New Landscapes of Religion in the West

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Fauzia Ahmad



Set within the grand and lush surroundings of Mansfield College, Oxford
University, and hosted by the Department of Geography, this conference,
held between September 27-29,20o0, attracted some of Europe’s key academics
from such varied disciplines as human geography, social anthropology,
theology, and sociology. They met to discuss the creation and
assertion, by minorities, of religious spaces in the West. About thirty to
thirty-five participants discussed both empirical data and theoretical
debates within the contexts of multiculturalism, identity, and minority
rights. Out of twenty-one papers, eight specifically dwelt on Muslim communities
and spaces, nine were of a more general nature, focusing either on
historical or general overviews or theoretical issues, while four concentmted
on Hindu and Sikh movements in the West. Much of the work presented
was derived from projects conducted as part of the ESRC’s Research
Program on Transnational Communities, which is directed by Steve
Vertovec who is in the Faculty of Anthropology and Geography at the
University of Oxford. Vertovec, who is editor of Muslim European Youth
(1998), and Ceri Peach were joint editors of Islam in Europe (1997).
The conference began with a keynote address from Diana Eck of Harvard
University describing The Pluralism Project of which she was director. The
project had three main aims: first, to document the increasing religious
diversity and changing religious landscape and demography of American
cities; second, to study how religious communities are changing; and third,
to assess how American society is adapting to a multireligious reality. She
described how the conversion of old buildings to the development of purpose-
built centers such as mosques, temples, and gurdwaras marked an
architectural reality that served to acknowledge the United States as a pluralist
society. Muslim communities in the US, she noted, numbered
between five to seven million-almost as numerous as the Jewish population,
and more than some Christian sects. She stressed the dynamism of
community adaptations and the existence of some ‘ethnic enclaving.’ The ...

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