Bulletin for the Study of Religion, Vol 47, No 1 (2018)

Urban Pareidolia: Fleeting but Hypermodern Signs of the Sacred?

Lionel Obadia


Urban settings have long been considered by scholars in religion as one of the main sites of the weakening of religion in the past decades, if not the main one. Indeed, according to the master narrative of modernity, urban life and the social and cultural mixing it implies, the quick transformations of traditional institutions that used to rule entire societies, changes in the frames and in the forms of social relationships, cultural intermingling and métissages, the diffusion of lay and rationalistic ideals in the urban populations, among many other factors, are supposed to have played a crucial role in what was labelled the “fading away” of ancient religious traditions, or at least, in the “withdrawal” of religion from the so-called “public sphere” and its relocation in a “private sphere” where it is now subject to individualization processes . But the context has dramatically changed in the recent years. Almost unexpectedly, urban settings have become the main site for the return of religion, and have revealed the other side of modernity: the revival of religious beliefs and practices that modern and industrialized societies, from North to South, from the West to the East, have witnessed, has mainly taken place in urban settings – although rural areas, for different reasons, have also been concerned by the “return of the sacred” (the reinvention of rural and remote “sacred sites”, the installation of many new religious movements in the countryside, in a dual location, half urban – half rural).

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/bsor.33670


Atran, Scott. 2002. In Gods We Trust. The Evolutionary Landscape of
Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bastide, Roger. 1975. Le sacré sauvage, et autres essais. Paris:

Boyer, Pascal, 1997. La religion comme phénomène naturel. Paris:

Chidester, David. 2005. Authentic Fakes: Religion and American
Popular Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cipriani, Roberto. 1984. “Religion and Politics. The Italian Case:
Diffused Religion.” Archives de sciences sociales des religions 58
(1): 29–51. https://doi.org/10.3406/assr.1984.2325.

Eliade, Mircea. 1965. Le sacré et le profane. Paris: Gallimard.

Edelman, Nicole. 2006. Histoire de la voyance et du paranormal: Du
XVIIIe siècle à nos jours. Paris: Le Seuil.

Favret-Saada, Jeanne. 1994. “Weber, les émotions et la religion.”
Terrain 22: 93–108  https://doi.org/10.4000/terrain.3088.

Guthrie, Stewart E. 1995. Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of
Religion. New York: Oxford University Press

Hervieu-Léger, Danièle, 2000. Religion as a Chain of Memory. New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Introvigne, Massimo. 1995. Il ritorno della magia. Milan: Ancora.

Liu, Jiangang, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee.
2014. “Seeing Jesus in Toast: Neural and Behavioral Correlates of
Face Pareidolia.” Cortex 53: 60–77.

Lee, Joanne. 2016. “I See Faces: Popular Pareidolia and the
Proliferation of Meaning.” In Materiality and Popular Culture: The
Popular Life Of Things, edited by Ania Malinowska Lebek Karolina,
105–28. Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies. London:

Nickell, Joe. 2007. Adventures In Paranormal Investigation.
Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

Oppy, Graham, ed. 2015. The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary
Philosophy of Religion. London: Routledge.

Parker, G. Christián. 1998. “Modern Popular religion. A Complex
Object of Study for Sociology.” International Sociology 13 (2):

Reed, Graham. 1988. The Psychology of Anomalous Experience: A
Cognitive Approach. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Sagan, Carl. 1995. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in
the Dark. New York: Random House.

Uchiyama, Makoto, Yoshiyuki Nishio, Kayoko Yokoi, Kazumi Hirayama,
Toru Imamura, Tatsuo Shimomura, and Etsuro Mori. 2012. “Pareidolias:
Complex Visual Illusions in Dementia with Lewy Bodies.” Brain 135:
2458-69. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/aws126/.

Vasquez, Manuel, and Marie Marquardt. 2000. “Globalizing the Rainbow
Madonna: Old Time Religion in the Present Age.” Theory, Culture and
Society 17 (4): 119–43. href="https://doi.org/10.1177/02632760022051347.">https://doi.org/10.1177/02632760022051347.

Wightman, Gregory, 2015. The Origins of Religion in the Paleolithic.
Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Zusne, Leonard, and Warren H. Jones. 1982. Anomalistic Psychology.
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: info@equinoxpub.com

Privacy Policy