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Islam in Contemporary Spain: Identities and Representations

Friday, March 15, 2013
12:00 AM
Palmer Commons, Forum Hall

Since the early 1980s, Spain has witnessed a boom in its Muslim population.

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Since the early 1980s, Spain has witnessed a boom in its Muslim population.  Many assume that this demographic boom is directly linked to the increase in North African (mostly Moroccan) immigration to Spain since the country’s incorporation in the European Union in 1986.  In fact, Spain’s Muslim population is quite diverse: it not only includes large immigrant communities from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, but also hundreds of thousands of native-born Spanish converts to Islam.  The rise of Islam in contemporary Spain has coincided with a profound reevaluation of Spanish national identity.  In the post-Franco era, Spanish intellectuals and politicians have striven to celebrate and promote Spain’s medieval Islamic heritage as evidence of the country’s tradition of exceptional tolerance and multiculturalism.  The promotion of Spain’s Islamic past is not only political but also commercial: one of the most profitable segments of Spain’s tourism industry is built on marketing the concept of convivencia, the supposedly harmonious coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in medieval Iberia.  Yet, in a 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center, 52% of Spaniards confessed to having negative views of Muslims, and recent projects to build mosques in Cataluña and Andalucía have faced vitriolic public opposition.

The international symposium “Islam in Contemporary Spain: Identities and Representations,” part of the Islamic Studies Program’s series on “Global Islam,” seeks to examine the promises and challenges facing contemporary Spain’s diverse Muslim population and also to analyze the contradictory representations of Islam and Muslims in contemporary Spanish society.  The symposium will bring together the leading scholars and activists working on Spanish Islam in both Spain and the United States.

It will be divided into two panels: a morning panel on the topic of “Identities” and an afternoon panel on the topic of “Representations.”  The first panel on “Identities” will feature representatives from two of the most important Islamic organizations in Spain:

Mounir Benjelloun, a naturalized Spanish citizen of Moroccan origin who was recently elected the president of the Islamic Commission of Spain, the main representative body for Muslims in Spain; and

Mariam Isabel Romero Arias, a member of the executive committee of the Junta Islamica and the director of the Instituto Halal in Cordoba." 

The second panel on “Representations” will feature anthropologists and cultural studies experts whose research focuses on competing representations of Islam in contemporary Spain:

José Antonio González Alcantud (University of Granada, Spain) and

Mikaela Rogozen-Soltar (Emory University). 

Avi Astor (Pompeu Fabra University)

We envision that this symposium will be of interest to faculty and graduate students in a wide range of disciplines at the University of Michigan: Islamic studies, Hispanic studies, Middle Eastern and North African studies, anthropology, history, sociology, political science, and religion.

The event will be free and open to the public.