Given the global tensions, it seems timely to revisit the relationship between the religious and the political, the spiritual and the rational, in the context of the ever present need for social justice. The event responded to current concerns about rising levels of Islamophobia, as well as stigmatisation of other religions, whilst acknowledging the rights of all individuals and groups -whether religious or not- under the European Convention on Human Rights. This event unsettled the complex ways that people who are perceived to be of a certain faith experience marginalisation, exclusion and discrimination in specific places and at different times. Further, explored policy responses to tackling prejudice and discrimination against religious minorities at the European, national and the local level.
These current concerns about rising levels of Islamophobia are arising in a context where in Europe as a whole Muslims are the largest religious minority (after the majority Christian or non-religiously-affiliated groups); a population growing. Different religious faiths and other worldviews form an important part of the growing diversity of contemporary cities. However, national governments and local authorities across Europe often find it challenging to engage effectively with them, and to encourage those who hold diverse views and practice diferent faiths to relate positively with each other.
Policies and public discourse at local, national and international levels of government can have a significant impact on prejudice and discrimination against particular religious groups. This can include impacts in ways that can help promote positive interactions between individuals and groups and provide legislative protections against discrimination. However, they may also include aspects of policies at local, national and international levels that are seen as exacerbating tensions between groups. The event also explored the patterning of Islamophobia, as ell as Anti-Semitism, its use in policy-relevant research, and the varying ways in which it is experienced, encountered and resisted by different social groups, such as Islamophobia, social (in)justice and institutional discrimination (e.g. in schools, colleges, universities, or other institutional contexts), the interplay between Islamophobia and the racialization of religion. In education for example, the curriculum itself is a contested space and one that is fought and negotiated at the classroom, the institutional, the local and the national scale. This is not only the case for religious education, but also subjects as diverse as sociology, science and sex education. The practices of educational institutions and the ways in which they interact with religious identities are often place-specific and can have important consequences for citizenship and belonging.
Some policies may themselves be critiqued as systemically discriminatory (or in effect discriminatory and supporting prejudice) towards particular groups. This can be highly controversial and frequently politicised territory for policymakers and individuals, groups and organisations in civil society, for a range of reasons that the event explored, drawing on a variety of related expertise and research. The “failure of multiculturalism” narrative has become all too present in Europe, shifting the rhetoric to cultural anxieties and articulating immigration as a national threat. This discourse has also affected “internal immigration”, making certain groups throughout Europe less visible and more vulnerable: Roma, refugees and internally displaced persons, certain LGBTQ communities. Moreover, ethnicity, nationality, religion and race are being forcefully reshuffled, inviting contemporary forces of nationalism and securitization. Demands risen by European Muslims for recognition and accommodation of their cultural identities and for participation in the public space with these identities posed a challenge to the traditional secular European politics and to the mono-cultural nation state.