Oslo Summer School for Social Sciences 2020

Race, Islam and the Idea of Europe

Professor Nasar Meer, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Dates: 6 July - 10 July 2020

Main disciplines: sociology, politics, anthropology, religious studies

Limitation: 25 participants

Course content 

This course will explore how and in what way ideas of Europe have emerged that rely, firstly, on particular understandings of Islam and, secondly, on forms of racialization or race making. Specifically, it will introduce students to contemporary debates about the ambition for a ‘de-colonial turn’ in the humanities and social sciences, something that relies upon a critical understanding of European history, society and politics. Students will therefore engage with materials on (i) Islam in public life and church state-relations in Europe, (ii) the role of whiteness as a prevailing indeed hegemonic norm and (iii) competing visions of what Europe has been in the past, is presently, and may become in the future. Drawing upon sociology, politics, anthropology, history and religious studies, this course will have broad and general appeal to a wide range of students, and not require a great deal of prior knowledge. Materials will be introduced in and accessible and engaging fashion.


Learning objectives

The learning objectives of this course are to provide students with an introduction to the current significance of debates about Europe, Islam and race within the context of both specific European societies and of the connections between societies.

On successful completion of this course students will be able:
• To develop and apply a sociologically informed approach to the study of race, ethnicity, and nationhood in Europe;
• To appreciate and treat ideas of Europe as historically variable and contextually situated social constructs;
• To understand and conceptualise Islam at the intersection of both structural determinants and individual agency

Students will be able to reflect on their own experiences, as well as public discussion and media reports, to evaluate these topics in a theoretically and empirically informed manner.


Lectures 1 & 2

Race – A European Story

In these lectures we will consider how and why ideas of race have played a role in organising social relations, and shaping the ways people believe societies ought to function. In everyday usage the term ‘race’ is a common means of distinguishing groups, yet sociology tells us that ‘race’ is a socially constructed category. This is one reason why sociologists consider race to be a myth (in the title of a book by Montagu (1942), it is in fact Man’s Most Dangerous Myth). Many sociologists thus present ‘race’ in inverted commas to indicate we are referring to a problematic idea. This critical consensus, however, is relatively recent because for much of modernity race was deemed to be very real indeed. In this lecture we will explore the historical evolution of the category of ‘race’ in a global perspective. We will consider how, following the colonial encounters between European and non-European populations, from the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries onwards, race began to play a powerful political role that in the age of Enlightenment gained a scientific credibility. We will consider why understanding this story is important in helping us to think critically about seeing differences through ideas of race today.


Lectures 3 & 4

Europe and the Decolonial Turn

In these two lectures students will be introduced to debates about ‘decolonial thought’ and the ways in which this approach is proposed as a response to what Anibal Quijano (2007) and Walter Mignolo (2000) refer to as the ‘colonial matrix of power’. Namely, the political, social and cultural domination established by Europeans powers via ideas and social organization from the fifteenth century onwards. In this approach the ‘modern’ and the ‘colonial’ go hand in hand, and is described by decolonial thinkers as the ‘colonial-modern’. As a mode of thinking, Walter Mignolo and others (2000) have characterized the decolonial development as a form of necessary ‘epistemic disobedience’ (e.g., challenging accepted theories of knowledge about the modern and the global) if there is to be an intellectual and political ‘reconstruction’ that can re-imagine the world in non-colonized forms. The session will consider the implications of these approaches in two specific ways. The first is in terms of social movements such as ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ (the mobilisaiton against commemorating the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes), as well as in arguments about knowledge production and dissemination, e.g., in the movement: ‘Why is my curriculum white’. The second in terms of what we can call ‘positionality’, and how we as researchers may be implicated in appropriating, re-constructing and/or dismantling existing knowledge structures. In this respect it is important to reflect on our positionality, in relation to what we are researching and from what context. These two issues come together when decolonial authors place all European theory and practice in a particularistic – and not universal – story, in a way that links the decolonial ideas to broader political movements for Indigenous rights and other social movements that aspire to a globally imagined ‘new humanity’.

Lectures 5 & 6

European Whiteness and Social Norms

Whiteness as a sociological concept sits at an intersection between historical privilege and identity, something that has a contemporary dynamic but which is not universally shared in (or can be distant to) how many white people experience their identities. In these lectures we will explore how in thinking about whiteness there is often a tension between its study from societies marked by historical segregation and apartheid (e.g. the US and South Africa), or where it has ordered social relations in colonial states overseas (e.g., India), or where whiteness has functioned as a ‘banal’ repository of white majorities (e.g., in the given identity of Britishness, Englishness or Scottishness). In the third of these examples, whiteness is invisible and yet able to order our social norms: it is the convention against which non-whiteness is measured. This lecture will especially explore the relationship between whiteness and social norms, or what Twine and Gallagher (2008: 8) describe as whiteness as a ‘public and psychological wage’, and how a sociology of whiteness sheds light on these processes.

Lectures 7 & 8

Islam, Race-Making and Contemporary Europe

In these lectures we will consider the ways in which contemporary European societies continue to make and remake racial categories in ways that illustrate that racial categories are dynamic and not fixed. Debates about Islam are illustrative, for Islam and Muslims have come to feature prominently in a variety of European societies. Some have expected Muslim to ‘privatize’ issues of their culture, language, religion and so forth. Others have taken a more inclusive approach. Both have faced challenges in so doing and in these two lectures we will explore the historical and contemporary reasons for this.


