The Uncertain Future of Religious Pasts in a Troubled Present: the Refoundation of the Marian Column in Prague’s Old Town Square
The recent reconstruction of the Marian Column (“Mariánský Sloup”) in Prague’s Old Town Square (“Staroměstské náměstí”), one of the city’s most iconic and historically significant locations, has sparked a heated public discourse, also echoed by innumerable conversations in the private sphere, making it a very timely and interesting case study to better observe and understand changing heritage narratives as well as religious and non-religious identities in the Czech Republic.
Drawing on previous theorisation by the author about the “retro-futurology” of the heritage discourse, and on his works on the revitalisation and reconfiguration of religious traditions, this project intends to analyse this case against the background of the broader socio-cultural pattern of “re-enchantment” currently at work in central-eastern Europe. It will also address the significance of the Marian Column as a material piece of heritage as well as a contested symbol, and what it stood and stands for, in Czech and local history. The project will also focus on the entanglements of this material and symbolic reconstitution with phenomena such as the social reinterpretation of the past, the making of national symbols, religious heritage-making processes and their role in political positioning and identity expression in central-eastern Europe today.
Dr. Alessandro Testa is Senior Researcher and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Sociological Studies, Charles University, Prague, where since 2020 he has also led the ERC CZ “ReEnchEu” research project. Prior to this, he was Lise Meitner Postdoctoral Fellow and Teacher at the University of Vienna (2015-2019).
Trained in history, ethnology, and religious studies at the Universities of Florence, Rome, Paris, and Messina, he received his PhD in Social Anthropology in 2013. He has conducted long-term, intensive ethnographic fieldworks in Italy (2010-2012), Czech Republic (2013-2014; 2020-ongoing), and Catalonia (Spain) (2016-2020). In the past decade he has been affiliated for long terms with the Universities of Tallinn, Pardubice, Vienna, and Prague, and has also been a visiting scholar in Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Iceland.
His main research fields are Social and Historical Anthropology and Religious Studies, with a focus on the Ethnology and Cultural History of Europe, Ritual Studies, Comparative Religion, and Cultural Heritage Studies. His research interests encompass topics ranging from public rituality to secularisation, from longue-durée cultural continuities to social transformations, from popular cultures to vernacular forms of religiosity, from mythologies to esotericism, from cultural heritage-making to identity formation and nationalism in Europe, and from theories and methods in social and historical sciences to epistemology. These topics have been approached in a multi-disciplinary fashion and explored theoretically and empirically, either comparatively (at the pan-European or global level) or with a special attention to Central-Eastern and Mediterranean Europe.
His research outputs include four authored books, four edited volumes, some 60 peer-reviewed articles in journals and chapters in volumes, several dozen other pieces of writing (reviews, reports, non-peer-reviewed articles, etc.), and more than 120 talks and conference presentations in 20 countries. For years he has been teaching courses in Historical Anthropology, Anthropology of Religion, Anthropology of Cultural Heritage, and Ethnographic Methods.
After having successfully completed several individual projects for prestigious research schemes (Lise Meitner Postdoctoral Fellowship, Marie Curie / OPVVV), he is currently (2020-2022) Principal Investigator for the ERC CZ project “ReEnchEu – The Re-Enchantment of Central-Eastern Europe”, for which he manages a team of five scholars from four different countries.
His long international experience has led him to become a polyglot – he can write and speak seven languages and has a good understanding or a passive knowledge of another half a dozen.
Apart from his (multi)disciplinary expertise in social and historical sciences, he has a strong interest in philosophy, linguistics, cognitive sciences, and biology, but his true loves remain literature, music, and the arts.
Many of his publications can be retrieved here: https://cuni.academia.edu/AlessandroTesta
1) Tobias Köllner, Alessandro Testa (eds.), Politics of Religion: Secularity, Atheism, Conflicts, LIT, Berlin et al. – forthcoming (Autumn 2021)
2) Alessandro Testa, Mariann Vaczi (eds.), Public Rituality, Cultural Heritage, and the Politics of National Identity in Contemporary Catalonia. Monographic issue of Cultural Analysis, n. 19 (2) – forthcoming (Winter 2021)
3) Alessandro Testa, Rituality and Social (Dis)Order: The Historical Anthropology of Popular Carnival in Europe. Routledge, London-New York, series “Routledge Studies in Cultural History”, 2020
4) Cyril Isnart, Alessandro Testa (eds.), Re-enchantment, Ritualization, Heritage-making: Processes Reconfiguring Tradition in Europe. Monographic issue of Ethnologia Europaea (ISSN 0425-4597), n. 50 (1), 2020
5) Alessandro Testa “Events that Want to Become Heritage: on the Vernacularisation of ICH and the Politics of Culture and Identity in European Public Rituals”, in C. Clopot, M. Nic Craith, U. Kockel, B. Tjarve (eds.), Heritage and Festivals in Europe, Routledge, London-New York, pp. 79-94, 2019