‘They have different ways of doing things’ Cemeteries, diversity and municipal spirituality

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Cemeteries offer a unique window into questions of multiculturalism in contemporary European cities; and a unique set of problems for planners to deal with. As the second largest type of urban greenspace, cemeteries form an important if forgotten aspect of most cities. However, as places of bodily disposal and remembrance, as well as (potentially) recreation and biodiversity, they present different challenges for planning than those of other green infrastructure, especially in the context of a multifaith population. This paper draws on research from cemeteries in the UK which questions their role in presenting and promoting local identity, and accommodating multifaith and multicultural practices. This reveals different understandings of group and individual identities- between those seen as ‘indigenous’ or ‘immigrant’ with assumptions of homogenous wishes for members of the latter category demonstrating the ongoing power of ideas of ethnic or religious difference - or deviance from an imagined ‘norm’. The paper goes on to suggests that a more nuanced understanding of cultural and religious difference can not only provide more appropriate places of remembrance for everyone, but also demonstrate the importance of a different type of sacred space. This is defined in the idea of municipal spirituality: places which demonstrate and allow access to non- instrumental, or transcendental values without being part of, or ‘owned’ by any organised religion. This is not only important in the planning of new cemeteries, but in reasserting the value of other places which can also fulfil this purpose.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Definite Space – Fuzzy Responsibility, Prague, 13-16th July, 2015
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