The CIRELANMED team at the ISSR Congress

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A part of the CIRELANMED team met at the ISSR Congress wich was held this year at Louvain-La-Neuve.

We organised a workshop entitled: religious conversions in the Mediterranean, Enacting Physical and Symbolic Borders the work of the axis 2 of our team found a space and special time for dialogue and confront opinions of our colleagues.

In addition to our team, composed of Stefano Allievi, Vincenzo Pace, Khalid Rhazzali, Nora Demarchi, Julie Picard, Katia Boissevain and Loïc Le Pape we invited Christophe Pons and Martin Zillinger.

You will find below the program of the two sessions and summaries of each intervention.


  • Katia BOISSEVAIN, CNRS, IDEMEC (Institut d’ethnologie européenne méditerranéenne et comparative), AMU.
  • Loïc Le Pape, CNRS, IDEMEC (Institut d’ethnologie européenne méditerranéenne et comparative), AMU.
  • Vincenzo PACE, Université de Padoue, LABREL.


If religious conversions have existed throughout the history of the Mediterranean, the phenomenon has taken an unprecedented importance in the last forty years. The first reason could be understood as the result of a greater individuation of actors and a greater freedom of choice in the ways of relating to the supernatural. The second is the widest choice on the “religious market” itself, this offer being considerably enhanced since the increase of migration in 1970’s to Europe from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.

This WorkGroup will primarily study religious conversions in their effect on the physical space of individuals as well as the new modes of interactions. In the perspective of changing space, we will ask how does conversion change one’s geography of the city or the symbolic geography of the world? How does the network of churches, mosques and other places of worship become a resource for the new convert? What inversions are at stake, what becomes of the center / periphery relation when a new relationship with God is built? Religious conversion itself involves movement, exchange of ideas, of practices and of theology, whether it is related to migratory mobility or not. Thus, we will also study examples of religious passages directly related to migration in the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Program of the sessions

Session 1



  • Nora DEMARCHI (IDEMEC-CNRS-AMU, France) : Converting to the Virgin of Medjugorje: Where are the Symbolic Boundaries?
  • Loïc LE PAPE (IDEMEC-CNRS-AMU, France) : Radical Conversion and Migration: The Case of Foreign Fighters in Syri
  • Khalid RHAZZALI (Labrel – Université Padoue, Italy) : Ash-Shahada with a Click: Conversions to Islam on the Web
  • Christophe PONS (IDEMEC-CNRS-AMU, France) : Challenges of proselytism in Cape Verde: The Breakthrough of Islam in a Context of Christian Competition.

Session 2

Convener Loïc LE PAPE (IDEMEC-CNRS-AMU, France)


  • Stefano ALLIEVI (Université de Padoue, Italy) : New Itineraries of Conversion to Islam: Between Urban Marginalization and Seduction of the Caliphat
  • Julie PICARD (LISST-CIEU, France) : Migration, a Moment in Religious Mobility? The Case of Africans in Cairo
  • Katia BOISSEVAIN (CNRS-Idemec-AMU, France) : Open the Doors and Let Them In: Planting New Christian Churches in Tunisia


A part of the team in Louvain-La-Neuve

Challenges of proselytism in Cape Verde. The breakthrough of Islam in a context of Christian competition.

Christophe Pons, IDEMEC-CNRS-AMU

The Republic of Cape Verde is a good illustration of paradoxes, misunderstandings and challenges that today proselytism addresses to many different societies. Since the late 1990s, Cape Verde is confronted with a strong competition between denominations and religions, mostly Christians, coming from Africa, Europe, South and North America. There is no signs of slowing, stabilization or deflation in the progression of this competition. Until now, Cape Verdean government clearly adopted a hands-off and ultra-liberal attitude toward religious proselytism. But this posture is recently challenged by the arrival of a fundamentalist Islam that enters the local arena of religious competition. Cape Verde therefore offers the opportunity to observe how, in a country saturated with religious competition, an ultra-minority religion forces the state to re-consider what should be its attitude toward religion and proselytizing.

