|Performing Islam: Conversion to Islam as a Gendered Technology of the Self|
|My contribution analyses the role of (gender) differing body techniques in the process of becoming Muslim. By highlighting the performative dimension of conversion to Islam, it aims to show how public observation is constitutive for the converts` construction of an Islamic self. By conceiving conversion to Islam as a technology of the self performed against the background of European publics, this case study relates to ongoing debates about religion in (post)secular European societies.
Analysis is based on ethnographic data of both male and female Swiss converts to Islam.
Ever since 9/11, Islam figures as the other against which European constructions of self gain contours. Public and political semantics of difference are fueled by visible symbols of Islam, notably gendered Islamic body techniques, such as the headscarf.
Becoming Muslim involves the adoption of new forms of gendered knowledge and praxis, such as the adoption of female veiling – linked to the Islamic moral and legal concept of `awra (shame) – that irritate public notions of „gender“. Thus, Islam is constructed by the converts as an alternative lifestyle whereby differing technologies of gender, linked to moral demeanor in terms of piety and social interaction, play a pivotal role. Islamic selves are realized through the adaption of gender differing modes of naming, dressing and moving in various social spaces and sites.
In contemporary Western societies, religious conversion, among other therapeutic forms of self-realization and self-governance, figures as a dominant individual (and collective) technique of the self (Sloterdijk, Foucault). Conversion can thus serve as a paradigm of religious practice in contemporary Western societies, where religious adherence has become a subjective (and subjectivizing) choice (Taylor). This contribution aims at connecting the study of conversion to Islam to the wider discussion of a „return of religion“ (Riesebrodt, Casanova) in Western public spheres by relating it to the examination of the selfconstitutive effect of bodily and spacial micropractices (Göle) in various social spheres. This performative turn has not yet been taken in the study of religious conversion.
Following a Butlerian concept of performativity, I understand conversion to Islam as a process of „self-transformation“, realized through narrative, spatial and bodily techniques of the self in different social spaces. As analysis shows, the construction of Muslim selves involves the positive appropriation of moral difference in regards to the non-Muslim Swiss environment.
Thus, my case study on Swiss converts to Islam might contribute to ongoing discussions about notions of public/private and the role of Islam in the construction and regulation of self and society in contemporary European societies.|