The Heimat Project

Heimat project aims to foster an exchange between English and German speakers on questions of belonging and citizenship. It involves academics in theology and ecology, practitioners in regeneration and landscape architecture and those with commitments to place among communities of the faithful in the Christian churches in the UK and Germany.

This is a project inspired by research on sustainability and belonging carried out by Professor John Rodwell for the MB Reckitt Trust. It is based at the Lincoln Theological Institute at Manchester University where he is an Honorary Research Fellow.

The first meeting of the Heimat project was held at the Lincoln Theological Institute on 6 February 2009 and preparations are now in hand for a conference in 2010. Updates on the project will appear on www.manchester.ac.uk/heimat.

Background

A renewed interest in the theology of place has moved away from narrower preoccupations with sacred space to a wider engagement with ideas of how people of faith belong in the world, and what the particularities of geography have to do with redemption. In such a light, belonging is about mutual entanglements of necessity and freedom that are negotiated by people in place.

Meanwhile, research by landscape ecologists has shown how difficult it is for current planning processes in the UK to incorporate multifunctional notions of place that integrate social and economic concerns with wider understandings of environment and culture. In particular, interpretations of place and belonging in the regeneration of post-industrial landscapes are very material and shallow. ‘Securing the Future’ (as the UK government calls sustainability) takes little account of the often contested histories of places, and the price people have paid to live their lives there.

Similar concerns about regeneration and sustainability have been raised in Germany where the term that expresses ‘belonging’ is Heimat. The original meaning of this is ‘home ground’ but over a millennium the idea has acquired a rich variety of resonances. After its suborning by National Socialist ideology, Heimat is now attracting new interest, in the environmental realm as well as in film, theatre and literature.

Heimat is fundamentally about a place where you know who you are and that you belong. There is often an implied measure of reciprocal gift and acceptance between person and place and in a more dynamic perspective, Heimat can be permanently appropriated in a way that articulates social change. This circle of thinking has recently been completed by theological reflection on Beheimatung as an essential process in social construction, the planning process and the salvation of built environments.

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