Kirsten Wesselhoeft is an assistant professor of religion at Vassar College, where she also teaches in Africana studies and women’s studies. She is an ethnographer of Muslim ethics and social change, currently focused on contemporary France. Her book manuscript, Fraternal Critique, describes the lively ethical debates that define the twenty-first century French Muslim scene, and locates these arguments in long Islamic and republican traditions of critical thought. Wesselhoeft received her PhD in religion from Harvard University. Her articles have appeared in Sociology of Islam, the Oxford Review of Education, and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, among others.
Islam, Anti-Racism, and the Anxieties of French Diversity Politics
Affirmative action and diversity politics are often framed as hallmarks of “Anglo-American multiculturalism” and anathema to French republican universalism, which supposedly ignores racial, ethnic, or religious difference. However, numerous programs to promote “diversity” have been established at top French universities. These programs largely rely on the spatialization of inequality in France, using zip code as an indicator of economic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, frequently collapsed in the hegemonic imaginary of “the banlieues.” At the same time, grassroots organizations are working to nurture elite academic and professional achievement among Muslim youth, both challenging and reproducing the elitism that undergirds the grandes écoles. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with French Muslim youth organizations over the past decade, and a close reading of recent educational policies related to diversity, race, and Islam, this paper shows how both Muslim students and state actors negotiate the contradictions of representation, inclusion, and moral struggle for equality.
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