Dear readers,

A lot has happened since I last posted. Most importantly, I will start as a PhD candidate at Utrecht University in a few weeks! Of course, I’m very excited with this opportunity to continue and expand my research and writing in this new project (at the department of Philosophy and Religious Studies). And naturally, a new job means a new website as you can see. Now you can find overviews of publications and projects here next to this (somewhat-regularly-onlytimewilltell-updated) blog.

Starting June 2016, I am employed as a ‘promovendus’ at Utrecht University in the NWO-funded research project ‘Beyond “Religion versus Emancipation”: Gender and Sexuality in Women’s Conversion Narratives in Contemporary Western Europe.’ This interdisciplinary project is supervised by prof. dr. Anne-Marie Korte, professor of Religion, Gender and Modernity at Utrecht University. Besides myself, there will be two other (postdoctoral) researchers as well as a research assistant in this project. So we will be a wonderful team of five in total, with the project taking five years in total. I am looking forward to working, learning and teaching at the department of philosophy and religious studies and together with advisers  and researchers from various backgrounds, both international and national.

You can find more information about this research project here.

I will keep you updated on the progress of my work and of the project at large, and might even share some inside information about life as a starting PhD researcher. According to the NOS and UVA, I will most likely be filthy and depressed before you know it, there is proof! Luckily, there is enough coffee and procrastination-proof inspiration (comics!) to get me through the next five years.

phd050508s ©jorge cham

(My roommate: “But of course you’re going to win a Nobel Prize. We’re going to win the Nobel Prize for Fierceness together, and that’s that.”)


For those of you curious, here is a short lay summary (not part of the official NWO proposal, but written solely for this blog).

In contemporary Western-Europe, sharp political and public debates about the changing role of religion in society continue to circulate. Monotheistic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are in these debates often considered a threat to ideals of democracy, equality and emancipation. At the same time, traditional religious groups increasingly foreground themselves as protectors of patriarchal, conservative and heteronormative regulations of gender and sexuality. So, we could say that there is an oppositional relation of religion and emancipation. In this debate, female converts in these traditional religions provide us with a paradox, both on socio-political and academic level. This is especially the case when it concerns higher educated ‘secular’ women (previously non-believing or not religiously practicing), who enter a religious tradition that has a public reputation of being rather conservative and restrictive when it comes to gender and sexuality. We thus hypothesize that especially gender and sexuality are the terrains where women experience a change in ideals, expectations and roles. It is expected that women’s conversion implies a compromise between this modern ideal of women’s emancipation and religious regulations about gender and sexuality, which are based on different understandings of individual autonomy and more traditional doctrines. As such, it problematizes the supposed opposition of liberal/secular ideas and religious traditions when it comes to notions about free choice, equality and religious authority and guidelines. It thus studies how ways of thinking and living develop in a combination of both religious and secular ideas, aims, self-understandings and practices.

Most noticably, public discussions about women and conversion focus mainly on the problems that Islam would bring to women’s emancipation and sexual freedom; ideals that are often put forward as defining the nation of the Netherlands. This project wants to broaden this discussion by analysing women’s conversion to all three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and in three different western European contexts: the Netherlands, Great Britain and Belgium. Besides these comparisons, this project consist of three subproject with a different disciplinary focus: A qualitative emperical PhD project which analyses women’s conversion narratives and experiences in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Netherlands, with smaller comparative case studies in Great Britain and Belgium. Secondly, a postdoctoral research about British, Dutch and Belgian public debates about women’s emancipation and religion; and thirdly, a postdoctoral project about religious notions of genderroles and sexuality within the three aforementioned traditions. In this project we will not only ask about the motivations for conversion (the ‘why’ which is often the focus in media). Conversion is here not seen as one deciding moment, but rather as a proces of negotiation of on the one hand individual, autonomous ideals, and on the other hand conforming to religious norms and personal and collective experiences of faith. As such, this enables a more nuanced and in-depth understanding of conversion narratives in general, and specifically women’s conversion in Western-Europe, both for political representations and academic reflections. The subproject where I am assigned is the PhD project which focuses on women’s experiences and narratives. I will interview women from these three religions, mainly in the Netherlands but with smaller case studies in Belgium and Great Britain. I will not only focus on doctrinal aspects of religion (the ‘rules and regulations’), but also on daily life implications of conversion, personal faith and the relation to the (religious) community.


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