Migrant Masculinities and Global Religions. Exploring Gendered Religious Change through International Mobility

Convenors: Ester Gallo (University of Trento) & Francesca Scrinzi (University of Glasgow/European University Institute)

Despite the historical role played by religious institutions in reproducing social hierarchies based on gender (as well as on ethnicity and class), the sociology of religion has lagged behind other fields in developing a gendered analysis. This is partly due to the liberal (and Western-centric) roots of feminist thought, which mainly considered religion as a tool of male dominance and interpreted secularization as an inroad to women’s emancipation. The relation between gender and religion remains largely under-studied and under-theorised. Exceptions within feminist studies have mainly focused on women and religion, while, since the 1990s critical men’s studies have started to pay attention to male spiritualties.

From a different but related perspective, migration studies have increasingly shown how religion is transformed in its theological and sociological aspects in the context of transnational mobility. The latter contributes to disentangle major religions from the sites and civilizations within which and in terms of which they were historically formed, producing renewed ways of conceiving and practicing faith, and new cartographies of religious belonging. The gendered contours of these new religious formations have yet to be analysed in detail. Scholars of religion and gender in the migratory context have indeed focused mainly on migrant women, who are singled out as the ‘keepers of the cultural flame’ and responsible to pass on religious ‘traditions’ to the younger generations. Rare studies on religion and migrant masculinities suggest that religion is used by men to accommodate the challenges arising in transnational households; and show how patriarchal norms are renegotiated in migrant congregations in response to processes of racialization.

Drawing from these considerations, this panel aims to develop an original dialogue between the sociology of religion, of migration and of gender, based on ethnographic/qualitative research methodologies. It will explore how gender and religion intertwine and transform each other in the context of transnational mobility. In particular, we focus on masculinities: while we question the overlapping between the analytical category of gender and ‘women’, we locate masculinities within a broader materialist theoretical perspective and understanding of gender, which includes femininities. Men are gendered social actors who develop strategies to maintain their privileges in the gendered division of work, and in doing so they contribute to reproduce, but also transform, masculinities and femininities. Because of the key role of religion as ‘constitutive’ of gendered social hierarchies in society, we claim that a focus on gendered religious change in the context of globalization and international migration is significant to understanding the current global reorganization of multiple and intersecting inequalities.

We welcome proposals that consider (also comparatively) religions as different as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Sikhism, and that focus on different migrant groups and geographical areas. Some of the themes we wish to explore are:

  • The relationship between religion and hegemonic/subaltern masculinities in the context of transnationalism and international migration;
  • The role of (majority and minority) religious institutions and religious     discourses in accommodating/representing the presence of migrants in     immigration societies, and more particularly in forging ideas of masculinity and femininity;     
  • How migrant men (and women), as believers or religious leaders, use     religion to renegotiate gender relations, and more particularly masculinities, in a transnational space;
  • How migrants use religion to resist gendered processes of racialization     and de-skilling; 
  • How gendered religious teachings are transformed/challenged in the     migratory context;  
  • How migration challenges the association between masculinity and sacred     power.

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