Session Summary


Arun Chaudhuri, York University, Canada

“The Prince and the Governors: The anxious locations of race and religion in South Asian American immigrant histories”

This paper considers the convergences and divergences of race and religion in the histories of South Asian migration to America across the twentieth century. It examines past and present stories of how religious transformation plays a role in the perception and positioning of racialized immigrant minorities in American society. On the one hand, the paper will consider contemporary stories of “model minority” success, specifically around the figures of former governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, and the role that religious conversion is seen to play in the legitimization of such figures in the eyes of the state and the public. On the other hand, this discussion turns to the case of the early twentieth century mystic “Prince” A.K. Mozumdar (1863-1953), to consider how his own particular story of religious transformation rendered his perceived racial-religious identity curiously ambiguous, particularly in the wake of a supreme court ruling that denied him citizenship on the basis of race. This paper examines these different South Asian immigrant stories, from two different historical contexts, to consider how religious conversion/transformation might situate racialized subjects on the perpetually uneasy terrain of a settler colonial society and its anxious attempts to regulate belonging via race, religion, citizenship, and national identity.

Kirsten Wesselhoeft, Vassar College

“Islam, Anti-Racism, and the Anxieties of French Diversity Politics”

Affirmative action and diversity politics are often framed as hallmarks of “Anglo-American multiculturalism” and anathema to French republican universalism, which supposedly ignores racial, ethnic, or religious difference. However, numerous programs to promote “diversity” have been established at top French universities. These programs largely rely on the spatialization of inequality in France, using zip code as an indicator of economic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, frequently collapsed in the hegemonic imaginary of “the banlieues.” At the same time, grassroots organizations are working to nurture elite academic and professional achievement among Muslim youth, both challenging and reproducing the elitism that undergirds the grandes écoles. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with French Muslim youth organizations over the past decade, and a close reading of recent educational policies related to diversity, race, and Islam, this paper shows how both Muslim students and state actors negotiate the contradictions of representation, inclusion, and moral struggle for equality.

Want to watch the full session recording? Click here.