Accepted paper:

Contested heritage: Christian material culture and home-feelings in Amsterdam


Daan Beekers (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Looking at the contested conversion of a Catholic church in Amsterdam, I describe its central role in local quests for feeling at home. Local debates about religious heritage point to a rethinking of the place of Christian culture and a reworking of fault-lines in today's 'unchurched' society.

Paper long abstract:

This paper looks at the widespread abandonment and conversion of church-buildings in the Netherlands. It is estimated that, on average, as many as two to four churches close down every week. These closures, and the often uncertain fate of these buildings, tend to spark emotionally charged debates in local settings. My paper looks at one particularly striking case: the early twentieth century Roman Catholic Chassé Church in Amsterdam, which has been recently converted into the Chassé Dance Studios and Hotel. Its abandonment and repurposing involved a long and contentious process. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at the site, I argue that the local, affective debates about this abandoned church have been substantially informed by notions of home and by desires for feeling at home - albeit in diverse and often opposite ways for different groups of people. To former parishioners, the converted space represents the loss of a familiar home. For many local residents, by contrast, the building signifies local belonging and togetherness, yet in ways that diverge from its original religious signification. If the building is still interpreted religiously, this tends to be in terms of cultural heritage. Paradoxically, and similarly to other local debates around closed church buildings, those advocating the preservation of the Chassé Church have perceived Catholic organisations as jeopardising this aim. Closed and repurposed church buildings like this, I argue, are focal points for debates about the place of religion in society, exposing new fault-lines in our era after secularization.

panel D06
Religious heritage spaces: disputes and convergences