Sensational Cities

Welcome to Sensational Cities, a series of public lectures taking place across Antwerp in the Autumn of 2018, during the city’s sensational baroque celebrations. Sensational Cities is a collaboration between the Ruusbroec Institute, the Department of History, and the Urban Studies Institute, all at the University of Antwerp. Please see Programme for practical details. Registration is free. Sensational Cities is organised by Kristof Smeyers.


The city, particularly in its Europa-centric incarnation, is often represented as the engine of modernisation and disenchantment in the nineteenth and early twentieth century: a place where societies and communities reinvented themselves, a nucleus from which technological and intellectual innovations spread into the rest of the world, and where intricate socioeconomic and political constellations paved the way for processes of democratisation. At the same time, as the city grew, it came to be seen as a controversial place, where morals were looser and spectacular forms of entertainment transgressed (largely virtual) boundaries of respectability. Despite its representation as the cradle of a rational modernity, the modern city was a hotbed of heterodox, fantastical, and religious beliefs and practices that often reinforced that controversial urban image.

Building on recent scholarship on geographies of the supernatural, this series of public lectures highlights that apparent paradox of the city as locus of modernisation and as fertile ground for popular but contested religiosity. Over the course of three evening talks in the Autumn of 2018 we aim to travel into the urban underbelly of sensational religion and magic ‘as lived’. There we not only uncover the beliefs and practices of the city’s inhabitants, but also come to a better understanding of how societies that were busy constructing a narrative of monolithic modernisation tried to come to grips with the continued popular desire for the supernatural, the religious, and the sensational. The city, we see, was and continues to be a profoundly religious, magical place.