This article seeks to apply Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger’s theoretical concept of a “religious hotspot” to the case of representations of the French Catholic shrine of Lourdes in Danish (Protestant or post-Protestant) public media from 1858 to 1914. While suggesting that hotspots could be seen as centers in wider interest spheres, I seek to demonstrate the push and pull effects of the hotspot of Lourdes, moving from the local level of the Pyrenees to the national level of France and, further, to the broader Catholic and freethinking-intellectual worlds before I finally arrive at relatively distant Denmark. Here, the development of the representations of Lourdes from 1858 to 1914 mirrors public representations of “the fantastic” and of religiosity as such in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning with disdain, the Lourdes representations end in nostalgic fascination – in a longing for the enchanted hotspot no longer available (that is, no longer deemed plausible) in Denmark at the opening of the twentieth century. Further, this case helps evaluate the dynamics of exoticism that I propose to be an integral part of religious hotspots per se; in addition, it helps tweak out the commercial nature intrinsic to religious hotspots.
Does it make sense to introduce the notion of hotspot as a heuristically valuable category in the study of religion? In the first part of the article, I argue for the value of the notion by teasing the term apart into semiotic categories. Over and against the customary sacred–profane binary, which in my view does not represent a dichotomy but two opposite poles on a continuum, the hotspot model has the advantage of presenting itself in both temporal and spatial terms. Moreover, it includes the intermediary stages, signified by the distinction between lukewarm and lukecold locations and periods. Furthermore, I supplement this model with the Weberian typology of the different forms of authority needed in order to be able to differentiate between different types of hotspots. In the second part of the article, I try to demonstrate the value of the model by applying it to a variety of cases in the history of religions. Finally, I present reflections on the evolutionary origin of hotspots as a bridge between the two main parts holding that, to explain any phenomenon in the phenomenology of religion, it is urgent to find the evolutionary building blocks for it.
In this article I analyze aspects of religious geography in the mobilization by Hindu nationalists in India in the 1980s and 1990s and how Hindu nationalism and Hindu religious geography were merged in the case of the Ayodhyā conflict. Ayodhyā was consciously changed from a pilgrimage center (tīrtha) of diminishing religious importance into a religiopolitical hotspot by political forces. The potential for a Hindu–Muslim conflict and for mobilizing support for their vision of a Hinduized India was probably what made the place attractive for Hindu nationalists. The article argues that Hindu nationalism exploited the views of territoriality of traditions of pilgrimage and salvific space and merged these with their political nationalist agenda, and that it was this blending of views of space from the pilgrimage traditions, ideas of national territory, and Hindu nationalists’ ideas of a homogeneous Hindu nation with aggressive political agitation that turned Ayodhyā into a religiopolitical hotspot.
This article explores the multiethnic and multireligious sacred place of Kataragama (Tamil: Kathirkamam) located at the southeast corner of Sri Lanka. For the devotees, Kataragama’s main attraction is the god Skanda, also known by many other names, for example Murukan, Kataragama Deviyo, or Mahasena. Kataragama attracts people from all ethnic and religious communities, as well as from all social strata in Sri Lankan society. Using Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger’s notion of “religious hotspots” as a starting point, this article analyzes how the “thaumaturgical power” of Kataragama forms the basis for the coexistence of multiple religious systems within the defined space of the sacred city. This coexistence, however, is under constant pressure from exclusionary nationalist and political forces. This transformation is analyzed with reference to the recent decades of Sinhala Buddhist politics of public space to “restore” Sri Lanka to dhammadipa, that is, sacred Buddhist territory. This raises questions about the possible loss of “thaumaturgical power,” as Kataragama is moving from having “ontic” multireligious qualities to “epistemic” qualities along majoritarian lines.
This introductory article outlines the meanings behind and the reasons for suggesting “religious hotspots” as a new analytical concept in the study of religion. The idea of suggesting this concept is not to replace others – for instance, a pilgrimage site, a religious place, a supernatural place, or a storied place – but to broaden the perspective and to emphasize the dynamic, multidimensional, and relational aspects of place, not least concerning how a religious place can be a hotspot for some and a cold one for others, but also how a place can change from being a hotspot to a cold spot and vice versa. Being a heated place, a religious hotspot can also have an unintended effect on people being there. They can either become “infected” by or “cured” of a feeling of religious or spiritual belonging. The concept is a contribution to the growing interest in space and place when analyzing religion, in recognition of how a landscape or a particular religiously legitimized site can be an important element in collective cultural, social, and political meaning-making.
The article investigates the emergence and transformation of humanitarian associations in Egypt from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. It argues that on the one hand these associations were new institutions echoing the foundation of new charitable organisations worldwide and in Egypt. The colonial domination of Egypt and its refusal by the Egyptians thereby played a prominent role. On the other hand, the humanitarian associations have to be seen in the continuity of long-established practices and discourses of charity, performed in particular by religious endowments (awqāf). Based on the example of the Egyptian Red Crescent, which is explored through a wide range of un explorer Egyptian, British and Swiss archives as well as a broad historiography in European and Arabic languages, this article emphasises the interconnections between international, regional, national and local institutions in Egypt in the field of philanthropy.
At the end of the First World War, a profoundly transformed Middle East faced massive population displacements and health crises, which presented crucial challenges for humanitarian actors. North American philanthropy and charity played a decisive role in this context. Among the organisations involved, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (cnewa) is not well known. It was established by American Catholics to help Eastern Christians – especially Greek Catholics – and to thwart the influence of Protestantism in the region, mainly by supporting local Churches and missions in their humanitarian and welfare work. cnewa was quickly placed under the supervision of the US episcopate and the Vatican, partly transforming its operations and purposes. Its activity became closely involved with the Eastern policy of the Holy See, which primarily focused on the “return” of Orthodox Christians to the Roman Church. This article, at the crossroads of the history of mission and humanitarian aid, examines the early developments of cnewa and highlights how the Catholic Church dealt with the emergence of modern humanitarian aid in the mid-twentieth century.