VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 22 POSTED ON: 6/13/2012
WP6 Religion, gender and migration UNIBO, IMIR, UPSPS, BILKENT-U Renata Pepicelli University of Bologna General goal of the research The general aim of the research was to explore the re-positioning of religion in public and private sphere in particular among migrant women and to challenge the idea of exceptionality of Islam as the only religion that poses exceptional challenges to European secularism and majiority religion of the host country. This issue was addressed in different ways in the 4 countries analyzed. The 4 research carried out present infact different case studies with very different respondents’ profiles for countries of origin, faith, relationship to religion, attendance of places of worship. Goal of the 4 case studies Italy: the aim of the research was to explore the Islamic and the Christian revivalism among Sunni Muslim and Baptist Rumanian Christian women in Rome, and in particular in its south-east periphery (Centocelle). Greece: the aim of the research was to analyze the diversity of religious identities (muslim, christian and atheist) represented within of bulgarian and albanian immigrant communities. Bulgaria: the study aimed to investigate the process of negotiation of religious and gender identities in the context of Muslim migration and to analyze the role of religion in the adaptation of Muslim immigrant women in the secular society of Bulgaria, a country with an important local Islam. Turkey: the main focus was on women within the Christian faith and their experience in a country where the majority of the population is Muslim. Main results 4 key concepts 1- In XXI century religion is re-positioning in women’s lives 2- Diaspora enables transformations in religious practices and identities 3- Visibility and invisibility characterize bodily performances 4- Religion can be a tool of women’s empowerment, but also of disempowerment 1- Re-positioning of religion in women’s lives After years of marginalization, religion is once again emerging in the public sphere in the East and in the West. The repositioning of religion is a phenomenon concerning all religions and is one of the elements that most characterizes the end of the XX century and the beginning of the XXI. As the 4 case studies show, religion re-appears in the private and in the public sphere among immigrants from muslim majority countries as from former communist countries. Women are not passive victims of this religious realignment, they can infact be very active in this process (it is particularly evident in the Greek and in the Italian case). 2- Transformations in religious practices and identities enabled by diaspora For many first and second generation immigrant, religion serves as a means of returning toward one’s own roots, offering spiritual support in order to deal with the difficulties of daily life and in same cases (Italy, Bulgaria, Greece) building social networks far from home. In all the 4 works carried out, migration is described as a painful, lonely and difficult experience. In this context religion can become an important reassurance, an irreplaceable solace. A- The italian case All the respondents, Baptists and Muslims alike, point out that in diaspora their religiousness gains strength; and thanks to the frequent attendace of places of worship, their ritual system become strongly codified. The Italian case points out that turning to religion is a free choice and all-encompassing experience that does not mean turning to the past, but instead living wholly in the present and having access to the public sphere. Going to places of worship can become a way to get out of the house, meet people, discuss religious principles and norms. B - The Bulgarian case Upon migration the ritual system of Muslim immigrant women undergoes changes in two major directions: incorporation and celebration of local (Christian and secular holidays) and reduction of the number of traditional holidays that are celebrated rather modestly with a simplified cuisine. All respondents indicate that in Bulgaria they started to celebrate the central local holidays – Christmas and Easter. Their religious experience is characterized by heterogeneous religious practices as it is shown by Muslim women attendance of churches and the attraction for the Focolare Movement, a Catholic organization. C - The Turkish case The research results point out that Christian migrant women usually experience hybrid religiosity through engaging in different Islamic religious practices such as fasting during Ramadan, or celebrating Islamic holidays along with the rest of the society. They justify this behavior saying that they do not differentiate among monotheistic religions as they practice worship and/or prayer in a transnational manner both in the public and private realm. For those women faith is an internal source of strength rather than publicly claimed identity. D - The Greek case Hybrid religiosities/hybrid practices characterize religion in diaspora and represent forms of intercultural and interreligious interactions, as the case of women that, without converting, attend Greek orhodox churches (to pray and light candles) shows. This kind of practice reproblematises the assumption that Greek orthodox churches are ethnically homogeneous spaces where the same language, attitude and religious faith are practiced. The research results underline that the attempt of re- reading religion, of re-interpreting the practices and traditions of the Greek Orthodox community by migrants has a radical potential. It serves as a critique towards existing religious norms. 3- Bodily performances between visibility and invisibility From the research it appears that female immigrants’ clothing strategy is highly situational. Bodily performances are the product of interactions with at least three factors: the body politics of the receiving country, the immigrant community’s values and women’s desires. By wearing or not wearing religious symbols, such as veils and crosses, immigrants asserted themselves in the public sphere along the axes of visibility and, or, invisibility. Bulgaria: The research results describe different clothing strategies as outcome of negotiation with men in the family and of different accommodation strategies in the host country. 