Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West

By Karin Van Nieuwkerk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Symbolizing Distance
Conversion to Islam in Germany and the United States

Monika Wohlrab-Sahr

It is in vogue in sociology of religion to talk about religion in terms of the market. American sociologists, especially, have advocated theories of a religious market, of religious human capital, and of “rational choice.” Some have propagated this approach as a “new paradigm” in sociology of religion. This new paradigm is supposed to replace secularization theory, which has been the predominant theoretical approach for decades (see Warner 1993). In this debate, it is striking how old theoretical assumptions are reinterpreted and given completely different meanings. Whereas for Peter L. Berger (1967) the pluralization of worldviews was a central element within a theory of secularization, in the recent American debate it has become the main argument against such a theory. For Berger, pluralization implied that religious beliefs and systems of meaning become relative and lose their formerly objectified status. In the recent debate, this view is no longer considered. Instead, a pluralistic supply of religious “commodities” seems to guarantee robust demand (see Stark and Iannaccone 1994; Iannaccone, Finke, and Stark 1997; Finke and Stark 1988). Constant religious needs taken for granted, this approach presupposes a religious actor, who mainly tries to realize the religious human capital that he or she has gathered in the course of religious socialization and practice. Consequently, as Iannaccone (1990) argues, those rational religious actors tend to search for contexts that optimally correspond to their religious competence. If they should undergo any changes— for example, convert to a different religion—they will not stray too far from where they came, and they will do it at a young age in order to amortize their investments. They will look for a spouse with the same religious affiliation, or if their spouse embraces a different religion and has a stronger commitment than they themselves have, they will convert to their spouse's religion to minimize costs and conflicts. Looking at the supply side of the religious market, this approach assumes that a diversified supply and the resulting religious competition will positively stimulate religious demand; that is, “The

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