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Presented By: Center for European Studies

Conversations on Europe. Reinventing Tradition: Innovation and Transgression in Barcelona's Public Nativity Displays

Avi Astor, associate professor of sociology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Pessebre 2021, photos by Avi Astor Pessebre 2021, photos by Avi Astor
Pessebre 2021, photos by Avi Astor
Public displays of Christian symbols like the crèche have gone from being taken-for-granted elements of local tradition to objects of contestation in diverse European contexts due to pressures generated by secularization and religious diversification. Barcelona’s city government has responded creatively to these pressures by commissioning public crèches with highly abstract designs that dilute their religious symbolism, thereby rendering them more compatible with principles of separation and neutrality, and with the progressive image, the city wishes to project. This strategy of “aesthetic transmutation” represents an alternative to other possible responses, such as elimination or supplementation (i.e., adding minority religious symbols). In analyzing its development, Astor employs an interactionist approach that elucidates how the stances and actions of diverse actors implicated in the process do not reflect rigid pre-established ideological positions on identity, church-state relations, or the place of religion in the public sphere, but rather respond flexibly to situational interactions, pressures, and opportunities. His findings have implications for how sociologists conceptualize religious icons, the forces driving their transformation, and the role of interactive contexts in shaping how such transformation unfolds.

Avi Astor is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and is part of the Research Center for the Sociology of Religion (ISOR). He obtained his PhD in sociology from the University of Michigan in 2011. He has written on a variety of topics related to religion, culture, and identity. He is the author of Rebuilding Islam in Contemporary Spain (Sussex, 2017). His work has appeared in several prominent journals, including Theory and Society, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Qualitative Sociology, the International Migration Review, the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, and the International Journal for Urban and Regional Research.

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