Choosing Faith and Facing Race: Converting to Islam in France and the United States

Juliette Galonnier
Soutenance de thèse, 2 juin 2017
  • Photo Anders Adermark, Same Same but Different (CC BY-NC-ND)Photo Anders Adermark, Same Same but Different (CC BY-NC-ND)

Programme doctoral de sociologie - Double doctorat Sciences Po et Northwestern University

Choosing Faith and Facing Race: Converting to Islam in France and the United States

Juliette Galonnier (OSC)

Thesis Defense
2 juin 2017 - Friday June 2nd 2017
14:00 p.m. 199, Boulevard Saint-Germain

Juliette Galonnier (OSC)This research is about race and religion. While scholars typically understand them separately, I propose instead to explore occurrences in which they are conflated. Specifically, I track instances of racial reasoning that occur in relation to the religion of Islam in Western societies, by focusing on the specific experiences of Muslim converts. By crossing religious boundaries, converts shed light on the nature and content of such boundaries, and enable us to decide whether they are simply religious or also embody racial difference. The case of white converts is particularly interesting: because their conversion implies transitioning from one social status (majority) to another (minority), they offer a near-experimental case to investigate how racial categorization operates.

Methodologically, I combine the meticulousness of qualitative methods with the bird’s eye view of comparatism. Using in-depth interviewing with 82 converts in France and the United States; ethnographic observations in convert associations in Paris and Chicago; and content analysis of media and historical documents, I compare the past and present experiences of French and American converts to answer the following: how and when is conversion to Islam interpreted in terms of changing one’s racial status rather than a mere change in religious orientation? In addition to shedding light on the complex interplay between race and religion, this research contributes to transatlantic comparative scholarship, by highlighting differences across the French and American contexts in the conversion process, the encounter with race and the strategies used by converts to reclaim control over their definition of self.

Dissertation Committee: Valérie AMIRAUX (Montreal University), Carolyn CHEN (Co-dir, University of California, Berkeley), Gary FINE (Northwestern University), Aldon MORRIS (Northwestern University), Marco OBERTI (Co-dir, Sciences Po), Olivier ROY (European University Institute, Florence). 

Cette thèse offre un éclairage sur l’articulation des catégories raciales et religieuses dans la construction de la différence. Elle porte sur le processus de « racialisation » de l’islam dans les sociétés occidentales, analysé à partir de l’expérience particulière des convertis à cette religion. En traversant les frontières religieuses, les convertis nous renseignent sur la nature de ces frontières, et permettent de déterminer si elles sont purement religieuses ou incarnent également une altérité de type racial. A cet égard, le cas des convertis dits « blancs » se révèle heuristique : en tant que membres de la société majoritaire ayant choisi une religion minoritaire, ils représentent un cas quasi-expérimental pour analyser les processus de catégorisation raciale en lien avec l’appartenance religieuse. En s’appuyant sur 82 entretiens biographiques avec des converti-e-s en France et aux États-Unis, des observations ethnographiques dans des associations de convertis à Paris et Chicago, et l’analyse de documents historiques et médiatiques, cette recherche compare les expériences passées et présentes des convertis français et américains pour répondre à la question suivante : quand et comment la conversion est-elle interprétée en termes de changement de statut racial, plutôt que comme un simple changement d’orientation religieuse ? En plus de démêler l’imbrication entre catégories raciales et religieuses, cette thèse met également en lumière les spécificités des contextes français et américain, en identifiant des différences dans le processus de conversion, le rapport aux assignations raciales, et les stratégies que les convertis mobilisent pour contrer leur objectification.

For security reasons, all the defenses are strictly reserved for invited people and Sciences Po members.