Lectures 9 & 10

The Angel of History and Our Racial Future(s)

In 1940, as Nazi armies approached his city of Paris, the sociologist Walter Benjamin contemplated the rise of racism and fascism across Europe through the metaphor of the ‘Angel of History’. He portrayed this figure as battling in vain against civilization’s long march through destruction. Benjamin was Jewish and his tragic death soon after perhaps confirmed his warning. In these lectures we will consider what race looks like in the present and where it might go in the future, or what our ‘Angel of History’ may tell us today. Part of this requires thinking about how just as categories of race change, so can ideas and practices of racism. One of the implications of this possibility is that it’s not always obvious who is being ‘racialised’ by whom in what ways. For example, does racism have to be based on colour? Does religious discrimination count as racism? And what are the current ‘structural’ implications of racism (and how might this be related to the ways in which we use language)?

Syllabus/reading list

Bonilla-Silva, E. (1999) ‘The Essential Social Fact of ‘Race’’, American Sociological Review 64(6): 899-906. 7 pp

Fanon F. (1968[1961]) The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. Chapter 6: ‘On National Culture’, pp. 145-169. 24 pp

Gilroy, P. (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Verso. Chapter 2: ‘Masters, Mistresses, Slaves, and the Antinomies of Modernity’ pp: 41-70. 29 pp

Meer. N. (2013) ‘Racialization and Religion: The role of race, culture and difference in antisemitism and Islamophobia’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 36(3): 385–98. 13 pp

Bhambra, Gurminder K. 2014. Postcolonial and Decolonial Reconstructions in Connected Sociologies. Bloomsbury Academic.

Maldonado-Torres, Nelson 2007. ‘On the Coloniality of Being: Contributions to the Development of a Concept,’ Cultural Studies 21 (2-3): 240-70. 30 pp

Meer, N. (2018) ‘Race and postcolonialism: should one come before the other?’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 46 (1), 1163-1181 18 pp

Srinivasan, Amia (2016) ‘Under Rhodes’, London Review of Books, Vol. 38 No. 7 • 31 March 2016. 3 pp

El Magd, Noha Abou (2016) ‘Why is My Curriculum White? - Decolonising the Academy’, National Union of Students Connect: http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/articles/why-is-my-curriculum-white-decolonising-the-academy 2 pp

Sheppard, E. (2002) ‘The spaces and times of globalization: Place, space, networks, and positionality’, Economic Geography, 78 (3), 307-330 23 pp

Twine, F. and Gallagher, C. (2008) ‘The future of whiteness: a map of the “third wave”’, Ethnic and racial Studies, 31 (1): 4–24. 20 pp

Bonnett, A. (2008) ‘Whiteness and the west’, pp. 113-137 in C. Dwyer and C. Bressey (eds) New Geographies of Race and Racism. Aldershot: Ashgate. 24 pp

Duster, T. (2001) ‘The “morphing” of properties of whiteness’, in B. B. Rasmussen, E. Klinenberg, I. Nexica and M. Wray (eds) The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 113-137 pp.


Fenton, S. and Mann, R. (2010) ‘Introducing the majority to ethnicity: do they like what they see.’ In: G. Calder, P. Cole and J. Seglow Citizenship Acquisition and National Belonging. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 141-155. 14 pp

Hage, G. (1998) White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural society. Annandale: Pluto Press. 280 pp

Hewitt, R. (2005) White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 150 pp

Lipsitz, G. (1998) The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 320 pp

McDermott, M. (2006) Working-Class White: The Making and Unmaking of Race Relations. Berkeley: University of California Press. 211 pp

McIntosh, P. (1988) ‘White privilege and male privilege: a personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women’s studies’. Working Paper #189, Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley, MA 02181. 9 pp

Cesari, J. (2014), ‘Introduction’ in Cesari (ed), The Oxford Handbook of European Islam, Oxford UP (E-book). 24 pp

Meer, N. (2012), ‘Misrecognizing Muslim consciousness in Europe’, Ethnicities 12 (2), pp. 178-196 (Learn) 18 pp

Cesari, J. (2004) When Islam and Democracy Meet. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 280 pp

Mandaville, P. (2009) ‘Muslim Transnational Identity and State Responses in Europe and the UK after 9/11: Political Community, Ideology and Authority’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35 (3), 491-506. 15 pp

Modood, T., Triandafyllidou, A. and Zapata-Barrero, R. (eds) (2006). Multiculturalism, Muslims and Citizenship: A European Approach. London: Routledge. 225 pp

Amin, A. (2010) ‘Remainders of race’. Theory, Culture and Society 27 (1): 1-23. 22 pp

Bunzl, M. (2005) ‘Between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: some thoughts on the new Europe’. American Ethnologist 32 (4): 499–508. 9 pp

Agamben, G. (1999) Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. New York: Zone Books. 176 pp

Benjamin, W. (1968) Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Edited and with an introduction by Hannah Arendt. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Pp. 253-264 11 pp

Du Bois, W. E. B. (2008 [1903]) The Souls of Black Folk. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers. (Also available via Project Gutenberg) 148 pp

Samiei, M. (2010) ‘Neo-Orientalism? The relationship between the west and islam in our globalised world’. Third World Quarterly, 31 (7): 1145–60 15 pp


Additional, non-compulsory readings 

Video: An Evening With Ramon Grosfoguel - Postcolonial or Decolonial? https://vimeo.com/115099450

Video: Nasar Meer: Liberal Citizenship, Multiculturalism and Muslims in Europe: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=BAX8ywb0qqM

Video: Racism and Islamophobia, Lecture with Nasar Meer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoYPJWSTPmQ

Tags: Sociology, PhD, Oslo Summer School
Published Feb. 7, 2020 2:40 PM - Last modified Feb. 27, 2020 7:18 PM