photo Omar Chatriwala - Oneness CC BY-NC-ND - Artist: Shahida Ahmed - Exhibition Doha (2013)

We are organizing a bilingual international conference (in French and English) on conversions to Islam in so-called “Western” countries. This conference is interdisciplinary and open to all scholars in social sciences. The objective is to establish a dialogue between different theoretical and methodological approaches.


15-16 Feb 2016

The conference will take place at Sciences Po Paris : 98 rue de l'Université, 75007 Paris


Metro: Assemblée Nationale 


Partner institutions: OSC (Observatoire Sociologique du Changement) et CEVIPOF (Centre de recherches politiques), laboratoires de Sciences Po Paris, Ecole doctorale de Sciences Po Paris, IRENE (Identités et Religions : Etude des Nouveaux Enjeux), Université catholique de l’Ouest, Laboratoire ESO (Espaces et Sociétés), IISMM (EHESS), Amsterdam Museum, CNRS

Organizing Committee: Juliette Galonnier, Hamzi Khateb, Amélie Puzenat, Sylvie Taussig

Scientific Committee: Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, Loïc Le Pape, Sabrina Mervin, Léon Moosavi, Géraldine Mossière, Olivier Roy, Mirna Safi, Romain Sèze, Sébastien Tank,  Karin van Nieuwkerk.

Photo exhibitBekeerd (converted) by Saskia Aukema and Vanessa Vroon-Najem



Day 1 - February 15th

General introduction

Reflecting upon theoretical and methodological approaches

Learning and incorporating religious norms and practices

Conversions and "radicalization"

Day 2 - February 16th

The social implications of conversion: hybrid identities, community and "laïcité" (secularism)

Ethnicization and racialization of conversions to Islam

General conclusion




Conversions to Islam have recently become a major topic of interest for contemporary Western societies, which in turn warrants a rigorous scientific inquiry. In line with the current geopolitical context, conversions to Islam attract significant state and media attention. Radicalized converts often make the headlines, generating bafflement and suspicion in European public opinions. Social science research has recently seized upon this highly controversial matter in order to take the heat out of the debate and offer a more nuanced and balanced perspective on the phenomenon, far from dominant media representations. Over the last few years, the number of academic publications on the topic has increased dramatically, covering a wide range of Western countries, including France (LePape, 2007; Puzenat, 2010; Mossière, 2014; Riva, 2015), the UK (Köse, 1996; Bourque, 1998; Zebiri, 2007; Jawad, 2011; Moosavi, 2012; Suleiman, 2013; Gilham, 2014), Belgium (Leman, 2010), Switzerland (Leuenberger), the Netherlands (Van Nieuwkerk, 2008), Germany (Özyürek, 2014), Norway (Roald, 2006), Sweden (McGinty, 2006; Roald, 2012), Denmark (Jensen, 2008), Spain (Rogozen-Soltar, 2012), Italy (Allievi, 1998), the United States (McCloud, 1995; Jackson, 2005; Winchester, 2008; Tourage, 2012), Quebec (Mossière, 2014) and Australia (Woodlock, 2010). This burgeoning literature is however extremely diverse as far as its theoretical and methodological outlooks are concerned. The objective of the conference is to invite scholars working on conversions to Islam to be reflexive about their epistemological choices and to discuss the consequences of such choices in a collegial environment. In particular, we wish to reflect on the possibility to combine different approaches to perfect our understanding of religious conversion. More specifically, we are looking for paper proposals falling under the following axes:

 Axis n°1: Methodological Issues

Due to the lack of statistical data on conversions to Islam, most social science research relies on qualitative methods. The interview, semi-directive or not, is widely used and “conversion narratives” have become a key feature of the literature (Hermansen, 1999; Yamane, 2000; Popp-Baier, 2001; LePape, 2005). For this workshop, we are expecting papers reflecting on the advantages and disadvantages of the interview method to investigate conversion to Islam. We are also looking for papers relying on other methods such as ethnography, participant observation, focus groups, online questionnaires, textual analysis (biographies, blogs, social networks), network analysis, survey data, statistical analysis, archival research, panel/longitudinal data, etc. Moreover, while most of the literature consists of national monographs focusing on the present time, we are also welcoming contributions using a historical approach (Garcia-Arenal, 1999) or relying on international comparison (Daynes, 1999; McGinty, 2006; Wohlrab-Sahr, 2006; Leman et al., 2010; Mossière, 2014; Galonnier, à paraître). The objective of this workshop will be to identify the respective contributions of these various methods and to reflect on the possibilities to combine them in the most fruitful manner.

