The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Islamophobia in Germany, Poland and Russia, with Particular Attention to Its Christian Dimension

Field: Religionsvetenskap
Project leader: David Westerlund
Starting year: 2014

Islamophobia is certainly not a new phenomenon in Europe, but in recent decades this problem has increased significantly. The purpose of the project is to study the characteristics of Islamophobia in the most populous Baltic Sea nations, i.e., Germany (especially the northeastern parts or the former East Germany, GDR), Poland and Russia, with special focus on its Christian dimension, in a main time perspective of contemporary history. Thus far, much less attention has been paid to problems of Islamophobia in (the previously communist) Eastern Europe than in other parts of the continent, and its Christian dimension has also frequently been overlooked in earlier research. Hence the project will contribute to filling gaps in the existing research on Islamophobia in Europe and shedding light on various dimensions of it. The project, which is based on multidisciplinary cooperation and includes three participants (two senior scholars and one Ph.D. candidate), will combine historical and sociological perspectives and methods. Theoretically, it is inspired by discussions on globalisation or glocalisation, on postsecularity and postcolonial thinking (in the footsteps of Said and his accounts of Orientalism). The analyses will be based primarily on written sources (e.g. journals, magazines and Internet material), but in-depth interviews will also be made.

The study of Germany, which now has a large but historically young Muslim minority, will focus primarily on some Protestant Evangelical and Charismatic leaders and groups who warn against the ‘Islamisation of Europe’ and aim at converting Muslims to Christianity. Islamophobic ideas expressed by such people are similar to those found in more secular contexts, such as in Thilo Sarrazin’s bestseller Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany is doing away with itself) from 2010. Despite much smaller numbers of Muslims, and a very old presence of a Muslim Tatar community, Islamophobia is a growing problem in Poland too, where e.g. people associated with the conservative Catholic radio station Maryja express fear of the ‘foreign’ Islam, championing the old idea of Poland as the ‘Christian bulwark of Europe’. Like Germany, the Russian federation has a large Muslim minority, but – as in Poland – with deep roots historically. An increasing problem of Islamophobia there can be noticed in several contexts, and particularly among strongly nationalist groups who see Christian Orthodoxy as the very kernel of Russian identity.