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 Managing spoiled identity: the case of Polish female converts to Islam

 
Conversion to Islam is a process, which is quite often misunderstood and perceived in a negative way in Poland. It is mostly the case for female converts, who – by embracing a new religion – embrace also a set of cultural norms, including e.g. new dress code (hijab). For women, embracing Islam may result in acquiring three intertwined types of vulnerability (a religious one – as they have abandoned Catholicism; a cultural one – taking up specific religious norms, e.g. a dress code; a sociobiological one – they become available as potential wives only to Muslim men).  
 
The resulting sense of exclusion is not psychologically neutral. While it might be a choice – i.e. an individual leaves her pervious life voluntarily, the exclusion often it seems to be a side effect of a decision to embrace Islam. The question therefore arises on how Polish converts to Islam manage their spoilt identity in relations with significant others: family, other Muslims (female converts and ‘cultural Muslims’), and non-Muslims.   While the research is potentially difficult to conduct, as the success of research participants recruitment relies to a great extent o the networks of trust build up between the researchers and the converts, the team has already some practical experience in this regard. We plan to start with the desktop research on the relationships between identity and conversion, followed by fieldwork carried out in Poland and in other places where converts live.  
 
The core of the project are semi-structured, in-depth interviews with female converts to Islam (around 20 in Poland and 20 outside, mostly in the UK). We are also planning to conduct interviews with ‘cultural Muslims’ and other Muslim stakeholders. Additionally, we will use the Personal Position Repertoires (PPR) method in order to gasp a full picture of strategies employed by Polish converts to Islam in their interactions with significant others. As for quantitative research, an online questionnaire is planned on a sample of around 100 respondents of female Polish converts to Islam from Poland and abroad. The questionnaire will be piloted with several converts from our own network of contacts before implementation.  
 
The project would be innovative for two reasons. Firstly, it tackles the issue of female conversion to Islam from a new perspective – i.e. how they manage their identity in relations with significant others. Secondly, it would be the first comprehensive research on Polish converts to Islam published in English (one of the outcomes of the project will be a monograph in English, as well as several articles in English and Polish) and one of the few studies on Islam in Central and Eastern Europe available in English. We also hope that our project will disenchant the dominating negative stereotype related to conversion to Islam – we believe that also in this case the reality is much more complex, than popular believes.
 
THE TEAM
 


Katarzyna Górak-Sosnowska is an associate professor at the Middle East and Central Asia Unit, SGH Warsaw School of Economics. She earned her PhD in economics (SGH) and habilitation in the study of religions (Jagiellonian University in Cracow). She is also a vice-Dean at the Graduate Studies Office. Her research focuses on contemporary Middle East and Muslim communities in Europe. She published five monographs including one in English – Deconstructing Islamophobia in Europe (2014), and edited a book on Muslims in Poland and Eastern Europe. Widening the European Discourse on Islam (2011). She is currently heading two projects – next to this one, a Jean Monnet Project: ref:EU | Muslim minorities and the refugee crisis in Europe (co-funded by the European Commission within the Erasmus+ Programme).

Beata Abdallah-Krzepkowska obtained M.A. degree in Arabic Philology, Jagiellonian University, then achieved her Ph.D degree at Silesian University (in linguistics) where she currently works as Assistant Professor. She is an author of many scientific papers, dealing mainly with Quran semantics. Her scientific interests focus on language of the Quran, contemporary Islam and Islam in Europe. She is very engaged in educational and popularization work in the field of Islam and Arab word. Moreover, she is a scientific cooperator of Nahda Foundation, promoting cultural relations between Poland and Arab countries.


Monika Ben Mrad - PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology of Religions at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, graduate of intercultural psychology at the SWPS University in Warsaw with a bachelor's degree in the law of armed conflict and humanitarian intervention. From 11 years, she is working in the field of integration of foreigners and creating diagnostic standards on behalf of NGOs and as a member of the refugees’ diagnosis section of Polish Psychological Association. As part of her doctoral research she is working on the topic of religious syncretism in Polish-Turkish and Polish-Tunisian bicultural relationships. Specialist in acculturation, Polonia in Muslim countries and the situation of refugees in Poland. She lived and worked, among others, in Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia.
Joanna Krotofil is Assistant Professor at the Institute for the Study of Religion, Jagiellonian University. She completed MSc in Psychology, is a member of the International Institute for The Dialogical Self and a trainee clinical psychologist. She has published a number of articles and book chapters on the relationship between religion, identity and migration. In her PhD disertation she explored expereinces of Polish Muslim converts in the UK. Her main research interests include the place of Islam in contemporary Westen societies, in particular the processes related to shaping and negotiation of Muslim identity. In her most recent publications she focuses on the „migration crisis” in Europe and the construction of Islam in this context.


Anna Piela is a lecturer in Religious Studies at Leeds Trinity University, UK. She has worked previously as a research consultant with the Muslim Women’s Council, Bradford. In 2010 she was awarded a PhD in Women’s Studies by the University of York, UK. Her monograph, titled Muslim Women Online: Faith and Identity in Virtual World, as well as several journal articles (including in “New Media and Society”, “Feminist Media Studies”, “Hawwa”, and “Contemporary Islam” focused on gender, Islam, and online communities. She has recently edited two volumes: Islam and the Media and Islam and Popular Culture in the Routledge series ‘Critical Concepts in Sociology’. Her current endeavours include writing a monograph titled Wearing the Niqab: Fashioning Identity among Muslim Women in the UK and the US, and working on editorial board of the journal “Hawwa: Journal of Women in the Middle East and the Islamic World”. Her other research interests include women's and inclusive mosques in the West.
 
 
 





Project title: Managing spoiled identity: the case of Polish female converts to Islam

Funding: National Science Centre (OPUS) for years 2018-2021,

Research team: prof. SGH dr hab. Katarzyna Górak-Sosnowska (project coordinator),  dr Beata Abdallah-Krzepkowska (University of Silesia), dr Joanna Krotofil (Jagiellonian University in Cracow), dr Anna Piela (Leeds Trinity University).