Conference: Religious Minorities' Self-Representations

Panel 3A

Religion, Secularism and the Social Construction of Whiteness

Chair: Nella van den Brandt (Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University)
Room: Sweelinckzaal, Drift 21

‘Contested Whiteness: White Converts to Islam in France and the United States’ – Juliette Galonnier (Post-doctoral fellow at INED: Institut National d’Études Démographiques, Paris)
By crossing religious boundaries, white converts to Islam shed light on the nature of such boundaries, and enable us to decide whether they are simply religious or also embody racial difference. Using in-depth interviewing with 82 converts in France and the US; ethnographic observations in convert associations; and content analysis, I compare the experiences of French and American converts to answer the following: how and when is conversion to Islam interpreted in terms of changing one’s racial status rather than a mere change in religious orientation? How do converts react to the racialization of their newly-embraced religion and to the contestation of their whiteness? I detail the various strategies that converts use to maneuver the meaning of their racial and religious identities. I show that converts alternately seek to embrace, repudiate, radically redefine or minimize their whiteness. These endeavors are shaped by national specificities regarding race frames and secularism regimes.

‘Europe’s Invisible Muslims: Bosniaks in Berlin’ – Merima Sehagic (PhD Candidate, Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität Berlin)

Since the outbreak of the Bosnian war in 1992, the German government admitted more than 320,000 refugees primarily from Bosnia, with Berlin alone taking up to 30,000. Even though a significant proportion of these displaced people had to return to Bosnia or resettle elsewhere due to Germany’s repatriation plan, there still exists a large Bosniak community in this host society. Whilst living in West-European countries, Bosniaks insist on their European identity and identify less with other Muslims of non-European origin. The mainstream perception of Bosniak migrants as white Europeans and their own self-perception as “whites in a white country” has resulted in the under emphasis of their simultaneous position as Muslims in a “white country”. Therefore, this paper not only approaches the complex positioning and experiences of Bosniaks through constructions of whiteness, it also aims to place the Bosniak case within debates on the racialization of Islam.

‘Dancing Away Religion: On Ethnic and Racial Contours of the Secular in an Iranian Dutch Context’ – Rahil Roodsaz (Postdoctoral Researcher, Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen)
This paper investigates practices of non-religion in the constructions of gender and sexuality among the Iranian Dutch, focusing on a dancing event during a Dutch annual multi-cultural summer festivity. It argues that the Iranian Dutch’ efforts in presenting themselves as non-religious do not result in entirely overcoming the position of the cultural and racial ‘other’ and a complete inclusion in the secular Dutch ‘us’. Although this incomplete inclusion might help in making the ethnic and racial contours of the secular more tangible, it also forms the very condition for performing an ‘unexpected’ progressive self. This incompleteness of the Iranian Dutch secular self is thus its very condition of possibility. The analyses point at the illuminating potential of merging the meta-level epistemological and political insights into the secular as a mode of governance with the specific subjective meanings of actual claims to and appropriations of irreligiosity at the everyday life level.