Preacher’s style and religious differenciation in mediterranean pentacostalism

Enzo Pace, Labrel, Padoue University

To approaching the complexity of the Pentecostalism in the Maghreb, the analysis of the religious leadership, the various patterns of organizations and strategies of communication implemented by the Pentecostal churches, represents a useful starting point to understand the process of differentiation of the Christianity and its capability to spread in so-called Muslim societies. The presentation focuses on the typology of charismatic and Pentecostal leaders: from the traditional figure to the entrepreneur of the charisma who is able to manage both old and new media (the communication assisted by computer).

Open the doors and let them in ! New christian sites in Tunisia


In this communication, I will describe the different styles of Evangelical Christian churches in Tunis and the reasons for which adepts enjoy being there. Il will explore more precisely the recent arrival and opening of a small church in the old Italian area and the way in which the Pastor and his assistant work together with the aim of transforming it in a central locus of sociability and spirituality for the people who use it. What institutional work is at activated for changing participants habitus ? Why and how was this site chosen ? What alterations, namely linguistic, do they operate ? A comparison with other churches in the Maghreb region will enable us to put forth a few hypothesis concerning the structuring of religious groups.

Converting to the Virgin of Medjugorje : where are the symbolic boundaries ?


Conversion is a central topic in Medjugorje, the site of Marian apparition in Bosnia Herzegovina. Since the third day of apparitions, the 26th june 1981, when one of the visionaries ask to the Lady that appears in front of him « why you have coming here and what do you want ? » the Virgin says « because here there are some good believers. And because I want that you have a conversion.» And she continues: «I come here to convert everyone».

Since this day, the desire of Mary to convert has been repeated all over the 30 years that have followed this first encounter. Conversion is in this way clearly required by the Virgin Mary and, at the same time, declared by the pilgrims who come back home from Bosnia “changed”. For all the converts an aspect became evident: once came back home from Bosnia, they have to change their life. What’s going to happen? What kind of change happens once came back home? New modes of interactions are established? What’s the effect on the physical space of individuals?

Radical conversion and migration. The case of foreign fighters in Syria.


My communication aims to discuss the articulation between religious conversion and migration by exploring the experiences of the foreign European jihadis in Syria. Theses foreign fighters present their migration as a way to accord their beliefs and way of life, thinking that it is easier to leave as Muslims in a Muslim country. The high level of converts among these foreign fighters (I suppose that the great majority of them are converted) will allow us to explore the links they establish between their conversion and their migration in Syria.

Through testimonies from those who have returned (through the media), and through echos from those who are still in Syria (social media observations), I attempt to show that foreign jihadis cross a double thresh-hold : from a religious reality to another with their conversion, and from a political situation to another with their migration. I will show that radical conversions implies new simplified conceptions of world spaces, but migration in a war situation implies much more violent conceptions of physical and symbolic spaces imagined and lived by jihadis.

Ash-Shahada with a click. Conversions to Islam on the web

Khalid Rhazzali. Labrel, Padoue University

The plurality of traditions that arose throughout the history of Islam is now evolving on the web. The web becomes the most important driver of the so called globalized Islam. The phenomenon of conversions that occurs on and through the web represents the outcome of this process of globalization, producing an Islam that overcomes its traditional cultural boundaries. In the past few years, especially since September 11, and after the events that occurred in Paris, the media attached an increasing attention to the role of the web in the dissemination of Islamic extremism. This leads to the prevalence on the web of the image of an Islam inspired by Jihadist and terrorist ideas, and therefore the phenomenon of online conversions has mainly been interpreted in this perspective. In fact, as for other major religions, even for Islam one is confronted with an extremely wide and varied offer on the web: from merely theological information managed by institutional centers, to preaching and proposing new authority figures and religious guides. From a netnographic angle, which focused on various websites and social networks which discuss or propose a defined shape toward conversion to Islam, the intervention will focus on the interaction that takes place in the communication surrounding the potential conversion of an individual that decides to rely on the web and on those that offer advice and guidance through it, concentrating specifically on analyzing the specific communicational strategies and discursive styles used on the web, and the link that is established between these and the Islamic theological heritage, and between these and Western culture, from which potential converts are assumed to originate.

New itineraries of conversion to Islam: between urban marginalization and seduction of the Califate

Stefano Allievi. Labrel, Padoue University

In this paper I will make some considerations on the conversion to Islam of young and very young people, particularly in the urban context. These conversions can lead to very differentiated paths, from the engagement in Islamic organizations at the local level to trajectories of radicalization.

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