Different Democracy? Arab Immigrants, Religion, and Democratic Citizenship

  • Lynn Staeheli
  • Caroline Nagel


This chapter draws on the perspectives of Arab immigrants in the USA and the UK to explore current debates about the relationships between religion and democracy – debates that have taken shape in response to the growth of Muslim minority communities. Such debates revolve around expectations that governance and authority in democratic societies will be secular; that citizens are autonomous, rational individuals loyal first and foremost to the state; and that nonconforming beliefs pose a challenge to the polity. These debates have typically ignored the ways that people of faith think about relationships between religious beliefs and democratic citizenship. