Accepted paper:

Diversity at the heart of Christianity: catholic management of migration and multiculturalism in Rome


Jan Bock (Cumberland Lodge)

Paper short abstract:

Rome used to be a rather homogeneous city, shaped by Christian culture. The recent arrival of Muslim migrants has led to contested changes of the cityscape. I examine how Catholic integration initiatives for refugees, supported by the pope, seek to manage diversity and emergent forms of belonging.

Paper long abstract:

Rome is a major European capital, marked by migration and cultural diversity, but also the centre of Catholic Christendom. My paper explores this tension through the lives of ethnic and religious minorities in a city visually, materially, and socially characterized by the legacy of 2,000 years of Christian culture. Nuns, monks, priests, and pilgrims are a ubiquitous sight on Rome's streets and squares, lined with baroque churches, convents, monasteries, seminaries, Catholic charities, and other references to the Christian faith. If Rome has been a cosmopolitan city for centuries, hosting people from around the world, then these foreigners used to be temporary visitors united by their Catholicism (leaving aside the small, secluded Jewish community). Since the 1990s, however, this has changed. Alongside Muslims from South-East Asia and the Middle East, migration from African countries has visibly increased. Tens of thousands of refugees have arrived in Rome, where the pope has called on Christians to offer them hospitality. The chronically strained city administration has failed to cope with the management of cultural difference and multiculturalism, leaving the task to Catholic and other civil society initiatives. This paper explores a Catholic integration project in a diverse neighbourhood, which seeks to facilitate integration for predominantly Muslim African refugees. I examine how this initiative envisions autonomous living, difference, home-making, and belonging in a predominantly Catholic city, further exploring how public space and popular imaginations of Rome have become contested over the increasing visibility of non-Catholic culture and multiculturalism at the heart of Christianity.

panel Urba09
Materializing exile: production of difference and diversity in the city