While majority of population of Lisbon in Roman-Catholic (81%), this city is a host to many religions living next to each other from other major world religions to minor sects from Africa and Latin America. Religion is dominant in the city architecturally, with many cathedrals everywhere. But the church is also the basis of social infrastructure of the country. This paradox of seeing the church both as a political power as well as help for the ones in social need was a new way to see religion for many of us, who view religion with suspicion. In Lisbon we could revisit our own relationship to religion: we heard a lecture about historical power and horrors caused by religion; we saw contemporary art in churches; and we meet director of OCPM - a Catholic organisation for migration. In the times when religious conflict is becoming a dominant part of our life, this was an important part of our research.
“On the morning of the first day of the CityLab, while introducing the lab Thomas Walgrave touched upon a topic that is close to my heart – the idea that so called “conservative” people are trying to do away with so many hard-won social resources in the name of progress, while “progressive” people are attempting to conserve civil rights that have been hard fought for. The link between politics and religion was notable throughout the day, and frequently cropped up in discussions, and this first moment of letting that particular contradiction sit with us in the room felt like a fitting introduction to the host of other political contradictions that make themselves visible when religion is discussed in earnest.
Inasmuch as this City Lab in Lisbon has been about religion it has also, inevitably because of deep-seated links between Catholocism and the government in this country, been about politics. Space – everywhere in the world – who owns it, who is it in it, and how they are permitted to use it – is the major political question, relevant (essential!) to our past and quickly and frighteningly shifting in our future. The very unquestionable existence of a host of churches with their large symbolic and geographical footprints in the centre of a city like Lisbon, some with tiny ageing congregations, and granted 10% of the country’s budget, is itself a political reality. But Maria Gil took us to visit also artist-run DIY spaces in Carnide, on the outskirts of the city, kept up by will power, determination, and “thinking about direction” in a neighbourhood as a first step to having some power and agency to influence it, is also a political reality, and it seems, a difficult but promising one.
During that final conversation, one of the Citylab artists, Ahil Ratnamohan, told us about his Nigerian Christian friend, who commented that Europeans, whether we are believers or non-believers, are to his mind "good Christians." He pointed out that a huge deal of Western society is informed by the Judeo-Christian ideology, from taxes being an offshoot of tithings to the legal system taking a perpetrators repentance into consideration when sentencing them. Just as Zizek suggests that we are not even able to dream outside of Capitalism in his film A Pervert's Guide to Ideology, there is a question around whether or not Christianity leaves an equally big ideological footprint on our conscious and unconscious behaviours, and what the shape of that footprint might be - where its tread leads us backwards, and where it actually leads us forwards.” (from the Lisbon Lab diaries by Deborah Pearson)
June 5-9, 2016
Alkantara in collaboration with LÓKAL