Title: Striving and Stumbling in the Name of Allah. Neo-Sunnis and Neo-Shi'ites in a Belgian Context
Authors: Lechkar, Iman
Issue Date: 19-Apr-2012
Abstract: The aim of this dissertation is to critically engage with existing academic literature on conversion and through an anthropological study of two cases of Islam-related conversion, contribute both theoretically and ethnographically to the anthropology of conversion. The two main questions this work addresses are the following: 1. How can we understand Islam-related conversion in a Belgian secular context? 2. How can we understand religious transformations that constitute the refashioning of the selfand which meaning is attributed to this religious change?The conventional conversion paradigm is characterized by a sociological and psychological bias. While psychologists underscore the importance of crisis, sociologists develop models that consign converts into categories which result in the homogenization of converts, rather than the disclosure of the complex trajectories of converts. It is Rambo (1993) who suggests that conversion could only be understood by open- ended process. This dissertation introduces the literature on conversion and then critically engages with four assumptions that I outline in Chapter 4 and interrogate in the third part of the dissertation. The first interrogation draws on the persistent duality of reason and emotion, and thus, on the duality of intellectual versus relational conversion. While conversion, based on the former disposition, is understood to be more autonomous, modern, and more authentic; conversion based on emotion and relationality isviewed as influenced, anachronistic and less authentic. By revisiting the notion of affect (Spinoza’s affectus), I argue that emotion and reason are mutually implied. Neo-Sunnis and Neo-Shi‛ites are affected by contentment. This titillation is grounded in a positive idea of how the affecting body experiences life. While this idea is embedded in valuessuch as generosity, hospitality, strong family and social ties among Neo- Sunnis, Neo-Shi‛ites are affected positively through the idea of studiousness, seriousness, and a high social status epitomizing the affecting body.The second interrogation aims to reconceptualise transformations. Studies on conversion have focused on the radical change dimension of conversion (Travisano 1970; Heirich 1977 and Rambo 1993). This dissertation also acknowledges changes but instead of stating whether change is radical or not, it aims to examine how change is constituted. The second interrogation also links transformations to Spinoza’s power to act (potentia agendi) and Mahmood’s (2005) understanding of agency. Bodily and spiritual transformations imply an active engagement of the self, in order to make the self. I outline how different subjects discipline themselves in diverse ways to attain, religiously and morally, a greater perfection.The third interrogation tackles the delineated conversion bias that reduces conversion to a process that starts at specific point A and stops at a delineated point B. The process knows two normative forms: a ‘Pauline’ or ‘processual’ model of conversion. While the first indicates a short duration of conversion grounded in emotion, the latter implies a long duration, grounded in reason. This dissertation undoes this duality, observing both the Pauline and the processual modality that are both constituted by reason and emotion, by affect. This topic focuses on the ongoing nature of conversion after becomingSunni or Shi‛a. Both Neo-Sunnis and Neo-Shi‛ites indicate an open-ended conversion process because of their efforts that go beyond assimilation into the new community. In search for greater perfection, both Neo-Sunnis and Neo-Shi‛ites engage in the creation of new aesthetic formations that are different than the communities they initially convert to.The final interrogation deals with the presumption that converts enter an ideal world, free of any worry, or in William James’ words: “the convert… becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy” (James 1902:189). I expound on the challenges and stumbles on the road to perfection. These challenges are located both within the self aswithin the broader social context. I bring together Spinoza’s decrease of power to act (potentia agendi) with de Certeau’s (1984) notion of ‘anti-discipline’, Ewing’s ‘illusion of wholeness’ (1990) and Schielke’s (2009) notion of ‘ambivalences’ showing that both Neo-Sunni and Neo-Shi‛ites are: ‘just human beings’ that are also confronted with stumbleswhich hamper their striving to attain a greater religious and moral perfection.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Research Centre
Odisee General

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