Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Individualization, Fragmentation of Authority, and New Organizational Forms among Muslims in Europe

What forms does religiosity take among Muslims in Europe today? How are answers to the question of what it means to be a Muslim in Europe reached in institutions of Islamic higher education, Muslim student organizations, and women’s organizations? What is the relation between the individual and religious authority in these institutions?

2006 - 2012
Nathal Dessing

The aim of this research programme was to ascertain how Muslims in Europe today determine the identity of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. Which organizational and participatory forms play important roles in this process? What scope is left to the individual to determine these matters? Which sources of authority are accepted, and how do these relate to traditional established institutions?

The working hypothesis is that the religious life of Muslims in Europe today is characterized by three complementary and partially conflicting phenomena: individualization, fragmentation of authority, and a wish to belong. Many Muslims in Europe, especially young people and women, experiment with new forms of interpretation of the religious sources. This leads to a greater individualism in the production of Islamic knowledge and also to fragmentation of religious authority. At the same time, the need felt by many Muslims in Europe to pool knowledge and compare views results in the rise of new participatory forms.

This programme investigated the interplay of the individual, participation, and authority in three settings: institutions of Islamic higher education, Muslim student associations, and Muslim women's organizations. Each of these is a locus where new ways and voices are being developed to determine the nature of Islam and how to be a Muslim.

These developments undergone by Islam in Europe constitute a test of existing accounts of religion in the modern world. The migration situation means that established authority structures legitimizing a particular image of Islam are weak. On the other hand, the categories of privatization of religion and "believing without belonging" cannot be applied in a straightforward manner to Muslims in Europe: questions of belonging and participation continue to play an important part in the reinvention of Muslim identities in Europe.

More information available on the NWO website.

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