Expert meeting: Rethinking Religion, Emancipation and Women’s Conversion

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



Expert meetings

Religion, Gender & Activism | Fourth Expert meeting | 15-16 december 2014 | Ghent University, Belgium

Aim: This international expert meeting aims to discuss the study of religion and gender in relation to social movements and activism. For this purpose, a one and a half day intensive meeting will bring together scholars from different fields, such as religious studies, theology, sociology, anthropology and gender and women’s studies. The topics of the keynote lectures, the roundtable discussion and the workshops will address the study of religion and gender from multiple critical postcolonial, postsecular and queer perspectives. The thematic focus is social movements and activism in contemporary multicultural societies, related to contemporary debates on multiculturalism, human rights, and social inequalities and exclusions. The meeting will discuss the complex dynamics of religion and gender in our contemporary world with regard to the perspectives of activists and at the level of autonomous movements, civil society and critique within the institutions. Activism is broadly conceived as the critique of forms of inequality experienced or articulated by autonomous groups as well as by civil society actors and social movements and actors within the institutions in order to work towards progressive change.

Expert meetings Project Religion and Gender Project Results

A strong network and encouraging exchanges: Expert meeting in Turku, Finland

By Kathrine van den Bogert, PhD candidate, Utrecht University

The expert meeting on post-secular perspectives to the study of religion and gender at the Åbo Akademi University in Finland was again, like the other expert meetings of the network, a great success and inspiring event. Also in Turku, the exchange between scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds proved to be very fruitful. On the first night, we enjoyed three presentations by Nordic scholars, Elina Vuola and Terhi Utriainen from Finland and Jorunn Okland from Norway, about Nordic approaches to the study of religion and gender. It was interesting to hear about the Finnish founding mothers and that in Finland gender studies always has been in close relationship with religion. As an anthropologist, I was specifically interested in the ethnographic tradition of Nordic studies in religion and gender.

After these opening lectures, we were very welcomed in the Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History by director Ruth Illman. She told us passionately about the history of the Institute, the unique building, and we enjoyed delicious snacks, wines, and the beautiful library! The next day started early with two key notes by Jorunn Okland and Eva Midden, which already showed the diversity of studies in the field of religion, gender and the post-secular. This became even more clear when we continued with round table panel discussions with individual contributions from the participants, with the diverse topics of women’s vote in the 19th century, multiculturalism and online forums, women and the ‘hugging’ Mother, feminist movements and religions in the UK and in Belgium, indigenous religions, spirituality and enchantment, and public debates on religion and homosexuality. After these fruitful sessions, three observants presented their impressions and ‘conclusions’ of the day, and thereby stimulated an interactive and insightful discussion on the concept of the post secular, how to use it, and how not.

Moreover, it was great to see many people again after the expert meetings in London, New York and the start meeting in Utrecht. I really feel ‘connected’ and part of a stable network, and I think this is true for more members. A network furthermore that is inspiring and positive, and especially encouraging. What I really enjoyed was the fact that everyone’s contribution, small or big, from students or professors, was appreciated and valued very much. For me, besides the new insights I gained from the expert meeting on the post-secular, this inspired and encouraged me very much for my own PhD research.

I would like to thank the organizers in Finland for inviting us to Åbo Akademi University in Turku, it was a great location for the expert meeting and for visiting the medieval Turku castle, the cathedral with the (fe)male Johannes at the last supper painting, and the islands of the archipelago. Thanks also for the healthy fruits, lunches and dinners during the conference, and your enthusiasm!

Paper pannel during the Expert Meeting

Expert meetings Research Students