By Jelle Wiering

Hello everyone. As of January I am PhD student working for Groningen University. I participate in Kim Knibbe’s project about sexuality, religion, and secularism, and I consider myself lucky to work in this project that is – in my understanding – both relevant and interesting. Things have started by now and I notice myself really enjoying it. In what follows, I present an outline of my sub-project, which focuses on Dutch organizations focusing on sex education.

For many African migrants in Europe, religion plays an important role in conceptualizing notions of sexual-wellbeing. Having arrived in the Netherlands, however, these migrants experience this role problematized, as their religion is often victim to secular skepticism and marginalization. It seems somehow expected – or even demanded – that African migrants will ‘abandon’ their religion in the process of becoming ‘well-integrated’, Dutch citizens. Their religion, which is regularly regarded as ‘outdated’ and ‘dogmatic’, appears not to be welcome in our ‘liberal’, secular society.

Interestingly, the Dutch, secular environment seems to ‘breath’ other normative notions of sexuality, which are – besides being in ‘obvious’ contrast to religious notions – often assumed to be liberal, free, and above all: typically Dutch. These notions are often considered to derive from the ‘liberating’, ‘sexual revolution’ in the 1960s, and they are increasingly valued as the fundamental pillars of our ‘liberated’, secular society. Like religious notions, I consider such notions in need of academic scrutinizing in order to examine the role these particular views play in a lived, materialized society.

Therefore, in my project, which is part of a larger project of the Groningen University and the University of Amsterdam, I explore the encounter between the Dutch organizations focusing on sex education and sub-Sahara African migrants. I consider this dialogue an interesting illustration of the fact that so-called ‘post-secular’, Western societies are facing the complex task of coming to terms with the continued existence of religion in an increasingly secularized environment. Both religion and the secular are, after all, part and parcel of current Western societies.

Through taking up sexuality as a prism, I attempt to look through the eyes of the organizations and explore how Dutch NGOs, FBOs, and semi-government organizations experience the mentioned encounter of secularity, secularism, religion, and sexuality. How do the secular and the religious become ‘concretized’ in the context of sexuality? How do the secular and the religious, often assumed to be each other’s opposites, interact? How does an anthropological perspective, aimed at grasping a ‘lived society’ help here? Moving beyond an understanding of religion as waning in the face of modernity, this project will help us to develop adequate frameworks, which, subsequently, can help us to understand how sexuality is entangled in the post-colonial (re)shaping of the relations between religion, secularity, and modernity.

To be continued…

Jelle Wiering, PhD student of Sexuality, Religion and Secularism at University of Groningen

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