“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.” Khalil Gibran (1923)

Over the past two years, HOMInG has come to recognize that migration and homemaking are deeply entwined with religion. As much as home is a cognitive, material and relational product, so are religious beliefs, practices and networks. Not all migrants would describe themselves as believers, nonetheless faith can be an ambivalent ascription and a lived practice significant for people on the move. Next week, one Hominger will present two contributions at international events after her thorough ethnographic research with South Asian diasporas across Europe. How to reconcile the minutiae of fieldwork with larger debates on the globalisation of rituals, and the challenge of minority representations? Do houses of worship qualify as community homes? May religious piety serve immigrants/refugees to emplace abroad or may it deter them from doing so? These are some of the questions that Sara Bonfanti will address at the SIEF Conference in Spain first, and at a LUCIS Seminar in the Netherlands then.


SIEF Société Internationale D´Ethnologie Et De Folklore 2019, 14TH CONFERENCE “TRACK CHANGES”

14-17 April Santiago de Compostela (ES)


Roundtable: Ethnography of ordinary worship routines. Materiality, spaces and changes across Europe

Sara Bonfanti: Sacred re-grounding. An intersectional approach to Houses of Worship among south Asian diasporas in Europe

After two-years fieldwork within Mandirs, Masjids and Gurdwaras across Europe, the paper builds on visual ethnographic data to investigate how worship routines and lay matters find expression in such temples: thresholds of private/public, community/society, change/continuity, inclusion/exclusion.

A manifest effect of transnational migrations on European urban landscape involves the establishment of non-indigenous worship places. Considering south Asian immigrant minorities, since the post-colonial heyday a range of temples have sprouted over Europe; notably, Hindu Mandirs, Islamic Mosques and Sikh Gurdwaras have given visibility to other peoples’ appropriation of public space. Yet, not all these houses of worship have been equally accommodated in their new settings, nor the groups that inhabit them have developed similar cohesion, performing devotions while also attending to mundane matters. The paper surmises such sacred grounds as public thresholds, spatial hubs that stand as the backdrop of internal and external social relations of each religious community vis-à-vis other creeds and within specific national contexts. Ethnographic work I recently conducted between Italy, the NL and the UK (in the cities of Brescia, Rotterdam and Birmingham) shows that unknown dynamics of differentiation occur within such shrines, foyers of the current economic downturn. Despite providing retreats of solidarity and bulwarks for ethno-religious identity, the south Asian diasporas of Gods lodge and reproduce pre-existing and novel exclusions. Keeping my arguments in tension with ‘home studies’, I ponder: who runs these holy households acting as a gatekeeper, and whom instead remains at bay, marginalized or ostracized, barred from participation? Seeing the lived intersection of gender and faith in highly diverse local contexts might illuminate the historical complexity of interreligious coexistence, but also expose the contemporary entanglement of spiritual and political strategies for doing boundary-work, between community resistance and intercultural dialogue.


(organized by Director Prof. Nathal Dessing)

University of Leiden (NL), 16 April 2019


Sara Bonfanti: Secularising Islam in third level education: lived accounts from British-Pakistani scholars


Introduction: This lecture proposes a minute ethnographic antidote to any generalization of Islam in the West. Not only we cannot attribute one singular national character to Muslims in any given European State, but neither the regional provenance of such migrant minorities yields consistency in the way Islam is conceived and performed in a country of resettlement.

Case-study: Among the many varieties of British Islam, how the religious is held and practiced within the Pakistani diaspora reveals itself multiverse and unexpected. The empirical material here analysed comes from a comparative ERC project on the nexus between home and migration across Europe, in particular on original fieldwork data collected between 2017 and 2018 with south Asian communities in the UK.

Methods: Drawing from ethnographic research in London and Birmingham, and narrative interviews with British Pakistanis from different backgrounds but all employed in higher education, I intend to articulate how Islam, as a form of knowledge, is deployed in people’s life in order to master social recognition and professional engagement.

Results: Comparing the experiences of two middle-aged women and a man, respectively devoted to Sunni, Shia and Ismaili cults, either first or second generation Brit Pakistanis, relatively wealthy and lecturing in private or public colleges, I argue that, within a paradigmatic multicultural society, Muslim liberal minorities might invest in the profession of Islam as a secular way of making one’s career. Acknowledging how Islam is threaded in people’s life stories through their passage from Pakistan to Britain (beyond deep historical political implications), we may see how (some) Muslims in the West transfer their lived expertise of Islam from the realm of private religious piety to that of public mundane activities. What binds together Muslim scholars who lecture on Shari’a trials, Nikah disputes and Hawza Studies?

Conclusion: An intersectional analysis of Brit-Pakistani Muslim lifeways offers a diffracted perspective on the dissemination of diasporic Islam (as a doctrine and a moral code), which seems to enhance personal belonging, social integration and intercultural dialogue, while confronting dogmatic centralization from within or (often phobic) reification from outside.

Key-words: British Pakistani Islam, ethnographies of home, secularising religion, higher education, life-stories.