Axis n° 2 : Social Determinism, Religious Movements and Agency

One of the key concerns of the literature on religious conversion is to decide whether converts possess full agency over their religious transformation or whether they operate under the constraints of social determinism or the influence of larger religious movements. Several authors have investigated the macro-social forces that brought about massive conversions to Islam over history, irrespective of individual trajectories (Arnold, 1896; Bulliet, 1979; Levtzion, 1979; Luckmann, 1999). This type of analysis goes against purely individualistic understandings of conversion that focus exclusively on converts’ personal motives. Other authors have focused on the social determinisms (gender, social class, ethnicity) that shape conversion trajectories (Köse, 1996). The literature on female converts to Islam (Bourque, 2006; Haddad, 2006; Van Nieuwkerk, 2006; Mossière, 2014; Riva, 2015) is particularly significant in that regard since it investigates both the influence of gender dynamics on conversion as well as the way gender norms are reconfigurated and reappropriated throughout the conversion process. Halfway between these macrosociological and microsociological perspectives, we also find an important literature on the intermediary role of collective life and religious groups (such as revival movements - da’wah - or convert associations) (Poston, 1992). For this workshop, we are expecting proposals reflecting on the role of religious movements and the influence of social determinisms at the micro, mezzo and macro levels. We also welcome contributions that explore the way converts transcend those very determinisms in order to challenge and redefine the social norms that weigh upon them.

Axis n°3: Conversion Process and Religious Learning

The conversion ceremony (public or private recitation of the shahada) is usually followed by a long period of religious learning, which often spans over several years (Jensen, 2006; Winchester, 2008; Van Nieuwkerk, 2014). Thus, while conversion to Islam is often presented as a final and terminal act, embodying a radical rupture between the time « before » and the time « after », this workshop will rather focus on conversion as a continuous social process spreading over time. We are expecting papers that explore the way converts incorporate new beliefs and practices in their daily lives, develop a Muslim habitus and become part of Muslim religious communities. Moreover, although they are a marginal phenomenon, we also hope to reflect on the radicalization trajectories of some converts as well as the notion of “indoctrination,” which warrants a careful scientific investigation.

Axis n°4: The Ethnicization and Racialization of Religion

Several authors have argued that Islam has been ethnicized and racialized in most Western societies (Bayoumi, 2006; Meer and Modood, 2010; Meer, 2013; Selod and Embrick, 2013). As a result, conversion to Islam is inextricably intertwined with ethno-racial considerations (Franks, 2000; Alam, 2012; Larisse, 2013; Brun, 2014; Özyürek, 2014; Galonnier, 2015; Moosavi, 2015). In light of the current geopolitical context, conversion to Islam is also often interpreted as a form of national treason. During this workshop, we will approach conversion to Islam from an ethnic and racial studies perspective. We welcome contributions that investigate the way converts navigate the ethno-racial stigma attached to their new religion as well as the strategies they use to face Islamophobia. The objective of the workshop will be to reflect on the relevance of framing converts’ lived experience in terms of identity, discrimination, stigmatization and racism. We also welcome papers that investigate the multiple and hybrid identities resulting from conversion to Islam.


Conference Organizers

Juliette Galonnier ( is a PhD candidate in Sociology in the joint PhD program between Sciences Po Paris (OSC) and Northwestern University (Chicago). Her dissertation provides a comparative analysis of the experience of converts to Islam in France and the United States. Using in-depth interviewing and ethnography, she investigates how French and American converts navigate the racialization of Islam on the two sides of the Atlantic, thereby highlighting the specificities of each national context.

Hamzi Khateb ( is a PhD candidate in Political theory at Sciences Po Paris (CEVIPOF) and in Sociology at EHESS Paris (CEIAS). His dissertation deals with the issue of moral responsibility as experienced by converts to Islam, who have to navigate both Quranic and French Republican laws. Using a 2-year long longitudinal study conducted with Muslim converts, he analyzes their religious socialization through the concept of moral responsibility. The objective is to understand how the idea of responsibility unfolds as a social object, torn between Muslim laws/norms/values on the one hand and French Republic laws/norms/values on the other. More specifically, he investigates how these norms take shape through converts’ actions and religious practices.

