Belonging and Heimat
Aims and Objectives
This project aims to foster an exchange between English and German speakers on such questions of belonging, Heimat and citizenship. It will involve 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 of both countries.
The particular objectives are: to foster an inter-disciplinary engagement on belonging and Heimat through electronic exchange of existing research material; to organise workshops in the UK and Germany for discussion stimulated by the exchange; and to publish a book based on the discussions.
The more permanent legacy will be a deeper mutual respect and understanding of the various interpretations of belonging and Heimat and a sense that we might negotiate shared ways of belonging together in intellectual understanding and faith so as to better secure the future.
The Heimat & Belonging Project has developed from research on a theological critique of sustainability carried out by Professor John Rodwell for the M.B. Reckitt Trust , a charitable foundation that funds work challenging social and economic assumptions and releasing energy for change.
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 the principles and realities of regeneration and sustainability have been raised in Germany where the term which expresses "belonging" is Heimat. The original meaning of this word is "home ground" but over a millennium it has acquired a rich variety of resonances and, after its suborning by National Socialist ideology, is now attracting a new and wide interest, not only in the environmental realm but also in arts like film, theatre and literature.
Heimat is fundamentally about who you are and where you belong, is a place where you know who you are and that you belong there. There is often a measure of reciprocal gift and acceptance between person and place and more recent German interpretations favour a more dynamic perspective, such that 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.
An initial informal scoping workshop for the Heimat & Belonging Project was held on Friday 6 February 2009 at the University of Manchester. Fifteen theologians, philosophers, landscape architects, restoration ecologists and a garden designer came together to share their own understandings of "belonging" and to scope a possible research agenda. Funding has now been secured from the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at Manchester University towards a conference in May 2010 with ten or so papers on these emerging themes from English and German-speaking delegates.