Between Religious and National Identity: (Re-)Converts to Islam in Switzerland

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Amir SHEIKHZADEGAN, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Michael NOLLERT, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Conversion (adoption of a new faith) and re-conversion (re-embracement of one’s own neglected faith) as two facets of “spiritual transformation” (Paloutzian, 2005) also imply a reshuffling of the one’s social identities (Travisano 1970; Gooren 2010). Hence, (re-)converts are often assumed to lose their loyalty to the nation-state (Moosavi 2013). In extreme cases, they even break democratic rules and favor a universal theocracy (Phares 2007).

Whilst the linkage between religion and nationalism at the macro-level is well-researched (see e.g. Brubaker, 2012; Byrnes 2005; Deol 2003; Kunovich 2006; Mavrogordatos 2003; Rieffer 2003), research on the microdynamcis of this relationship is relatively new (see e.g. Hopkins 2007; Jensen 2008; Özyürek 2014) and under-researched.

Addressing this deficit, we apply the method of reconstruction of narrative identity (Lucius-Hoene & Deppermann, 2004) to analyze the autobiographies of a selected number of Swiss (re-)converts to Islam. Of special interest is thereby to understand how such an identity transformation affects the sense of belonging to a nation-state characterized by several cross-cutting cleavages. Four autobiographic narratives illustrate the variety of relationships between religious and national identity: Hamit, a second-generation migrant form Turkey, and Urs, a Swiss national, both adopt an orthodox reading of Islam and prefer the global Umma to their respective national identity. Vincent, a Swiss national and convert to Islam, manages to espouse his social identities as a Muslim and as a Swiss. Selma, a marriage migrant, suddenly decides to observe Islamic codex, including wearing of hijab, in order to underscore her national pride as Syrian/Arab woman.

Comparing narratives of (re-)converts the study shows how biographical background, the kind of Islam one has (re-)embraced and social networks interact to shape the individual’s post-(re-)conversion national identity. The study also discusses the similarities and the differences between converts and re-converts to Islam regarding their national identity.