Identity, Difference, Religion
: Multiculturalism and British Converts to Islam

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis is concerned with British converts to Islam and multiculturalism. It argues that the conceptual tools for thinking about identity and belonging in the literature in these areas fall short. To address this, it develops discussions of two central problematics: the dynamics between continuity and change, and between religion and culture. Doing so, it makes three interrelated contributions to existing scholarship.
The first is to multiculturalism. It is argued that multiculturalism has not taken sufficient account of religious identities with regard to its central concepts of difference and recognition, conceiving these based on ethnic difference, which resultantly fall short of being able to include converts. However, addressing religiosity provides a fruitful perspective to the goals of multiculturalism. Furthermore, this has implications for how belonging and the position of converts to Islam are conceived in British society. This is explored through a discussion based on an analytical framework that draws on Simmel’s stranger and his distinction between religiosity and religion.
The second contribution is to the sociological literature on religious identities, notably that of conversion to Islam. It is argued that concepts in this literature unnecessarily mischaracterise these identities but that through Simmel’s notion of religiosity, a theoretical shift can open up space for religious subject positions. It does so alongside developing a theoretically informed methodological approach to studying religious identity based on narrative.
The third contribution is to the representations of Muslim converts in the West, based on a problematic understanding of the religious and cultural. It is argued a sociological account enriched through a conversation with theological principles provides a different perspective on conceiving the relation between the religious and the cultural as well as the religious and the secular. This, furthermore, has implications for thinking through Islamophobia and the necessity of a multi-level analysis.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorTherese O'Toole (Supervisor) & Tariq Modood (Supervisor)

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