Beyond Religion versus Emancipation

Starting June 2016, I am employed as a PhD candidate 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, with a five-person researchteam consisting of two postdoctoral researchers and an assistant besides prof. Korte and myself as doctoral researcher.

With this team, we aim to collaborate (inter)nationally with various scholars, research institutes and organisations, such as Ghent University, University of Gloucestershire, Coventry University, University of Helsinki, the International Association for the Study of Religion and Gender, NOSTER and NOG. Within Utrecht University, the project is located and supervised at the department of Philosophy and Religious Studies (OFR). At Utrecht University, this is further embedded in the strategic theme ‘Institutions for Open Societies’, research focus area ‘Cultures, Citizenship and Human Rights‘ and supported by the research group Genderstudies (dep. of Media and Culture).

Project summary

In post-9/11 Western societies and academic debates, the notion that religion and women’s emancipation are fundamentally conflicting has regained plausibility. Consequently, women’s deliberate religious conversions are a pertinent academic, religious and socio-political issue. In face of this religion/emancipation paradox, this research project will apply interdisciplinary methods to study women’s processes of conversion as the acquisition of new religious subjectivities in which gender and sexuality play a formative role. The project hypothesises that gender equality and women’s sexuality are ‘battlefields’ on which converting women negotiate their position and subjectivity. It assumes that the conversion process is notably acted out in the context of public debates and religious prescriptions that highlight women’s positions and sexualities in adversative directions. By studying female conversion as an ongoing and multi-layered negotiation between secular and religious gender discourses, the project develops an innovative model of interpretation, based on a diversification of notions of choice, embodiment and religion. Its operationalisation takes place through three subprojects: a qualitative empirical PhD research on women’s embodied conversion processes in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; a postdoctoral cultural analysis of British, Dutch and Flemish public debates on controversies about traditional religious groups, gender and sexuality; and a postdoctoral religious studies approach investigating women’s positions and practices as narrated and regulated within Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. This comparative interdisciplinary project will contribute substantially to the public and academic understandings of tensions between religious and secular gender discourses through in-depth analysis of the experiences of women positioned at the intersection of both.

The PhD subproject is titled ‘Negotiating Secular and Religious Gender Discourses: Women Converting to Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain’ and generates the main body of qualitative empirical material by analyzing experiences of female converts in the Netherlands, and in smaller comparative cases in Great Britain and Belgium. This project researches if and how gender and sexuality become terrains of negotiation for women in the process of conversion and their daily lives. All together, in this project I aim to produce insight into the various ways in which gender discourses, encompassing authoritative regulations, representations and bodily practices, are lived, negotiated and shaped by female converts both as individual subjects and as members of religious communities in different national secularized contexts.

For more information about the project at large, please contact religionandemancipation@gmail.com. Project website coming up soon.

Events related to this project

2016    Project presentation ‘Negotiating Secular and Religious Gender Discourses: Women Converting to Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain. (individual)
Interdisciplinary Summer School in Gender Studies, panel Religion/Spirituality/Secularism. Göttingen, Germany. August 19.

2016   ‘Why? Secularism and the Paradox of Women’s Conversion.’ (individual)
Presentation day NOSTER seminar ‘the Challenge of Difference: Gender Theories and the (re)conceptualisation of  Religion. June 18.

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