The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology

Pr. Aldon Moris (Northwestern University)
CERI & OSC Joint Seminar, June 1st 2017
  • William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)

Antidiscrimination policies seminar (Daniel Sabbagh)

Thursday June 1st 2017, 16:30-18:30 p.m.
98 rue de l'Université (Paris 7e), Annick Percheron Room

The Scholar Denied:
W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology

Pr. Aldon Morris, Leon Forrest Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, Northwestern University

Pr. Aldon Morris (Northwestern University)W.E.B. Du Bois was one of a handful of scholars of the 20th century with a sustained global impact on sociological, literary, and political knowledge. In this book, Morris draws on primary evidence to demonstrate that Du Bois was the founding father of scientific sociology in the United States; that is, American scientific sociology was founded in a segregated black university by a black man. This book disconfirms the accepted wisdom that American scientific sociology was founded solely by white sociologists in elite universities. The Scholar Denied explores the methods Du Bois pioneered, his novel theorizing, and his influence on other scholars including Franz Boas and Max Weber. The Scholar Denied (Uiversity of California Press)This book reveals the extraordinary efforts that Robert E. Park and the Chicago School of Sociology took to marginalize the original scientific contributions of Du Bois’ prolific work. Morris’ book offers an account of the dynamic, but neglected forces, which generate scientific schools of thought and undergirded knowledge production in social science during the twentieth century.

Book published by University of California Press (2015)


Discussants: Pap NDiaye (Centre d'histoire, Sciences Po) and Etienne Ollion (SAGE, CNRS/Université de Strasbourg).

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Inequalities and Social Class

Topics, Main Paradigms and Future Development
International Conference, 29-30 june 2017
  • Picture: HstrongART/Shutterstock  Picture: HstrongART/Shutterstock

International Conference

Inequalities and Social Class:
Topics, Main Paradigms and Future Development

Center for Studies in Social Change (OSC)

29-30 june 2017

Provisional Program

Do we still live in class societies? Is the classical approach to social inequalities, political divisions and lifestyles still relevant?

Do we still live inside class societies? Is the classical approach to social inequalities, political cleavages or lifestyles still relevant?

This conference, organized over two full days at the initiative of the Center for Studies in Social Change (OSC), calls into question the current concept of “class” in the contemporary social sciences. It will bring together specialists from a wide range of thematics, theoretical and methodological backgrounds. With a broad international lens, the conference will draw on the comparison of various national contexts (including United States, United Kingdom, India, Brazil, Argentina).
Throughout the contributions, we will examine the explanatory power of the different existing theoretical models and their renewal, in contexts that are often disconnected from the European and North-American framework in which these theories were initiated and developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Attention will be paid both to the generating mechanisms of class relations and their inclusion in various domains of social life: politics, lifestyles, and geography, especially within urban areas and large metropolises. The conference will focus specifically on the relationships between changes in the wealth distribution (the soar in high-income, the increased importance of heritage) and contemporary transformations of class boundaries and class relations. Emphasis will also be placed on the articulation between the division of society into classes and social mobility trajectories. Two cross-cutting questions will be central to these inquiries: what sort of theories of social class are relevant for the 21st century? How can micro (ethnographic, qualitative) and macro-social (quantitative, structural) approaches be used in a complementary way?
The format of the conference (about fifteen speakers) will allow time for open discussion between the speakers and all conference participants. Papers will be presented in English.

Papers will be presented in English.
Scientific Coordination: Philippe Coulangeon and Marco Oberti.


