A Student’s Perspective: Religion and Diversity in France
UNC sociology MA/PhD student Shreya Parikh received our 2018 Ruth Mitchell-Pitts START Fellowship for summer research in France. We asked her a few questions about her experience.
Q: What did you do in France? Where specifically did you spend your time, and how long were you there?
A: I was in France, mostly in Paris region, from May till end-July 2018. During this period, I conducted preliminary research for my master’s thesis. This involved visiting religious institutions and associations, participating in activities associated with these groups, and interviewing individuals about their religious beliefs, practices, and citizenship.
Q: What impact has the experience had on your plans for the future?
A: My ethnographic work in France this summer was a starting point of my adventure with qualitative methods. Before moving to the study of sociology, I was trained as an economist in quantitative methods. The two methods complement each other and the qualitative work adds a rich new perspective to my work.
Q: How do you see the intersection of your place of travel and Europe? In what ways are they connected?
A: The rhetoric around religion and accommodating diversity in France has been emulated by many countries in the EU zone. Many political trends visible in France are also visible at the EU-level. For example, the security framework against Islamic fundamentalism, which has become prominent since the ‘migrant crisis’ in both France and the EU, tries to control those who are perceived to be non-citizens which in many cases includes citizens as well.
Q: What was the highlight of your trip?
A: My initial research project was to understand the civil citizenship among the Muslim community in France. The civil component of citizenship determines the individual’s equality before the law as well as access to human rights. To have a comparative framework in my study, I decided to interview a few members of other faiths, among who was a young Catholic woman. Before speaking to her, I would have expected her to feel at ease with her French citizenship, assuming that her cultural and socio-economic background provided her the tools to enjoy the civic, political, and social components of citizenship. Yet, she mentioned that her moral citizenship (that pertains to values) had been put to question by her religious beliefs. For her, France did not represent her ethical values on questions like abortion, feminism, and LGBT rights and hence, she felt queasy about associating herself completely with France as a moral community. She later added that the fact that many Christian saints had walked on the French territory provided her a religious link to France. I find many layers to her conception of citizenship — for example, while there is a hint of rejection of Frenchness, there is also a sense of privilege that underlies her demand that France represent her ethical principles, which I did not find among the many Muslim individuals I interviewed. I look forward to expanding my research project to include more variation on religion as well as citizenship status to understand how the latter shapes the narrative around both religion as well as social and moral citizenship. ★