Islam and culture: Dis/junctures in a modern conceptual terrain

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14 Scopus citations


Over the last decades, Europe debates on Islam have been framed increasingly through the lens of cultural difference. In this discursive climate, culture constitutes a crucial terrain of investment for European Muslims in their struggle for inclusion and recognition. Based on two different ethnographic research projects among European Muslims, this essay examines two distinct types of culture discourses. One employs an Islam-versus-culture trope that serves to disconnect Islam from certain patriarchal practices perceived to exist within Muslim communities. The other discourse defends the intrinsic and symbiotic link between Islam and culture, especially in order to elevate the place of artistic practices within Muslim communities. To make sense of these seeming contradictions, I explore the multivalent meanings contained in my interlocutors' uses of the culture concept by tracing the respective genealogies of these meanings. This includes an investigation of culture's conceptual histories, formulated successively by Enlightenment thinkers, Romanticists, and early anthropologists, as well as by Islamic reformers and their more recent successors. My investigation into these conceptual histories exposes broader concerns about individual freedom and agency on the part of cultural theorists, which have furthermore enabled various claims about modernity and backwardness. While European Muslims creatively integrate various articulations of the culture concept into their world-making projects, I argue that the ontological assumptions underpinning the culture concept continue to haunt and render precarious efforts to demonstrate Muslim belonging to Europe via culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-237
Number of pages31
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Arts
  • Culturalization of citizenship
  • Culture
  • Europe
  • Freedom
  • Islam
  • Modernity
  • Subjectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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