HomeInvestigating conversions to islam

HomeInvestigating conversions to islam

Investigating conversions to islam

Rendre compte des conversions à l'islam

Which approaches in social sciences?

Vers quelles approches en sciences sociales ?

*  *  *

Published on Wednesday, July 15, 2015


We are organizing an international conference on conversions to Islam in Europe and North America. This conference is interdisciplinary and open to all scholars in social sciences. The objective is to establish a dialogue between different theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding conversion to Islam. Conversions to Islam have recently become a major topic of interest for contemporary Western societies, which in turn warrants a rigorous scientific inquiry. Social science research has recently seized upon this highly controversial matter in order to take the heat out of the debate and offer a more nuanced and balanced perspective on the phenomenon, far from dominant media representations. Thus we find it necessary to reflect upon the various ways this research object has scientifically apprehended. 



We are organizing an international conference on conversions to Islam in Europe and North America. This conference is interdisciplinary and open to all scholars in social sciences. The objective is to establish a dialogue between different theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding conversion to Islam. In order to ensure a diversity of perspectives on this topical issue, we also welcome the participation of non-academic actors, such as members of associations, religious representatives and converts to Islam themselves.


Conversions to Islam have recently become a major topic of interest for contemporary Western societies, which in turn warrants a rigorous scientific inquiry. In line with the current geopolitical context, conversions to Islam attract significant state and media attention. Radicalized converts often make the headlines, generating bafflement and suspicion in European public opinions. Social science research has recently seized upon this highly controversial matter in order to take the heat out of the debate and offer a more nuanced and balanced perspective on the phenomenon, far from dominant media representations. Over the last few years, the number of academic publications on the topic has increased dramatically, covering a wide range of Western countries, including France (LePape, 2007; Puzenat, 2010; Mossière, 2014; Riva, 2015), the UK (Köse, 1996; Bourque, 1998; Zebiri, 2007; Moosavi, 2012; Suleiman, 2013; Gilham, 2014), Belgium (Leman, 2010), Switzerland (Leuenberger), the Netherlands (Van Nieuwkerk, 2008), Germany (Özyürek, 2014), Norway (Roald, 2006), Sweden (McGinty, 2006; Roald, 2012), Denmark (Jensen, 2008), Spain (Rogozen-Soltar, 2012), Italy (Allievi, 1998), the United States (McCloud, 1995; Jackson, 2005; Winchester, 2008; Tourage, 2012), Quebec (Mossière, 2014) and Australia (Woodlock, 2010). This burgeoning literature is however extremely diverse as far as its theoretical and methodological outlooks are concerned. The objective of the conference is to invite scholars working on conversions to Islam to be reflexive about their epistemological choices and to discuss the consequences of such choices in a collegial environment. In particular, we wish to reflect on the possibility to combine different approaches to perfect our understanding of religious conversion. More specifically, we are looking for paper proposals falling under the following axes:

Axis n°1: Methodological Issues

Due to the lack of statistical data on conversions to Islam, most social science research relies on qualitative methods. The interview, semi-directive or not, is widely used and “conversion narratives” have become a key feature of the literature (Hermansen, 1999; Yamane, 2000; Popp-Baier, 2001; LePape, 2005). For this workshop, we are expecting papers reflecting on the advantages and disadvantages of the interview method to investigate conversion to Islam. We are also looking for papers relying on other methods such as ethnography, participant observation, focus groups, online questionnaires, textual analysis (biographies, blogs, social networks), network analysis, survey data, statistical analysis, archival research, panel/longitudinal data, etc. Moreover, while most of the literature consists of national monographs focusing on the present time, we are also welcoming contributions using a historical approach (Garcia-Arenal, 1999) or relying on international comparison (Daynes, 1999; McGinty, 2006; Wohlrab-Sahr, 2006; Leman et al., 2010; Mossière, 2014; Galonnier, à paraître). The objective of this workshop will be to identify the respective contributions of these various methods and to reflect on the possibilities to combine them in the most fruitful manner.

