The Spirit of Hillbrow: Religion and the Ordering of Social Space in Inner-City Johannesburg

  • Alex Wafer
Part of the Global Diversities book series (GLODIV)


Like many cities in the Global South, the religious and spiritual realms are vividly present in the ordering of everyday life in Johannesburg. Urban spaces are saturated with religious iconography and symbolism, everywhere evident in the naming of internet kiosks and hair salons, and religion is an important element of people’s social routines in ways that challenge the assumptions of the inevitable link between modernity and secularism in the twentieth century (cf. Becci and Burchardt, Topographies of Faith: Religion in Urban Spaces, 2013; Durkheim 2012). Yet I am interested in—more than merely the presence of religion in the materiality of the city of the Global South—the ways that religion and spirituality order the materiality of the city, providing a set of tools through which to interpret and also engage with an urban context characterised by alienation, anomie and precarity as much as by networks of affiliation and association. In this chapter, I consider two examples, from the inner-city suburb of Hillbrow in Johannesburg, of the way in which individuals order their everyday life through rationalities that move between the spiritual/religious domain and the material domain. I refer loosely to Durkheim’s theorisation of the sacred and the profane, although I suggest that this is not the only way to think about the intersection of the material and the non-material in Hillbrow. Rather, I suggest that what we may refer to as the spiritual realm—rendered ever present in the material realm—provides a framework for ordering a material realm that seems hopelessly implicated within a multiplicity of competing orders.


Material World Roll Call Dialectical Relationship Associational Life Friday Morning 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alex Wafer
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Geography, Archeology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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