Beyond 'Religion versus Emancipation’


In post-9/11 Western societies and academic debates, the idea that religion and women’s emancipation are fundamentally conflicting has regained plausibility. Women’s deliberate religious conversion is a pertinent academic, religious and social-political issue. In face of the ‘gender paradox’, this project aims to study through qualitative research women’s conversion processes as acquiring new religious subjectivities in which gender and sexuality play a formative role.

The project hypothesizes that gender equality and women’s sexuality are ‘battlefields’ where converting women negotiate their position and subjectivity. It assumes that the conversion process is notably acted out through embodied viewpoints and practices in the context of public debates and religious prescriptions that highlight women’s position and sexuality in adversative directions. By studying female conversion as an ongoing and multilayered negotiation between autonomy and submission the project develops an innovative model of interpretation, based on a diversification of notions of choice, agency, embodiment and religion.

In order to operationalize its research goals, this project includes three subprojects: first the qualitative PhD research on women’s embodied conversion process in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; secondly a postdoctoral study of women’s conversion as narrated and regulated within Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures and traditions; and thirdly a postdoctoral study of British, Dutch and Flemish public debates.

This comparative project will contribute substantially to the public and academic understandings of tensions between religious and secular gender discourses in general, women’s conversion in Western-European context in particular, and to the field of the study of religion and gender at large.