Axis n° 2 : Social Determinism, Religious Movements and Agency

One of the key concerns of the literature on religious conversion is to decide whether converts possess full agency over their religious transformation or whether they operate under the constraints of social determinism or the influence of larger religious movements. Several authors have investigated the macro-social forces that brought about massive conversions to Islam over history, irrespective of individual trajectories (Arnold, 1896; Bulliet, 1979; Levtzion, 1979; Luckmann, 1999). This type of analysis goes against purely individualistic understandings of conversion that focus exclusively on converts’ personal motives. Other authors have focused on the social determinisms (gender, social class, ethnicity) that shape conversion trajectories (Köse, 1996). The literature on female converts to Islam (Bourque, 2006; Haddad, 2006; Van Nieuwkerk, 2006; Mossière, 2014; Riva, 2015) is particularly significant in that regard since it investigates both the influence of gender dynamics on conversion as well as the way gender norms are reconfigurated and reappropriated throughout the conversion process. Halfway between these macrosociological and microsociological perspectives, we also find an important literature on the intermediary role of collective life and religious groups (such as revival movements - da’wah - or convert associations) (Poston, 1992). For this workshop, we are expecting proposals reflecting on the role of religious movements and the influence of social determinisms at the micro, mezzo and macro levels. We also welcome contributions that explore the way converts transcend those very determinisms in order to challenge and redefine the social norms that weigh upon them.

Axis n°3: Conversion Process and Religious Learning

The conversion ceremony (public or private recitation of the shahada) is usually followed by a long period of religious learning, which often spans over several years (Jensen, 2006; Winchester, 2008; Van Nieuwkerk, 2014). Thus, while conversion to Islam is often presented as a final and terminal act, embodying a radical rupture between the time « before » and the time « after », this workshop will rather focus on conversion as a continuous social process spreading over time. We are expecting papers that explore the way converts incorporate new beliefs and practices in their daily lives, develop a Muslim habitus and become part of Muslim religious communities. Moreover, although they are a marginal phenomenon, we also hope to reflect on the radicalization trajectories of some converts as well as the notion of “indoctrination,” which warrants a careful scientific investigation.

Axis n°4: The Ethnicization and Racialization of Religion

Several authors have argued that Islam has been ethnicized and racialized in most Western societies (Bayoumi, 2006; Meer and Modood, 2010; Meer, 2013; Selod and Embrick, 2013). As a result, conversion to Islam is inextricably intertwined with ethno-racial considerations (Franks, 2000; Alam, 2012; Larisse, 2013; Brun, 2014; Özyürek, 2014; Galonnier, 2015; Moosavi, 2015). In light of the current geopolitical context, conversion to Islam is also often interpreted as a form of national treason. During this workshop, we will approach conversion to Islam from an ethnic and racial studies perspectiveWe welcome contributions that investigate the way converts navigate the ethno-racial stigma attached to their new religion as well as the strategies they use to face Islamophobia. The objective of the workshop will be to reflect on the relevance of framing converts’ lived experience in terms of identity, discrimination, stigmatization and racism. We also welcome papers that investigate the multiple and hybrid identities resulting from conversion to Islam.

Guidelines for Submission

We welcome proposals in both French and English.

The proposals must include the name and first name of the author, her institution, e-mail address, a title and an abstract (max. 600 words or 3000 characters).

Paper proposals must be sent in Word or PDF format to Amélie Puzenat amelie.puzenat@uco.fr and Juliette Galonnier juliette.galonnier@sciencespo.fr 

before August 18th, 2015.

Participants will be notified at the beginning of October 2015.

The study days will be held at the OSC - Sciences Po Paris February 15-16 2016

Conference Organizers

Juliette Galonnier is a PhD candidate in Sociology in the joint PhD program between Sciences Po Paris (OSC) and Northwestern University (Chicago). Her dissertation provides a comparative analysis of the experience of converts to Islam in France and the United States. Using in-depth interviewing and ethnography, she investigates how French and American converts navigate the racialization of Islam on the two sides of the Atlantic, thereby highlighting the specificities of each national context.

Amélie Puzenat owns a PhD degree from the University Paris 7 and is currently Assistant professor in Sociology at the Université catholique de l’Ouest and fellow researcher at the ESO research center. Her dissertation focused on the gender and identity reconfigurations brought about by conversions to Islam in France. Paying special attention to family relations, she investigates converts’ religiosity from the perspective of marital life, generational transmission and schooling.

Hamzi Khateb est doctorant en théorie politique à Sciences Po Paris (CEVIPOF). Sa thèse aborde la question de la responsabilité morale entre lois coraniques et lois républicaines auprès des convertis musulmans en France. En se basant sur une étude longitudinale auprès des convertis suivis durant deux ans, il cherche à analyser les modalités de leur socialisation religieuse, en s’appuyant sur la notion de la responsabilité morale. L’enjeu est de comprendre comment la responsabilité se reflète en tant qu’objet social compris entre les lois/valeurs /normes musulmanes et les lois/valeurs/normes républicaines et françaises, et comment ces dernières prennent forme au travers des actions et des pratiques religieuses des musulmans convertis.

