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Can Islam Be French? is an anthropological examination of how Muslims are responding to the conditions of life in France. Following up on his book Why the French Don't Like Headscarves, John Bowen turns his attention away from the perspectives of French non-Muslims to focus on those of the country's Muslims themselves. Bowen asks not the usual question--how well are Muslims integrating in France?--but, rather, how do French Muslims think about Islam? In particular, Bowen examines how French Muslims are fashioning new Islamic institutions and developing new ways of reasoning and teaching. He looks at some of the quite distinct ways in which mosques have connected with broader social and political forces, how Islamic educational entrepreneurs have fashioned niches for new forms of schooling, and how major Islamic public actors have set out a specifically French approach to religious norms. All of these efforts have provoked sharp responses in France and from overseas centers of Islamic scholarship, so Bowen also looks closely at debates over how--and how far--Muslims should adapt their religious traditions to these new social conditions. He argues that the particular ways in which Muslims have settled in France, and in which France governs religions, have created incentives for Muslims to develop new, pragmatic ways of thinking about religious issues in French society.
This book responds to the often loud debates about the place of Muslims in Western Europe by proposing an analysis based in institutions, including schools, courts, hospitals, the military, electoral politics, the labor market, and civic education courses. The contributors consider the way people draw on practical schemas regarding others in their midst who are often categorized as Muslims. Chapters based on fieldwork and policy analysis across several countries examine how people interact in their everyday work lives, where they construct moral boundaries, and how they formulate policies concerning tolerable diversity, immigration, discrimination, and political representation. Rather than assuming that each country has its own national ideology that explains such interactions, contributors trace diverse pathways along which institutions complicate or disrupt allegedly consistent national ideologies. These studies shed light on how Muslims encounter particular faces and facets of the state as they go about their lives, seeking help and legitimacy as new citizens of a fast-changing Europe.
In this powerful, but accessible new study, John Bowen draws on a full range of work in social anthropology to present Islam in ways that emphasise its constitutive practices, from praying and learning to judging and political organising. Starting at the heart of Islam - revelation and learning in Arabic lands - Bowen shows how Muslims have adapted Islamic texts and traditions to ideas and conditions in the societies in which they live. Returning to key case studies in Asia, Africa and Western Europe, to explore each major domain of Islamic religious and social life, Bowen also considers the theoretical advances in social anthropology that have come out of the study of Islam. A New Anthropology of Islam is essential reading for all those interested in the study of Islam and for those following new developments in the discipline of anthropology.
The French government's 2004 decision to ban Islamic headscarves and other religious signs from public schools puzzled many observers, both because it seemed to infringe needlessly on religious freedom, and because it was hailed by many in France as an answer to a surprisingly wide range of social ills, from violence against females in poor suburbs to anti-Semitism. Why the French Don't Like Headscarves explains why headscarves on schoolgirls caused such a furor, and why the furor yielded this law. Making sense of the dramatic debate from his perspective as an American anthropologist in France at the time, John Bowen writes about everyday life and public events while also presenting interviews with officials and intellectuals, and analyzing French television programs and other media. Bowen argues that the focus on headscarves came from a century-old sensitivity to the public presence of religion in schools, feared links between public expressions of Islamic identity and radical Islam, and a media-driven frenzy that built support for a headscarf ban during 2003-2004. Although the defense of laïcité (secularity) was cited as the law's major justification, politicians, intellectuals, and the media linked the scarves to more concrete social anxieties--about "communalism," political Islam, and violence toward women. Written in engaging, jargon-free prose, Why the French Don't Like Headscarves is the first comprehensive and objective analysis of this subject, in any language, and it speaks to tensions between assimilation and diversity that extend well beyond France's borders.
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