Amélie Puzenat ( owns a PhD degree from the University Paris 7 and is currently Assistant professor in Sociology at the Université catholique de l’Ouest and fellow researcher at the ESO research center. Her dissertation focused on the gender and identity reconfigurations brought about by conversions to Islam in France. Paying special attention to family relations, she investigates converts’ religiosity from the perspective of marital life, generational transmission and schooling. She has recently published Conversions à l'islam: unions et séparations (2015). 

Sylvie Taussig ( is a researcher at  CNRS, at the centre Jean Pépin, UMR 8230, in classical literature. She is the president of the association Irène, a study group on religion. Her research interests include, among other things, the issue of religions and Islam in France. She has published  Les musulmans en France : courants, institutions, communautés : un état des lieux (2009) and L'islam en France (2008). She frequently organizes conferences and seminars on the topic. 



Alam, Oishee. 2012. "'Islam is a Blackfella Religion, Whatchya Trying to Prove?': Race in the Lives of White Muslim Converts in Australia." The La Trobe Journal 89: 124-139.

Allievi, Stefano. 1998. Les Convertis à l'Islam: les Nouveaux Musulmans d'Europe, Paris: L'Harmattan.

Arnold, T.W. 1896. The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf.

Bayoumi, Moustafa. 2006. "Racing Religion." The New Centennial Review 6: 267-293.

Bourque, Nicole. 1998. "Being British and Muslim: Dual Identity Amongst New and Young Muslims." Pp. 1-19 in University Lectures in Islamic Studies, edited by Jones A. London: Altajir World of Islam Trust.

-------------. 2006. "How Deborah Became Aisha: The Conversion Process and the Creation of Female Muslim Identity." Pp. 233-249 in Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West, edited by Van Nieuwkerk K. Austin: University of Islam.

Brun, Solène. 2014. Passer la frontière ou brouiller les lignes ? Race, genre et religion : les frontières ethno-raciales au prisme des conversions de femmes à l'Islam en France. Master Thesis in Sociology. Paris: Sciences Po.

Bulliet, Richard W. 1979. Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Daynes, Sarah. 1999. "Processus de conversion et modes d'identification à l'islam: l'exemple de la France et des Etats-Unis." Social Compass 46: 313-323.

Franks, Myfanwy. 2000. "Crossing the Borders of Whiteness? White Muslim Women Who Wear Hijab in Britain Today." Ethnic and Racial Studies 23: 917-929.

Galonnier, Juliette. 2015. "When White Devils Join the Deen: White American Converts to Islam and the Experience of Non-Normative Whiteness." Notes et Documents, Paris, Sciences Po/OSC.

-------------. à paraître. "Comparative Racialization: White Converts' Encounters with Race in France and the United States."

Garcia-Arenal, Mercedes. 1999. "Les conversions d'Européens à l'islam dans l'histoire: esquisse générale." Social Compass 46: 273-281.

Gilham, Jamie. 2014. Loyal Enemies: British Converts to Islam, 1850-1950, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haddad, Y. Z. 2006. "The Quest for Peace in Submission: Reflections on the Journey of American Women Converts to Islam." Pp. 19-47 in Women Embracing Islam, edited by Van Nieuwkerk K. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Hermansen, Marcia. 1999. "Roads to Mecca: Conversion Narratives of European and Euro-American Muslims." The Muslim World 89.

Jackson, Sherman. 2005. Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward the Third Resurrection, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jawad, Haifaa A. 2011. Towards Building a British Islam: New Muslims' Perspectives, London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Jensen, Tina Gudrun. 2006. "Religious Authority and Autonomy Intertwined: the Case of Converts to Islam in Denmark." The Muslim World 96: 643-660.

-------------. 2008. "To Be 'Danish,' Becoming 'Muslim': Contestations of National Identity?" Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34: 389-409.

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Larisse, Agathe. 2013. Bifurcation et subjectivation politique: les originaires des Antilles converti-e-s à l'Islam en Ile-de-France. Master Thesis in Sociology. Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).

Leman, Johan. 2010. "Crossing Boundaries: Ethnicity and Islamic Conversion in Belgium." Ethnoculture 2: 27-44.

Leman, Johan, Stallaert, Christiane and Lechkar, Iman. 2010. "Ethnic Dimensions in the Discourse and Identity Strategies of European Converts to Islam in Andalusia and Flanders." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36: 1483-1497.

LePape, Loïc. 2005. "Les récits de conversion: d'une histoire personnelle romancée à l'analyse sociologique d'un engagement religieux." Alfa, Maghreb et Sciences Sociales 1: 77-87.

