Religious Conversions in the Mediterranean world

Written by Mark Briggs on . Posted in Publications

Conversions in the mediterranean worldEUI Professor Olivier Roy and Nadia Marzouki have edited a book exploring the social and political impacts of religious conversions in the Mediterranean world.

“What we consider a new phenomena is religious conversations that are both massive, and individual. It is not local populations coming into a religion, but a collection of individuals who choose for themselves a different religious affiliation. It is now reaching a quantitative threshold,” explains Roy.

These conversions, says Roy, pose questions not only for the converted, but increasingly for the societies in which they live, breaking the established consensus between religion, the state, and nationality.

Conversions can pose problems for employers who have to quickly adapt to new religious behavior, it can also cause problems in courts as converts are often less willing to accept traditional compromises such as the separation between church and state. According to Roy, such converts are causing states around the world to rethink what religion is and what freedom of religion is: “When you have a convert, they want the real thing. They are not interested in traditional compromises.”

“One of our colleagues studied the phenomena of black French citizens self-converting to Judaism. This has consequences for Israel, how do they define what is a Jew, how do they define who has the right to check conversions? Even if there is a relatively small number of converts to a religion, it has an impact.”

In Tunisia, their consensus is they are a Muslim society. In this context eating during Ramadan can, and is, seen as a disturbance to public order. However there is an increasingly large community of evangelical, ethically Arab Christians, who see no reason not to be allowed to eat during Ramadan. In these cases, how should the law, which is partly based on Sharia, treat Christians?

In Europe the converts are readdressing the way differing religions are seen in the context of an individual country: “In Germany you can be protestant, Catholic or perhaps Jewish, but Muslims are viewed as foreign, but converts can be white German.”

The book, which comes out of a conference which took place three years ago at the EUI, also looks at the phenomena such as Turkish Muslim women who venerate the Virgin Mary and the growth of Mormonism in France.  The work fits into the framework of the European Research Council-funded ReligioWest project at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, which studies how states are redefining their relationships to religion.

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