1) from mild changes (lighter dress with brighter colors with keeping the kerchief) to full removal of the veiling. 2) preservation of the dress code of the home country with very minor changes. 3) veiling of immigrant women who did not use to veil (rarely). Generally there is the tendency to become invisible in the public. Turkey: the general tendency is to be invisible. The Christian respondents report that they would rather be invisible than visible in the public sphere. They want to blend in to the public in order to avoid the critical looks and judgments associated with the Russian and Eastern Europe sex workers who first came to Turkey. The research results show that the issue of how to deal with cross necklaces as a matter of fact, is a very critical sign of migrant women’s awareness of otherness-foreignness in a Muslim society. Some times they felt like they had to hide their cross necklaces with a scarf or a turtle neck blouse which does not show their necks. Italy:‘Modesty’ is a key concept in defining the roles and ideal behavior of women in Islam as among Baptists. Over and over Muslim respondents express their discomfort with the general assumption that a woman’s liberty depends on how she dresses and stressed the fact that veiling is their own choice. All the respondents wear the veil, considered a duty of a Muslim woman, even if it cannot be imposed. In the church Baptist women wear a small veil, or a head band as a sign of respect to God, and in some traditional churches it’s even obligatory to put on a long gown. Greece: According to the results of the research, religious dress codes seem to be dictated by the prevailing ethno-religious trends that make public expressions of Christianity dominant in the everyday life of Athens, while Islamic expressions are still considered inappropriate for the public space. All of the women who participated in the focus group discussions and those who gave interviews were against the wearing of the hijab in public. In this context, it is more likely that even immigrant women who would like to wear the hijab in public would be reluctant to do so. On the contrary, none of the respondents-male or female- expressed negative views about people of different nationalities who wore the cross. 4 - Gender and religion: empowerment and disempowerment The adoption of religious identities by migrant women constitutes a terrain of possibility that it is very differently threated in the 4 case studies. If in Italy and partially in Greece it can potentially play a role for the integration of migrant women in society, enable their participation in public life, and allow the contestation of existing gendered practices in the public; in Turkey and Bulgaria, it is not a terrain of implementation of women’s rights and it can become a means of reinforcing gender inequalities and asymmetries within migrant communities and amongst migrants and the host societies. The particularity of the Italian case By analyzing the results of the research, it emerges that religion can make women visible and empowered (rather than emancipated) in the public (rather than in the private). For example, by attending the mosque, a traditional male space, muslim women get out of the house and break their seclusion; increase their knowledge in Islamic studies and in the Italian language; take on roles of leadership in the community life; participate in the social and political realm (organizing social activities such as parties, dinners, conferences and taking part to political demonstrations). Conclusion: poliphony of voices The research results show that national historical political context of the host country as the origin country affect in different way the relationship between gender religion and migration. Despite the globalization we cannot talk about a unique european model reproduced everywhere in Europe and particullarly in the 4 countries of WP6. The relationship between gender, religion and liberal secularism is particularly diverse and depends on the local context. The same notions of secularism, as well as religion, should also be contextualized. For one thing, there is no secularism or religion in general, but French laicite or Italian fragments of secularism, as interpretations of Islam and Christianity. For another, the exclusive association of religion with Islam obscures the analysis of the possible ransformations that entrench different religions in Europe. Policy recommendations In Europe the debate on the incompatibility, or the presumed incompatibility, between women’s rights, European identity/culture and Islamic values is very sensitive and obscures other themes regarding immigrant women and religion. This transnational study suggests to redefine the terms of debate by observing similarities and differences in the process of the public transformation of minorities’ religions. Main recommendations Taking religious identities seriously in our thinking about migration policies. Considering religiosity as a dynamic social practice determined by collective and personal experiences (multidimensionality and multiple meanings of religion). No considering Islam as an exceptional challenge to the european context. Paying attention to the local differencies in the costruction of the relationship gender/migration/religion. Paying attention to the role that religion can play in immigrant women’s lives for the effective social participation of themselves, their families and their communities in the public sphere. Defending the right of building places of worship as places able to support immigrant women participation in the public sphere and to promote the building of social networks. No stigmatizing Islam as an enemy religion coming from abroad, but considering it as part of the European social, cultural and religious identity. Promoting further investigation on the topic of gender, migration and religion as the results of the research open new grounds of debate and understanding of migrations for both academic literature and policy decisions.
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