We welcome our second international presenter, Juliette Galonnier. Galonnier is an Assistant Professor at CERI, Sciences Po. She teaches Qualitative Methods and Introduction to Islam in Europe on the Menton and Paris campuses. Her research investigates the social construction of racial and religious categories, and how they frequently intersect. Empirically, her work has been mostly focusing on Muslim minorities across various national contexts (India, France, the United States).
People of Sub-Saharan African descent make up roughly 10% of the French Muslim minority. Because of demographics and past historical trajectories, Islam is strongly associated with North Africa in French representations. Within the Muslim community itself, religious authority is often conflated with Arab culture, and the boundary between orthodoxy and heterodoxy can at times be policed along ethnic and racial lines. Relying on a collective study based on interviews with French Muslims of Sub-Saharan or Comorian descent (imams, chaplains, activists and “ordinary” believers) as well as observations in mosques, Sufi brotherhoods and other Islamic events, we examine how Muslims of African descent build religious authority while being a minority within the Muslim minority. This talk describes the various repertoires of justification they use to assert their religious legitimacy, from color-blind appeals to universal Islam to the assertion of ethnic and cultural specificities. This occurs in a context where the French State actively seeks to regulate Islam by coopting Muslim leaders in order to promote a “good”, “enlightened” Islam – of which “African Sufi Islam” is supposed to be an instance. With the colonial category of islam noir (Black Islam) looming large and in a context of counter-radicalization policies geared towards the Muslim minority, these institutional interventions complicate the politics of Muslim leadership. By exploring the complexity of Black Muslims’ positionings within the French Islamic landscape, this talk analyzes how religious and racial categories are coproduced by the State, religious actors and researchers alike and investigates the multiple uses, reinventions and disputes that the contested category of “Black Islam” generates.