Ann af Burén new postdoctoral researcher within the Impact programme

2017-06-20

Ann of Burén is one of three new postdoctoral researchers within the Impact of Religion programme. During the following year and a half they will conduct their research projects as a contribution to Impacts investment in research on the field of religion and migration. 

Ann af Buréns main research interest is the study of religion as it is expressed in everyday life. So far, her fields of research has been Islamic studies and secularity studies. Ann af Burén’s main fascination has been with what she calls simultaneity, namely the fact in sometimes contradictory positions are lived by people seemingly at the same time. In her research she has on the one hand focused on what she calls “semi-secular” Swedes and on the other LGBTQ Muslims – in both these fields different normative positions and ideas (i. e of religiosity, secularity, sexuality and gender) needs to be grappled with as they influence intersubjective behaviors and identities. In terms of method she has worked mainly with qualitative methods such as interviewing and fieldwork. Ann af Brurén comes most recently from Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden.  

In her dissertation, Living simultaneity  – on religion among semi-secular Swedes, she focused people who perceive themselves as ”normal” in Sweden, at least where their religiosity is concerned. That is, who see themselves as  belonging to the majority rather than a minority in Swedish society. In the present project, ”The Muslim mainstream: Co-producing secularity in Sweden”, she wants to in a more focused way include another group into the discussion on Swedish secular.

In this empirically driven project, The Muslim mainstream: Co-producing secularity in Sweden, the underlying idea is that the normative secular discourse in Sweden is upheld and co-produced also by this country’s culturally Muslim population. Using qualitative methods she wants explore how and to what extent this is the case among secular Muslims two well-established major Muslim immigrant communities, Swedish Turks and Swedish Bosnian.

This is a project that wants to seriously the large group of Muslims who are neither actively practicing nor completely distanced from their religious heritage. This is a group that in Sweden disrupts normative ideas about Muslims through their peripheral and “luke-warm” interest in Islam as a religious practice and belief-system. Here the idea that Muslims in Sweden, rather than being radically different from secular Swedes, are perhaps not that different. This is said on the backdrop that religious minorities are often depicted as opposed to secularity and religious identities are often viewed with unease in the public debate. Here – and most intensely in social media – it is almost exclusively Muslim minorities that are thought of as controversial. A common assumption in normative discourse on Muslims is that it is a minority that by definition is more strongly religious than the culturally Christian majority.

Culturally Muslim people (people with a Muslim cultural background) is a large and growing community of about 500 000 people in Sweden today. Many come from countries where secularism has had a dominant role in the modern political history. Countries such as Iran or Turkey. Despite this and despite the fact that Muslims in Sweden have very different attitudes and experiences to secularity, secularism and religion, Muslims brought to the fore in the public debate are often those for whom Islam constitutes a prominent part of identity and lifestyle. People who are depicted as the ”other” –  as very different from a presumed secular ”we”.

This focus, on the strongly religious, is noticeable in many different arenas, as I said in social media, public debate as well as in everyday discourse, etc. It is also a focus that is reflected in scholarly research. Despite the fact that previous research indicate that a majority of Muslims in Sweden are not practicing or against secular values researchers  – even those with the ambition of nuancing the discourse on Muslims in Europe – keep focusing on the minority of strongly religious. Many prominent scholars have pointed out that this skewed focus perpetuates an unbalanced image of Muslims. As Samuli Schielke puts it there has been “too much Islam, in the study of Muslims”.

In the project Ann af Burén is using the term secular Muslims as a shorthand for people with a Muslim cultural background that have a passive peripheral relation to their religious heritage. In Sweden, then, this group becomes the counterpart of the culturally Christian albeit predominantly secular mainstream of the population. Which is the group that often is in focus in the growing body of knowledge about Swedish secular culture. This research is in a way biased towards the majority segment of the population that has a Lutheran cultural background, what I refer to as culturally Christian Swedes. This means that studies about secular culture in Sweden have neglected the impact and status of secularity on the growing culturally Muslim population. Partly because in quantitative surveys about values, lifestyle and religiosity, immigrant communities become something of a blind spot since the focus on the major trends cannot include minorities in a representative way.

Now, these observations (that there is a skewed focus on strongly religious Muslims, and a neglecting of minority groups in secularity studies) suggest that we lack sufficient knowledge about the presumed mainstream of culturally Muslim people in Sweden, that is secular Muslims. We lack knowledge about how people in this group co-produce Swedish secularity in the ways they talk about, think, live and relate to their religious heritage.

The project is a combination of two fields of research that rarely are studied in intersection. One is the growing field of secular and non-religious studies (secularity studies), and the other is the field of Muslims in Europe, especially the sub-field sometimes referred to as Lived Islam.