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Moving in or moving towards? Reconceptualizing Conversion to Islam as a Liminal Process

Abstract

Muslim converts in the West are often depicted in mainstream media as controversial and enigmatic individuals who have undergone a complete refashioning of self for obscure reasons. The conversion moment is often presented as the locus of this radical change. The conversion is expected to be precisely situated in time, with a clear date of record, marking a discontinuity between a “before” and “after.” To be sure, this narrative of discontinuity is often endorsed by some converts themselves: conversion stories are generally replete with considerations on radical transformation, purification of self and erasure of sins. The conversion ceremony is often treated as the end result, the outcome of a long spiritual quest, the oasis after a long spell in the wilderness. Some converts also clearly recall the date of their shahadah and celebrate every year their “Muslimversary.” I argue that this conceptualization tends to obscure the complexities of the workings of faith and to overlook the tortuous learning process that is required to incorporate Muslim beliefs and practices in one’s life. This chapter proposes that what matters most is not so much the decision to convert but rather how conversion is secured and stabilized over time and how converts progressively solidify their new religious dispositions. Relying on in-depth interviewing with 82 Muslim converts in France and the United States as well as two ten-month-long ethnographies of converts support groups in Paris and Chicago, this paper demonstrates that conversion implies continuous effort and long-term commitment. By focusing on the learning process that occurs before, during and after the conversion ceremony, I reconceptualize religious conversion as a continuing rather than discontinued event, as a progressive transformation rather than a dramatic, terminal change.

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Sociology
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hal-03394052 , version 1 (22-10-2021)

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Juliette Galonnier. Moving in or moving towards? Reconceptualizing Conversion to Islam as a Liminal Process. Karin van Nieuwkerk. Moving in and out of Islam, University of Texas Press, pp.44 - 66, 2018, 9781477317488. ⟨hal-03394052⟩
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