Doctoral thesis

Islamic organisations in Italy and Switzerland: welfare activities by New Religious Actors

ContributorsBanfi, Elisa
Defense date2013-12-04

A growing body of research has demonstrated that Islamic associations have diffusely implemented heterogeneous social programmes across European countries, especially over the past two decades. Recent studies have focused on how Islamic welfare activities and projects have striven against social inequalities concerning Muslims and, sometimes, non-Muslims. Immigration is a central issue in studying Islamic social engagement across European countries. On the continent, Muslims still have limited access to social rights because the majority of them are still immigrants, asylum seekers or refugees. The academic discourse on welfare religious services, especially on the Islamic ones, diverges: some scholars have criticised the contribution of religious organisations in combating social injustice; others have described it as a particular engagement of civil society with poverty and exclusion. Political sciences stress the relevance of these associations acting as mediators between individuals and state institutions. Other scholars have outlined how these associations may improve the quality of democracies. Some scholars describe the negative effects of faith-based welfare services on public welfare systems. Finally, there is no consensus regarding the role of religious organisations in fighting social exclusion. Studies on Islamic welfare engagement in Europe are very recent and do not yet concern all European urban realities. The lack of research in this area is not accidental. The design requirements for a systematic examination of the issue demand a relevant number of intra-disciplinary competences. Furthermore, quantitative and qualitative data are difficult to gather and little attention has been focused on institutional factors that may predict forms by which Islamic actors develop social activities in determinate space-temporal contexts. Outcomes of the Islamic welfare engagement are also often neglected. This thesis represents a preliminary effort at providing a complete case-study comparative examination of urban areas in two neglected, but relevant, locations: Switzerland and Italy, two countries that have never been analysed from the aforementioned perspective. For that reason, the purpose of this thesis ix is, indeed, twofold. On the one hand, it aims to describe how Islamic welfare has been organised in four urban contexts not yet analysed (Geneva, Milan, Rome, Zurich) by the literature on this topic. On the other hand, this study aims to analyse the institutional opportunities and constraints that can influence forms of social activities at the local level. To perform my analysis, I use concepts developed in social movement studies, such as institutional opportunity structures. Following this approach, I focus my investigation on three explanatory factors: (1) models of citizenship and migratory regimes, (2) church-state cleavages and the institutional recognition of Islamic organisations and (3) the degree and typology of subsidiarity in welfare systems. Finally, the thesis suggests how Islamic welfare in Europe can have relevant consequences that impact social cohesion. Islamic social services can have contradictory repercussions: on the one hand, they can encourage equal access to social resources for poor citizens and immigrants; conversely, they can produce social fragmentation and increase inequality among different subgroups of the population.

  • Welfare
  • Islamic organisations
  • Zurich
  • Rome
  • Milan
  • Geneva
Citation (ISO format)
BANFI, Elisa. Islamic organisations in Italy and Switzerland: welfare activities by New Religious Actors. 2013. doi: 10.13097/archive-ouverte/unige:39314
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