Muslims in Transition: Religion and Politics in Western Europe
The first part of the seminar paper will critically trace the emergence of ‘’Islam’’ and ‘Muslim” as politicised and securitised categories in Western Europe. The paper will then turn to an in-depth case study on Shia Muslim community formation in the United Kingdom. In doing so, the paper aims to show how the political climate in Europe and the Middle East region has not only complicated the role of Islam in western secular societies, but has complicated and transformed communal boundaries and networks within and between Muslim communities in Western Europe. Instead of privileging the reproduction and integration of ‘Islam’ in block form, as a fixed religious system, the paper demonstrates the need to amplify research that provides a nuanced understanding of the diverse and changing Muslim populations, and how they engage and respond to particular local, national and transnational social and political conditions. Based on extensive primary and secondary research, the paper reveals complex social and political transformations within Muslim communities in the West, and the varying ways they have responded to the complicated politics that surrounds them. The paper will critically engage with arguments that put forth irreconcilable differences between ‘Islam’ and the ‘West’ (Lewis 2002; Caldwell 2009) and in a different vein, the emerging school of post-secularists who question the translatability of Islamic traditions with religion/secular categorical distinctions in Western liberal democracies (Asad 2003; Mahmoud 2016).
Kathryn Spellman Poots is a Visiting Associate Professor at Columbia University and Academic Program Director for the MA in Islamic Studies. She is also Associate Professor at Aga Khan University's Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations in London. Kathryn convenes Columbia's MA core course: Foundation to Islamic Studies and Muslim Societies. Her research interests include Muslims in Europe and North America, the Iranian diaspora, transnational migration and gender studies.Her publications include the monograph: Religion and Nation: Iranian Local and Transnational Networks in Britain (Berghahn, Oxford and New York, 2005); the co-edited volumes: Gender, Governance & Islam: Women, Islam and the State Revisited (Edinburgh University Press, 2018); The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest: The Arab Spring and Beyond (Edinburgh University Press, 2016) and Ethnographies of Islam: Ritual Performances and Everyday Practices (Edinburgh University Press, 2014); and book chapters: “Second-Generation Muslims and the Making of British Shi’ism” in Kasinitz, P. & Bozorgmehr, M. (eds.) Growing Up Muslim in Europe and North America, Routledge; and Spellman Poots, K. & Gholami, R. (2018) “Iranians in Great Britain: Integration, Cultural Production and Challenges of Identity” in Mobasher, M. (ed.) Iranians in Diaspora: Comparative Perspective on Iranian Immigrants in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe, University of Texas Press. Kathryn consults for organizations that focus on the rights and experiences of refugees and minority groupings, including the UNHRC (Geneva), UNESCO (Paris) and London Detainee Support Group.