  • Edmond Préteceille (CNRS, OSC)
    La dimension urbaine des processus de recomposition des classes sociales dans la métropole parisienne
  • Louis-André Vallet (CNRS, OSC)
    Intergenerational mobility and social fluidity in France over birth cohorts and across age: the role of education
  • Daniel Oesch (Université de lausanne)
    L’espace politique tripartite et le nouveau vote de classe. Une analyse électorale pour l’Europe de l’ouest
  • Carlos Antonio Costa Ribeiro (UERJ, NIED)
    Class mobility in Brazil: 1973 to 2014
  • Louis Chauvel (Université du Luxembourg)
    Repatrimonialisation: le rôle de la richesse dans le retour des classes sociales
  • Mathieu Ferry (ENS Cachan), Jules Naudet (CEIAS, EHESS), Olivier Roueff (CRESPPA-CSU, Université Paris 8)
    In search of the Indian Social Space. A multidimensional portrait of social stratification in India
  • Geoffrey Wodtke (Université de Toronto)
    Classes in the 21st Century: Death, Decomposition, or Resurrection?
  • Yasmine Siblot (CRESPPA-CSU, Université Paris 8), Olivier Masclet (Cerlis, Université Paris Descartes), Isabelle Coutant (IRIS, EHESS)
  • Agnès van Zanten (CNRS, OSC)
  • Pedro López-Roldán, Sandra Isabel Fachelli Oliva (UAB-IET, Barcelone)
    Mobilité et stratification sociale en Espagne et en Argentine
  • Mike Savage (LSE)
    Social class and inequality in contemporary London

Please Register:

Varieties of Transnationalism and Its Changing Determinants across Immigrant Generations

Evidence From French Data
Mirna Safi - International Migration Review
  • Old Custom (Christian Subtil, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Old Custom (Christian Subtil, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Varieties of Transnationalism and Its Changing Determinants
across Immigrant Generations:
Evidence From French Data

Mirna Safi (OSC, LIEPP)

International Migration Review - Early View (23 Mars 2017)
DOI: 10.1111/imre.12314

Mirna Safi (OSC)In this article, I use the French Trajectories and Origins survey (TeO) to describe patterns and trends of cross-border ties across immigrant generations. Transnational activities are measured through a wide range of cross-border ties, grouped into three dimensions: sociopolitical, economic, and a third dimension that I call re-migration.

Three sets of determinants are taken into account: variables measuring exposure to the country of origin, variables describing incorporation in the host country, and variables that are specific to each generation.

International Migration review - Early ViewConversely to the straight-line assimilation paradigm, the findings put the analytical power of the generational variable into perspective by (1) highlighting the wide variability of transnationalism within each generation and (2) measuring distinct intergenerational trends along different types of cross-border engagement. A thorough investigation of the sources of within-generation heterogeneity emphasizes the explanatory power of state-level, religious, and ethnoracial variables.

Information Barriers, Social Inequality, and Plans for Higher Education

Evidence from a Field Experiment
European Sociological Review, Carlo Barone et al.
  • Great Hall, University of Rome (Phillip Capper CC BY 2.0)Great Hall, University of Rome (Phillip Capper CC BY 2.0)

Information Barriers, Social Inequality, and Plans for Higher Education:
Evidence from a Field Experiment

Carlo Barone (OSC, LIEPP), Antonio Schizzerotto (University of Trento), Giovanni Abbiati (FBK-IRVAPP), Gianluca Argentin (Catholic Universoty of Milan)

European Sociological Review 33 (1): 84-96

Carlo Barone (OSC-LIEPP)This article assesses the role of information barriers for patterns of educational participation and related social inequalities in plans for Higher Education. Using longitudinal data, we investigate student expectations about the profitability of Higher Education, their evolution over time and their correlation with study plans among Italian high school seniors.

We find that student believes are highly inaccurate, systematically biased and poorly updated.

Then, we present estimates of the causal effect of information barriers on educational plans based on a large-scale clustered randomized experiment.

ESR vol. 33 n° 1We designed a counseling intervention to correct student misperceptions of the profitability of Higher Education and assessed whether treated students’ plans changed differentially relative to a control group.
We ran a clustered randomized controlled trial, involving a random sample of 62 high schools from all upper-secondary streams located in four Italian provinces, covering different areas of the country to enhance the external validity of our results.

The intervention was quite effective in correcting student misperceptions, but this did not translate into increased intentions to enroll in university education. However, the treatment affected preferences between fields of study, between short and long university paths, and between university and vocationally oriented programs.

Hence, information barriers affect substantially the internal differentiation of Higher Education and the related horizontal inequalities by gender and family background.