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With a Separate Entrance. An Ethnological Study of Religion, Gender and Cultural Change in Swedish Mosques
Prof Lena Gerholm
Ethnology (Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies)
Forte - Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare
Young Muslims in Sweden relate to their religion in different ways. This project focuses on nine young women who perceive themselves as serious believers and engage themselves in Muslim organizations and congregations. With observations, interviews and conversations as a point of departure, the aim of the study is to cast light on how the women negotiate gender. That is: how do they perceive descriptions of masculine and feminine, regulations for relations between men and women, and their plights in life? How do they accept, question and stretch these norms and ideals in their everyday lives? How do they influence, privately or together, the meaning of being a Muslim, and above all, being a Muslim woman – Muslima?
The project does not focus on a regular resistance to one or another specific power order, but rather on the complex process in which the actors carve out spaces for their self-identities, dreams, future plans and everyday practices to take place in such a satisfactory way as possible. The main parties in the negotiations are the women’s families and ethnic networks, their Islamic communities, an often anonymous ”Swedish” majority, their own conscience and, ultimately, God.
The project concentrates on the thoughts and acts of individuals, but also intends to say something about the larger contexts of which they are a part. The examination of the women’s negotiations reveals implicit ”rules of the game” and gives insights about how specific power orders are at work in different situations. In this project gender orders are central, but these are put in relation to other power orders that classify the women according to conceptualizations of race, ethnicity and religious affiliation. Ultimately the project aims at increasing the knowledge about the women’s possibilities to agency: to be seen, heard, participate and influence.
The now completed project offers: 1) understanding for circumstances that make the Islamic movement attractive also to young Muslim women; 2) knowledge about norms and ideals that regulate the relations between men and women in contexts that the women are part of; 3) problematizations of the women’s possibilities to move outside their homes, choose their spouses and clothings, education and work, as well as take part in, and influence on, the knowledge and activities that are offered by their Islamic organizations. An overall conclusion is that reformistic interpretations of Islam, in combination with certain structural conditions, open for new possibilities for these Muslim women’s agency. At the same time highly gendered ideas about honour and shame are reproduced, which maintain restricting self apprehensions and structures.
Despite an extensive media attention to Muslims in Sweden, the research is still to be regarded as pioneering work. This project could be seen as an introduction to several empirically and theoretically interesting fields: 1) the Muslim youth movement in Sweden; 2) activities specifically aimed at Muslim women, such as associations, study circles and discussion groups on the Internet; 3) different Muslim men’s understanding of, and motives for, gender negotiations; 4) Muslims with a more secular approach to Islam than in the focus of this project (for making comparative studies possible, and for counter-acting the risk of an imbalanced representation of the category ”muslim”); 5) intersectionality, with more emphasis on religion in relation to the identity dimension ”class” (both in terms of economic preconditions and self understandings, where concepts like respectability would be fruitful); 6) long term studies that examine how young, unmarried women’s gender negotiations change when entering new phases of life, such as the crucial position as mother and wife.
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Dr Pia Karlsson Minganti
Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies
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Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies
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