-------------. 2007. "Engagement religieux, engagements politiques: conversions dans une confrérie musulmane." Archives de sciences sociales des religions: 9-27.

Leuenberger, Susanne. "'I Have Become a Stranger in my Homeland': An Analysis of the Public Performance of Converts to Islam in Switzerland." Pp. 1181-1202 in Debating Islam: Negotiating Religion, Europe and the Self, edited by Behloul SM, Leuenberger S and Tunger-Zanetti A. Bielefeld: Verlag.

Levtzion, Nehemia. 1979. Conversion to Islam, New York: Holmes and Meier.

Luckmann, Thomas. 1999. "The Religious Situation in Europe: the Background to Contemporary Conversions." Social Compass 46: 251-258.

McCloud, Amina B. 1995. African-American Islam, New York: Routledge.

McGinty, Anna Mansson. 2006. Becoming Muslim: Western Women's Conversions to Islam, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Meer, Nasar. 2013. "Racialization and Religion: Race, Culture and Difference in the Study of Antisemitism and Islamophobia." Ethnic and Racial Studies 36: 385-398.

Meer, Nasar and Modood, Tariq. 2010. "The Racialisation of Muslims." Pp. 69-83 in Thinking through Islamophobia, edited by Vakil AK and Sayyid S. London: Hurst & Co.

Moosavi, Leon. 2012. "British Muslim Converts Performing Authentic Muslimness." Performing Islam 1: 103-128.

-------------. 2015. "The Racialization of Muslim Converts in Britain and Their Experiences of Islamophobia." Critical Sociology 41: 41-56.

Mossière, Géraldine. 2014. Converties à l'Islam. Parcours de femmes au Québec et en France, Montréal: PU Montréal.

Özyürek, Esra. 2014. Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion and Conversion in the New Europe, New York: Princeton University Press.

Popp-Baier, Ulrike. 2001. "Narrating Embodied Aims. Self-Transformation in Conversion Narratives - A Psychological Analysis." Forum Qualitative Social Research 2.

Poston, Larry. 1992. Islamic Da'wah in the West: Muslim Missionary Activity and the Dynamics of Conversion to Islam, New York: Oxford University Press.

Puzenat, Amélie. 2010. Conversions à l'islam et islams de conversion: dynamiques identitaires et familiales. Thèse en sociologie. Paris: Université Paris 7.

Riva, Virginie. 2015. Converties, Paris Seuil.

Roald, Anne Sofie. 2006. "The Shaping of a Scandinavian Islam: Converts and Gender Equal Opportunity." Pp. 48-70 in Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West, edited by Van Nieuwkerk K. Austin: University of Texas Press.

-------------. 2012. "The conversion process in stages: new Muslims in the twenty-first century." Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 23: 347-362.

Rogozen-Soltar, Mikaela. 2012. "Managing Muslim Visibility: Conversion, Immigration and Spanish Imaginaries of Islam." American Anthropologist 114: 611-623.

Selod, Saher and Embrick, David G. 2013. "Racialization and Muslims: Situating the Muslim Experience in Race Scholarship." Sociology Compass 7: 644-655.

Suleiman, Yasir. 2013. Narratives of Conversion to Islam: Female Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tourage, M. 2012. "Performing Belief and Reviving Islam: Prominent (White Male) Converts in Muslim Revival Conventions." Performing Islam 1: 207-226.

Van Nieuwkerk, K. 2014. "Conversion to Islam and the Construction of a Pious Self." Pp. 667-686 in The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion, edited by Rambo LR and Farhadian CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van Nieuwkerk, Karin. 2006. Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West, Austin: University of Texas Press.

-------------. 2008. "Biography and Choice: Female Converts to Islam in the Netherlands." Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 19: 431-447.

Winchester, Daniel. 2008. "Embodying the Faith: Religious Practice and the Making of a Muslim Moral Habitus." Social Forces 86: 1753-1780.

Wohlrab-Sahr. 2006. "Symbolizing Distance: Conversion to Islam in Germany and the United States." Pp. 71-94 in Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West, edited by Van Nieuwkerk K. Austin: Texas University Press.

Woodlock, Rachel. 2010. "Praying Where They Don't Belong: Female Muslim Converts and Access to Mosques in Melbourne, Australia." Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 30: 265-278.

Yamane, David. 2000. "Narrative and Religious Experience." Sociology of Religion 61: 171-189.

Zebiri, Kate. 2007. British Muslim Converts: Choosing Alternative Lives, Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

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