Research COntext


The visibility of Islamic religiosity in Western secular societies remains a highly contentious and divisive issue. The everyday lives of Muslim minorities in the West are affected by how their expressions of Islam are perceived and portrayed in public discourses. If the perceptions are negative, this can have significant effects on individuals and communities. Recent discursive practices in the public sphere that vilify Muslims, construct them as potential threats to national security, and place them ‘outside the circle of trustworthy citizenship’, are particularly damaging to the social fabric (Jakubowicz 2007, p. 270; Smith 2002).

Muslims in the West are living in countries with non-Islamic majority cultures. Current debates on the French, US and Australian models of religious accommodation have drawn attention to how majority ‘culturally established religions’ (Bader 2009, p. 568; Bhargava 2009) are privileged even when religion is relegated to the private sphere. This privileging ‘masks majority religious bias’ (Bhargava 2009, p. 556) and can lead to expressions of public hostility and anxiety towards Islamic religiosity. In this way, existing privileges of the majority cultures and religions entrenched in the social have implications for understanding the belonging and political engagement of Muslims in the West.

In this context, the recent popular and academic backlash against state-sponsored multiculturalism in liberal nation-states means that issues of ethno-religious diversity, and the ability to foster intercultural engagement, have become significant challenges for cities in the twenty-first century (Allen 2007; Amin 2002a; Hage 2003; Keith 2005; Mitchell 2007; Poynting & Mason 2008; Turner 2003; Vertovec & Peach 1997).

In Australia, the demise of multicultural policy, beginning in the late 1990s, temporarily created an ‘enormous vacuum’ (Turner 2003, p. 416) in public debates on inclusive citizenship and belonging. With recently renewed political support for multicultural policy and scholarship, however, Australia can perhaps assume leadership in demonstrating that political resistance to cultural assimilation allows for the transnational dimensions of Islam to be viewed in a positive light in Western societies. The treachery, criminality, insecurity, and irreverence to human rights often tied to visible Islamic religiosity will then slowly fade (Benhabib 2006; Dunn et al. 2007; Hage 2008; Turner 2003).

Conceptually this project combines theories of active citizenship and social inclusion with the more affective notion of performativity (Butler 2001). This combination allows for a holistic assessment of the integration of Muslims into Western societies. Moreover, it enables us to assess whether Islamic religiosity can be viewed as a source of empowerment, belonging, and engagement, rather than a source of a deep political and ideological rift in multicultural Western societies (Nesbitt-Larking 2008). Given contemporary discussions on cosmopolitan ethics that emphasise respect for difference, this project assesses whether theoretical insights into affective intercultural encounters can shed further light on understanding, solidarity, and care among citizens. In particular, this project contributes to scholarship on active citizenship and social inclusion by investigating how Islamic spiritual and cultural practices can affect our understandings of national loyalty and political engagement.