Critique of Religion; Framing Jews and Muslims in public debate and political theory today, in the light of the genealogies of such framing

21June2017 24June2017


This is the closing workshop for a research project (NWO 2013-2018) in which we try to understand recent controversies concerning Jewish and Muslim religious practices in Europe in the light of the broader history of framing Jews and Muslims in the European context.

These controversies are usually framed in terms of shifting relations between secular cultures and (orthodox) religion, both in public and in academic debates about them. The central research question of our research project is how such framing is related to how Jews and Muslims have been historically, and still remain, the objects of cultural stereotyping, racialisation and discrimination.

During this workshop, we want to pick up on the central questions that have occupied us throughout the project, and that have also become more salient in the course of the last years, with the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, on Jewish persons and locations, the killings on November 23 2015 in Paris, the increase of both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism/Islamophobia and the securitization of religion, Islam in particular.

The workshop will address four broad themes that seem central to us today and that will be addressed in four sessions, after which we will discuss the interconnections between them in a roundtable debate. The papers will be distributed in advance to all speakers, and speakers will have 15 minutes for giving a summary, so that there will be plenty of time for discussion. The finished papers will be collected in summer 2017 for publication in an edited volume and a peer reviewed journal. The commentators will speak for about 10 minutes. It is our intention to publish these comments as well, so as to publish a book ‘with a conversation’ as much as possible.

Wednesday 21 June

A public event in De Nieuwe Liefde

20.00-22.00 Lecture by prof. Ella Shohat: Antisemitism and Islamophobia; Common Roots, Different Destinies?

(in cooperation with the Menasseh Ben Israel Institute from the Jewish historical museum and the University of Amsterdam). Response by Prof. Gloria Wekker. Please see

Thursday 22 June (Bushuis, VOC-zaal)

9.00-9.30  Registration

9.30-9.45 Introductory remarks Yolande Jansen and Thijl Sunier

9.50-11.50 Session 1. Drawing the fine lines between Critique of Religion, Blasphemy, Hate Speech and Humor.  Exploring the relations between current legal and cultural-historical perspectives in the European context

Critique of Religion, Blasphemy, Hate Speech and Humor seem to be the four categories covering the semantic field of specific contested enunciations at the intersection of critique of religion and discrimination. While the fine lines between them are notoriously difficult to draw, the categories rubrique the specific enunciations in terms of highly differently valued speech acts: they can be evaluated as belonging to a worthy and longstanding Enlightenment tradition, as insulting or discriminating, or as just funny and/or nicely provocative. In session one, we address the contemporary juridical and cultural complexities of these categories in the light of their historical transformations.


  • Maleiha Malik (Race-religion, Islamophobia, follows EctHR jurisprudence concerning Muslims in Europe), King’s College London,
  • Yvonne Sherwood (Euroblas project: Blasphemy’s historical transformations), University of Kent,
  • Lars Tønder (Early modern political thought, tolerance, free speech, pluralism, and democratic culture), University of Copenhagen,

Commentators:           ,

  • Rim-Sarah Alouane (Public Law, Islamophobia in France), Université de Toulouse
  • Yasco Horsman (Comparative literature, humor and satire) Universiteit Leiden,

12.00-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.30 Session 2. Muslims and Jews as Europe’s Interrelated Others (non-Christian, non-Enlightened, non-liberal, Oriental, non-spiritual, Semitic etc, but also Arab or Jew, internal or external, ‘black’ or ‘white’etc.)

Over the last years, a lot of work has been done concerning the intertwined genealogies of Muslims and Jews in European discourses and imaginaries. It has become more and more clear how theological, biological, linguistic, anthropological and governmental discourses and practices have been intertwined in their formation. In this session, we want to discuss which of these lines of intertwinement are the most relevant to highlight in the European context today. We ask this question in the light of the fact that on the one hand, in the legal and governmental spheres, there are relatively successful alliances between Jews and Muslims in Europe today concerning religious practice, while on the other hand, media images and daily realities in Israel/Palestine seem to drive them apart, in a context of rising anti-Muslim populism and an increasingly strong emphasis on the so-called Christian, Judeo-Christian, or secular (Enlightenment-related) dimensions of Europe.


  • Matthea Westerduin (Theological legacies and race today), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 
  • Ivan Kalmar (Constructions of ‘Jew’ and ‘Muslim’ in the West), University of Toronto,
  • Nasar Meer (Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe), Strathclyde University, and Royal Society of Edinburgh,
  • Anya Topolski (Genealogies of Judaeo-Christianity), Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen,

Commentator: Michiel Leezenberg (Islamic philosophy),

15.30-16.00 Tea

16.00-18.00 Keynote lectures and conversation:

16.00-16.40 Keynote lecture  Gil Hochberg:  ‘Remembering the Semite in/and Europe today’.

