- The art of imperfection: contemporary synagogues in Germany and the Netherlands
- Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
- Volume | Issue number
- 20 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
This article compares the remarkable revival of Jewish religious architecture in Germany and the Netherlands by focusing on two cases in particular: a newly built synagogue centre in Dresden and a renovated synagogue in a small Dutch town. Both structures contain a carefully styled ornament of imperfection that on the surface looks remarkably similar. Although in both cases the ornament can be interpreted as a symbolic comment on the post-war Jewish presence in Europe, their symbolic meaning and depth differ profoundly. In Dresden, this element primarily has a political meaning meant for the German public, to which the predominantly Russian-Jewish community is largely indifferent. In the Netherlands, the stylistic creation of imperfection is a more complex, multilayered architectural sign that speaks of aspirations of tradition, continuity, and a particular religious way of being in the world. Building upon these ethnographic reflections, as well as on Richard Sennett's work on architecture and the human body, I interpret these architectural practices as an example of a particular kind of contemporary religiosity which seeks to engage actively with fragmented and unsettled reality, both historically and existentially. This is presented as an alternative to dominant theories of contemporary religion that interpret modern religiosity in terms of authenticity, the sacralization of the self, and the desire for wholeness.
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