The research group “Beyond ‘Religion versus Emancipation”, with IARG director prof. Anne-Marie Korte as project leader, organises its first interdisciplinary symposium at Utrecht University. Two keynote lectures by experts in the field, professor Jeanette Jouili (University of Pittsburgh) and professor Elina Vuola (University of Helsinki), will be the starting point for a discussion about conversion, religion and emancipation. This expert meeting is part of the NWO-funded project “Beyond ‘Religion versus Emancipation’: Women’s Conversions to Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Contemporary Western Europe”, located at the department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University. This project investigates public discourses, religious traditions and lived experiences of women who have converted or are in the process of conversion. It also researches secular and religious discourses about gender, sexuality and emancipation. A more extensive description of the project can be found here.

Conversion, a paradox?!
In contemporary Western Europe, an intense public and political debate is taking place about the changing role of religion in society. In post-9/11 Western societies and academic debates, the notion that traditional religion is fundamentally conflicting with women’s emancipation and processes of secularisation has gained plausibility. This view is based on the assumption that secularism is inherently better for women than religion. Consequently, women’s deliberate religious conversions are a pertinent academic, religious and socio-political issue which is often framed as a paradox.

Secular vs. religion problematised
This project analyses and problematises the assumed incompatibility between liberal-secular societies and traditional religious communities by exploring their points of contact and friction, hereby also problematising the stigmatising and exoticisation of conservative monotheistic traditions. It explores how the conflict between secular and religious gender and sexuality discourses is perceived and experienced by female converts, and the various ways in which they balance the assumed incompatibility. 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. Important questions in this context are: how do female converts negotiate the becoming of new religious subjectivities? How does the analysis of women’s conversion, based on the negotiation approach, enable an alternative and critical contribution to academic and public accounts of women’s conversion and  their underlying concepts of individual autonomy, emancipation and religion? What ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ ideas on emancipation and gender equality are found in public and/or religious discourses and how do they relate to each other?

In this first expert meeting, the members of the research project bring together various international scholars, researchers and students to critically reflect on and explore the complex relationship between female conversion, emancipation and religion on the basis of the above mentioned questions. The afternoon will start with two inspiring keynote lectures in which professor Elina Vuola (University of Helinki) and professor Jeanette Jouili (University of Pittsburgh) will talk about the intersections between religion, gender, conversion and emancipation. Elina Vuola is a specialist on the intersections between (feminist) theology and gender issues. Her current research project explores how religious minorities with a strict gender order manage in secular Finnish society. Jeanette Jouili is an expert on the field of contemporary Islam in Europe, religious pluralism and secularism. Her recent book ‘Pious Practice and Secular Constraints’ chronicles the everyday ethical struggles of women active in orthodox and socially conservative Islamic revival circles as they try to give expression to their religious identity within western secular societies.
The lectures will be followed by a round table discussion with all the attendees, in which four expert in the field of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religiosity and conversion will take the lead to reflect on the themes of the day starting from different perspectives (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

Sharing knowledge and expertise, together with critical discussion on the complex relationship between female conversion, emancipation and religion, will be the main aim of the afternoon. Anyone who is interested in these topics is therefore warmly invited to participate in this expert meeting.

Start date and time:           10 May 2017 14:00

End date and time:             10 May 2017 18:00

Language:                              English

Location:                                Drift 21, Sweelinckzaal, Utrecht.

Registration:                         Participation is free, register via email:

Programme:                Programme Expert Meeting