Interview with Juliette Galonnier, Assistant Professor

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Juliette Galonnier Assistant Professor CERI Sciences Po

Juliette Galonnier joined CERI on September 1, 2019 as Assistant Professor. She has agreed to answer our questions and give us a short overview of her research.


Can you tell us about your academic background before joining CERI?

It is not without a certain emotion that I am joining CERI today. Indeed, I was initiated to social science research by researchers of this very centre, ten years ago. When I was a Masters student (2009-2010) at Sciences Po’s Graduate school, I worked with Violette Graff (1924-2017), using her archives on riots opposing Muslims and Hindus in India. This research led us to publish a chronological index in the Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence . I also contributed to the Muslims in Indian Cities project coordinated by Christophe Jaffrelot and Laurent Gayer, which allowed me to study the effects of riots on the segregation of the Muslim minority in the city of Aligarh, in India. Later on, I explored other research fields by joining the Observatoire sociologique du changement (OSC) for my PhD, which I conducted through the Sciences Po-Northwestern joint PhD program under the co-direction of Marco Oberti and Carolyn Chen. I spent two years in Chicago where I was trained in the American sociological tradition.

My dissertation consists in a comparative analysis of Muslim converts in France and the United States. I conducted 82 biographical interviews with converts (both men and women), ethnographical observations in new Muslims associations in Paris and Chicago, and an analysis of a corpus of accounts and testimonies, as well as press and historical archives. Comparing France and the United States allowed me to shed light on the specificities of the two national contexts in terms of racial stratification systems and of the relation to Islam and to secularism. I received the Best Dissertation Award of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 2018, which each year honours an ASA member whose PhD dissertation has been selected from among those submitted by advisers and mentors in the discipline. For me, this is a great acknowledgment of comparative sociology on the one hand as well as of the joint French and American training I received.

Following my PhD, I joined INED (French National Institute for Demographic Studies) to take part in the Global Race research team (an ANR project directed by Patrick Simon). This collective and interdisciplinary programme gathers together twelve researchers and aims at analysing the evolutions of the concept of “race” in the academic, institutional, and statistical fields in Europe, North and South America, as well as within international organizations since 1945. The project will end in December 2019 with a concluding conference at CERI. It is therefore with the feeling of completing a cycle that I start as Assistant Professor at CERI Sciences Po, a research centre that has always directly or indirectly accompanied me during my career as a young academic.


Can you tell us about your current projects?

I have several research projects in the pipes. First of all, I am working on transforming my PhD manuscript into a book. Such an editorial project is time-consuming as everyone knows!

We are also finalizing the Global Race research project and I am more particularly working on the uses of the notion of race in French sociology; on the controversies around ethnic and racial categories in several European states (in particular France, the UK, and Portugal), and on the role of international bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in disseminating norms and standards for the fight against discrimination. Together with Patrick Simon, I am co-directing a special issue on international organizations and race since 1945.

Last year, I also coordinated a project on Muslims of sub-Saharan and Comorian descent in France , together with Pr. Mahamet Timéra (URMIS/Paris Diderot). The project gathered together a team of six researchers and was part of the French Ministry of the Interior’s call for projects on “Islam, Religion, Society”. A publication scheduled for the end of 2019 will present the main results of this research on the double minority positioning of black Muslims in France and on their lack of visibility and representation within places of worship and instances supposed to represent Muslims. We focused on conflicts of religious authority, on the experience of discrimination, and on the strategies of de-stigmatization of sub-Saharan and Comorian Muslims, as well as on practices and identity reconfiguration among the second generation. The conference we organized in December 2018 at Paris Diderot University gathered together academics as well as religious actors and figures. It stimulated rich debates on issues of racism, representativity, and the structuration of Islam in France.


Why did you choose to work on Islam? Where does your interest for this issue/theme come from?

Throughout my career as a young researcher, my empirical investigations have often concentrated on the case of Islam as a minority religion, in various national contexts (France, India, the United States). Despite differences between these field sites, my theoretical concerns have remained the same: I was interested in studying the social construction of racial and religious categories and in exploring how they frequently interlock. During my first research stays in India, I was struck by the rigidification of the religious categories of “Hindu” and “Muslim,” which operated not only as religious belongings but also as indelible markers structuring social relations in a decisive way. I decided to dedicate my research to studying such processes of essentialization of religion.

During my PhD, I focused on Islam in Western societies and on the construction of the “Muslim” figure an ambiguous category that amalgamates beliefs, practices, national origins, and ethno-racial classification in Europe and North America. My dissertation is entitled “Choosing Faith and Facing Race: Converting to Islam in France and the United States” and it deals with the way race and religion intersect in the case of Islam, from the particular experience of converts to this religion. I consider conversion as a heuristic tool to put a new light on the processes of assigning race to Muslim minorities from one side of the Atlantic to the other. By crossing religious borders, converts tell us about the nature of these frontiers and allow us to determine whether they are purely religious or whether they also incarnate other forms of alterity that have a racializing dimension. When they put on visible signs of belonging to Islam, converts expose themselves to new forms of categorizations and racial hostility that are worth analysing. I wish to pursue this work on the construction of racial and religious categories and their articulation in the European context. In sum, for me Islam is most of all an empirical point of entry to wider theoretical questions that concern other religions as well.


In what collective projects are you engaged, at CERI and beyond?

At CERI, beyond the Global Race ANR project I have already mentioned and in which Daniel Sabbagh takes part as well, I am a member of the International Research Network (IRN) Contextualizing Radicalization coordinated by Nadia Marzouki . This network analyses the effects of discourses on radicalization and counter-radicalization in our societies. I am also part of the pluridisciplinary thematic network (“Réseau thématique pluridisciplinaire”) called Islams et chercheurs dans la cité with Nadia Marzouki as well. This network aims at reflecting on the place of researchers working on Muslim worlds in the public sphere and on their complex relationships with the media, experts, and policymakers.

Beyond CERI, I am a member of the project Agenda pour une sociologie critique des religions (Agenda for a Critical Sociology of Religions) that is coordinated by Yannick Fer (CMH/CNRS). The aim of this project is to bring back the social into the study of religion. We are currently editing a collective volume entitled Religions et classes sociales.

Finally, I am a member of the editorial board of the journal Tracés, which requires intensive collective work for the writing of calls for papers, peer reviews, and the very making of the issues. I am currently coediting with Anthony Pecqueux (AAU/CNRS) and Stefan Le Courant (EHESS) a special issue dedicated to what happens with research data in the current moving context of open science, digital surveillance, RGPD, shifting interviewer-interviewee relations, and so on.


Further readings (Full text only):

The Islam of Converts,” 2018, Books and Ideas;

Conversion to Islam as religious and racial crossing,” Forum Crossing and Conversion, The Immanent Frame, 2018;

"When “White Devils” Join the Deen: White American Converts to Islam and the Experience of Non-Normative Whiteness," Working Paper, 2015.


Access full bibliography & CV of Juliette Galonnier


Interview by Corinne Deloy, CERI