inseparable from contemporary political and cultural life.

Textures and contradictions of post-imperial collective memory are particularly acute in relation to houses of worship and other religious sites. In this presentation, I query contemporary intersections of religion and heritage in erstwhile Habsburg and Ottoman contexts. To begin, I outline the theoretical and methodological contours of my research project, “Empires of Memory,” with an eye to the panoramic debates in imperial history, heritage studies, and memory studies in which they intervene. Following this prolegomenon, I explore the configurations of collective memory, heritage-making, and “imperial duress” (Stoler 2016) in four locations. First, I explore the ambivalent dynamics of community, minority-hood and imperial legacy that orbit the Synagogue of Trieste. Following this, I interrogate the recruitment of Budapest’s Gül Baba Mausoleum as a crucible for extra-territorial Neo-Ottoman Turkish nationalism. Next, I examine the sanitized collective memories of Ottoman religious pluralism that achieve articulation of Istanbul’s Sveti Stefan Church (“the Iron Church”). Finally, my itinerary closes with a discussion of Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Hercegovina, a site of “difficult heritage” (MacDonald 2008) in which collective memories of empire are inseparable from the fraught politics of ethno-religious difference in the present.


Jeremy F. Walton is a cultural anthropologist whose research resides at the intersection of memory studies, urban studies, the comparative study of empires and imperialism, and critical perspectives on materiality. He leads the Max Planck Research Group, “Empires of Memory: The Cultural Politics of Historicity in Former Habsburg and Ottoman Cities,” at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. Dr. Walton received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2009. His first book, Muslim Civil Society and the Politics of Religious Freedom in Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2017), is an ethnography of Muslim NGOs, state institutions, and secularism in contemporary Turkey. Prior to his current position, he held research and teaching fellowships at the Center for Advanced Studies of Southeastern Europe at the University of Rijeka, the CETREN Transregional Research Network at Georg August University of Göttingen, Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, and New York University’s Religious Studies Program. He has published his research in a broad selection of scholarly journals, including American Ethnologist, Sociology of Islam, The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Die Welt Des Islams and History and Anthropology. He is also the co-editor of several volumes, including Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency (University of Chicago Press, 2010) and Art and Politics in the Modern Period (University of Zagreb Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2019). “Empires of Memory,” which Dr. Walton designed, is an interdisciplinary, multi-sited project on post-imperial memory in post-Habsburg and post-Ottoman realms. In April 2022, he will inaugurate a new research group, “REVENANT—Revivals of Empire: Nostalgia, Amnesia, Tribulation” at the University of Rijeka (Croatia), with support from a European Research Council consolidator grant (#101002908).

For joining the lecture via Zoom, click here.

Meeting ID: 920 5908 4469
Passcode: 586755