The Spirit of Streets: Urban Religion
I still remember my first time walking through a lively city neighborhood. Every turn seemed to reveal an interesting building, esoteric shop, or small green space. The sidewalks were full of people running errands, dashing to work, or hoping to meet a friend. Ever since, exploring neighborhoods, simply strolling through them with no set goal or destination, has been a favorite pastime.
As a devout city-dweller, I was excited to participate in Urban Religion, the Center on Religion and Culture’s first in-person Duffy Fellows event and a walking tour of the Bronx right outside of Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus this past May.
2021-2022 Duffy Fellow Benedict Reilly designed the tour to highlight the layered religious and spiritual geography and history of the Bronx and to encourage guests to look at this part of the borough with a fresh perspective. (This theme also anchored his blog post on a reported sighting of the Virgin Mary on the Grand Concourse in 1945.) Showcasing the diverse faith traditions of the neighborhood, Reilly discussed the Belmont Islamic Center, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Christian Assembly of the Bronx, and other buildings and spaces.
Encountering the neighborhood on foot allowed the audience to begin to experience its physical and sensorial textures. It wasn’t just an item in a news story or a sight glanced from a car window. It was a real place with real people.
American thinking often dictates that spiritual longing, faith expressions, or traditional religion are antithetical to the urban sphere: they belong in the heartland and not in coastal cities. Reilly’s tour demonstrated otherwise. God might be found in a house of worship off Belmont Avenue, a small park on Arthur Avenue, or on a corner on Fordham Road.
Next time you take a walk through your own neighborhood, try to look at it as if for the first time. You might be surprised by what you see.