Sylvie Taussig est chercheure au CNRS au centre Jean Pépin, UMR 8230, en lettres
classiques. Présidente de l'association Irène, groupe d'études sur le religieux, elle s'intéresse également à la question des religions et de l'islam en France. Elle a publié des ouvrages "Les musulmans en France : courants, institutions, communautés : un état des lieux", "L'islam en France" ; et organise régulièrement des conférences ou séminaires à ce


Alam, Oishee. (2012) 'Islam is a Blackfella Religion, Whatchya Trying to Prove?': Race in the Lives of White Muslim Converts in Australia. The La Trobe Journal 89: 124-139.

Allievi, Stefano. (1998) Les Convertis à l'Islam: les Nouveaux Musulmans d'Europe, Paris: L'Harmattan.

Arnold, T.W. (1896) The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf.

Bayoumi, Moustafa. (2006) Racing Religion. The New Centennial Review 6: 267-293.

Bourque, Nicole. (1998) Being British and Muslim: Dual Identity Amongst New and Young Muslims. In: Jones A (ed) University Lectures in Islamic Studies. London: Altajir World of Islam Trust, 1-19.

-------------. (2006) How Deborah Became Aisha: The Conversion Process and the Creation of Female Muslim Identity. In: Van Nieuwkerk K (ed) Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West. Austin: University of Islam, 233-249.

Brun, Solène. (2014) Passer la frontière ou brouiller les lignes ? Race, genre et religion : les frontières ethno-raciales au prisme des conversions de femmes à l'Islam en FranceMaster Thesis in Sociology. Paris: Sciences Po.

Bulliet, Richard W. (1979) Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Daynes, Sarah. (1999) Processus de conversion et modes d'identification à l'islam: l'exemple de la France et des Etats-Unis. Social Compass 46: 313-323.

Franks, Myfanwy. (2000) Crossing the Borders of Whiteness? White Muslim Women Who Wear Hijab in Britain Today. Ethnic and Racial Studies 23: 917-929.

Galonnier, Juliette. (2015) When White Devils Join the Deen: White American Converts to Islam and the Experience of Non-Normative Whiteness. Notes et Documents, Paris, Sciences Po/OSC.

-------------. (à paraître) Comparative Racialization: White Converts' Encounters with Race in France and the United States.

Garcia-Arenal, Mercedes. (1999) Les conversions d'Européens à l'islam dans l'histoire: esquisse générale. Social Compass 46: 273-281.

Gilham, Jamie. (2014) Loyal Enemies: British Converts to Islam, 1850-1950, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haddad, Y. Z. (2006) The Quest for Peace in Submission: Reflections on the Journey of American Women Converts to Islam. In: Van Nieuwkerk K (ed) Women Embracing Islam. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Hermansen, Marcia. (1999) Roads to Mecca: Conversion Narratives of European and Euro-American Muslims. The Muslim World 89.

Jackson, Sherman. (2005) Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jensen, Tina Gudrun. (2006) Religious Authority and Autonomy Intertwined: the Case of Converts to Islam in Denmark. The Muslim World 96: 643-660.

-------------. (2008) To Be 'Danish,' Becoming 'Muslim': Contestations of National Identity? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34: 389-409.

Köse, Ali. (1996) Conversion to Islam: A Study of Native British Converts, London: Kegan Paul International.

Larisse, Agathe. (2013) Bifurcation et subjectivation politique: les originaires des Antilles converti-e-s à l'Islam en Ile-de-FranceMaster Thesis in Sociology. Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).

Leman, Johan. (2010) Crossing Boundaries: Ethnicity and Islamic Conversion in Belgium. Ethnoculture 2: 27-44.

Leman, Johan, Stallaert, Christiane and Lechkar, Iman. (2010) Ethnic Dimensions in the Discourse and Identity Strategies of European Converts to Islam in Andalusia and Flanders. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36: 1483-1497.

LePape, Loïc. (2005) Les récits de conversion: d'une histoire personnelle romancée à l'analyse sociologique d'un engagement religieux. Alfa, Maghreb et Sciences Sociales 1: 77-87.

-------------. (2007) Engagement religieux, engagements politiques: conversions dans une confrérie musulmane. Archives de sciences sociales des religions: 9-27.

Leuenberger, Susanne. 'I Have Become a Stranger in my Homeland': An Analysis of the Public Performance of Converts to Islam in Switzerland. In: Behloul SM, Leuenberger S and Tunger-Zanetti A (eds) Debating Islam: Negotiating Religion, Europe and the Self. Bielefeld: Verlag, 1181-1202.