Gil Hochberg (Comparative Literature and Gender Studies, intersections of psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, nationalism, and sexuality) UCLA,

16.40-17.20 Keynote lecture Ella Shohat : ‘Ambivalent Indigeneity: Genealogies of the Split Arab/Jew Figure’/ ‘Orientalist Genealogies: Rethinking the Split Arab/Jew Figure’

Ella Shohat, (Post/colonial and transnational approaches to Cultural studies, Arab-Jews and memory) New York University,

17.20-18.00 Conversation and Discussion

Moderator : Noa Roei (relation between nationalism and militarism, and its representation in visual arts and popular culture) University of Amsterdam,

Conference Dinner: De Jaren

Friday 23 June (Bushuis, VOC-zaal)

9.00-9.30 Coffee

9.30-11.30  Session 3: The Jews, Muslims and Christians in Liberalism’s Category of Religion

Over the last years, it has been established quite well in the literature that Liberalism’s category of Religion has a genealogy which entangles it with (1) a conceptual privileging of Protestantism as the ultimate form of religion, especially of religion seen as compatible with the Enlightenment and with individual religious freedom, (2) with colonial history and (3) with Post World War II American foreign politics. In this session we will deal with the ways in which this complex genealogy effects today’s debates about religion and secularism, and about religion in the public, in mainstream liberal political theory. We will focus especially on whether and if so how the legacies of liberalism’s entanglements in religious hierarchy and justifications of geographical expansion are traceable in today’s liberal conceptualizations of religion in the public sphere.


  • Anna Blijdenstein (Legacies of philosophical modernism in contemporary liberalism), Universieit van Amsterdam,
  • Robert Yelle (The colonial in the Protestant and/or the Liberal), Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich,
  • Maria Birnbaum (Reification of religion in international relations), University of Oslo


Irena Rosenthal (Agonistic democracy, religious freedom, the affective and bodily dimensions of democratic citizenship), Universiteit van Amsterdam,

12.00-13.15 Lunch

13.15-15.15 Session 4: Exploring the context today: securitization of religion, the global rise of jihadism and of terrorism, global imaginaries related to terror and war, of populist nationalism, new masculinities, the Israeli-Palestine conflict and how (not) to address it

A panel in which we try to identify contemporary factors that intersect in complex ways with the genealogies of religion, secularity and specific religious groups in Europe. How, for example, in the public fear of jihadism or takfirism, and/or salafism, or in the debates on circumcision, or in the debates on the Israeli-Palestine conflict do the genealogies of Jews and Muslims (the Semite, the Saracen, etc.,) intersect with affective reactions to actual acts of terror in the name of Islam, or to actual violence in the Middle East, and Israel in particular? And how do new global media and new techniques of journalism effect the perception of Muslims and Jews in Europe today? What is the gender dimension of the new violent imaginaries and practices surrounding religion in political history in Europe?  We will anticipate here the second keynote lecture in which we will be seeking to understand what kind of everyday ethics we might be looking for, or hoping for, in the current context analysed during this session.


  • Martijn de Koning (Global jihadism and the securitization of religion in Europe), Universiteit van Amsterdam,
  • Schirin Amir-Moazzami (Islam in Europe, Secularism), Freie Universität Berlin,
  • Hilla Dayan (Zionism, the Israeli diaspora in Europe and its relation to Muslims in Europe), Amsterdam Univerity College,


Erella Grassiani (Military, Violence, Security issues, Peace and Conflict, Israel/Palestine) University of Amsterdam,

15.15-15.45 Tea

15.45-17.45 Keynote Lecture  Paul Silverstein (Postcoloniality in Europe today), Reed College, Portland,

Commentator: Sarah Bracke (Political Sociology of Islam in Europe), University of Amsterdam.

17.45-18.30 Drinks with snacks

19.00-21.00 Dinner (at participant’s own costs, we will reserve at a nice and cheap veganfriendly fusion restaurant close to the conference location)

Saturday 24 June

9.30-10.00 Coffee

10.00-12.30 Panel 5: ‘The European Question’: Legacies of orientalism, supersessionist theology, racism and the Holocaust; what does it mean to inherit deep historical stereotypes of Judaism and Islam (and Christianity and the Enlightenment) in the European context today, and what can we do/not do with them for an everyday ethics?

This panel will be organised for collectively wrapping up the themes discussed earlier and for bringing up new ideas, lines of research and projects for collaboration. To open up the format, the panel will be organised as a roundtable in reaction to brief interviews with the following participants:

  • Esther Romeyn (Holocaust memory and Jewish-Muslim relations in today’s context in the Netherlands), University of Florida,
  • Thijl Sunier (Anthropology of Religion, - Islam, politics and islam, leadership-  migration, ethnicity, nation-building and European History, Turkey),
  • Moderator: Yolande Jansen (Secularism, multiculturalism and ethno-religious minorities in Europe)

12.30-14.00 Lunch at the Jaren and end of conference

Published by  ASCA