Imaginaries of Home: Somali Migrant Experiences of Identity and Belonging in South Africa

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Federico SETTLER, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, NRF-Thuthuka Religion and Migration Research Project, South Africa
The proposed presentation is located at the intersection of religion, migration and identity in sub-Saharan Africa. It is premised on the idea that when people move, they take their religion and cultural identities with them (Spikard and Adegame 2010). In recent decades a great deal of scholarship in the field of migration studies has focussed on movement from the global South to the North, with most studies characterised by sentiments oriented around social exclusion, integration, multiculturalism, and citizenship. I hope to discuss the various ways that Somali migrant communities in selected South African cities imagine and make sense of narratives of home in the context of transnational belonging and identity.

Scholars of transnational migration have, over the last three decades, successfully demonstrated the numerous ways in which migrants maintain connections to their homelands while simultaneously becoming embedded in their new places of residence (Glick Schiller 2003; Itzigsohn 2000). Owing to the cross-disciplinary application of the transnational optic, scholars have proceeded to document transnational connections, processes and activities in a range of arenas. Religion, however, has only quite recently been brought into studies of transnational migration, despite the fact that most religious communities, both imagined and real, are global and transnational in nature.

Contemporary migrants use religion to stay connected to the places they leave behind and to forge new forms of transnational belonging (Carnes and Yang 2004; Levitt, Lucken and Barnett 2011). Nina Glick-Schiller for example, has argued that “religion provides migrants with a simultaneously local and transnational mode of incorporation that may configure them not as ethnics but as citizens of both their locality of settlement and of the world” (2009:126). I will argue that Somali Muslims in postcolonial South Africa variously forge forms of transcendental locality that reform understandings and articulations of what constitutes home.