Levtzion, Nehemia. (1979) Conversion to Islam, New York: Holmes and Meier.

Luckmann, Thomas. (1999) The Religious Situation in Europe: the Background to Contemporary Conversions. Social Compass 46: 251-258.

McCloud, Amina B. (1995) African-American Islam, New York: Routledge.

McGinty, Anna Mansson. (2006) Becoming Muslim: Western Women's Conversions to Islam, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Meer, Nasar. (2013) Racialization and Religion: Race, Culture and Difference in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Ethnic and Racial Studies 36: 385-398.

Meer, Nasar and Modood, Tariq. (2010) The Racialisation of Muslims. In: Vakil AK and Sayyid S (eds) Thinking through Islamophobia. London: Hurst & Co, 69-83.

Moosavi, Leon. (2012) British Muslim Converts Performing Authentic Muslimness. Performing Islam 1: 103-128.

-------------. (2015) The Racialization of Muslim Converts in Britain and Their Experiences of Islamophobia. Critical Sociology 41: 41-56.

Mossière, Géraldine. (2014) Converties à l'Islam. Parcours de femmes au Québec et en France, Montréal: PU Montréal.

Özyürek, Esra. (2014) Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion and Conversion in the New Europe, New York: Princeton University Press.

Popp-Baier, Ulrike. (2001) Narrating Embodied Aims. Self-Transformation in Conversion Narratives - A Psychological Analysis. Forum Qualitative Social Research 2.

Poston, Larry. (1992) Islamic Da'wah in the West: Muslim Missionary Activity and the Dynamics of Conversion to Islam, New York: Oxford University Press.

Puzenat, Amélie. (2010) Conversions à l'islam et islams de conversion: dynamiques identitaires et familialesThèse en sociologie. Paris: Université Paris 7.

Riva, Virginie. (2015) Converties, Paris Seuil.

Roald, Anne Sofie. (2006) The Shaping of a Scandinavian Islam: Converts and Gender Equal Opportunity. In: Van Nieuwkerk K (ed) Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West. Austin: University of Texas Press, 48-70.

-------------. (2012) The conversion process in stages: new Muslims in the twenty-first century. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 23: 347-362.

Rogozen-Soltar, Mikaela. (2012) Managing Muslim Visibility: Conversion, Immigration and Spanish Imaginaries of Islam. American Anthropologist 114: 611-623.

Selod, Saher and Embrick, David G. (2013) Racialization and Muslims: Situating the Muslim Experience in Race Scholarship. Sociology Compass 7: 644-655.

Suleiman, Yasir. (2013) Narratives of Conversion to Islam: Female Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tourage, M. (2012) Performing Belief and Reviving Islam: Prominent (White Male) Converts in Muslim Revival Conventions. Performing Islam 1: 207-226.

Van Nieuwkerk, K. (2014) Conversion to Islam and the Construction of a Pious Self. In: Rambo LR and Farhadian CE (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 667-686.

Van Nieuwkerk, Karin. (2006) Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West, Austin: University of Texas Press.

-------------. (2008) Biography and Choice: Female Converts to Islam in the Netherlands. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 19: 431-447.

Winchester, Daniel. (2008) Embodying the Faith: Religious Practice and the Making of a Muslim Moral Habitus. Social Forces 86: 1753-1780.

Wohlrab-Sahr. (2006) Symbolizing Distance: Conversion to Islam in Germany and the United States. In: Van Nieuwkerk K (ed) Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West. Austin: Texas University Press, 71-94.

Woodlock, Rachel. (2010) Praying Where They Don't Belong: Female Muslim Converts and Access to Mosques in Melbourne, Australia. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 30: 265-278.

Yamane, David. (2000) Narrative and Religious Experience. Sociology of Religion 61: 171-189.

Zebiri, Kate. (2007) British Muslim Converts: Choosing Alternative Lives, Oxford: Oneworld Publications.


  • Observatoire du Changement Sociologiques, Sciences Po Paris - 98, rue de l'université
    Paris, France (75007)


  • Tuesday, August 18, 2015


  • conversion, islam, Europe, Amérique du Nord, genre, mouvements religieux, ethnicisation


  • Amélie Puzenat
    courriel : amelie [dot] puzenat [at] uco [dot] fr
  • Juliette Galonnier
    courriel : juliette [dot] galonnier [at] sciencespo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Amélie Puzenat
    courriel : amelie [dot] puzenat [at] uco [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Investigating conversions to islam », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, https://calenda.org/334944

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search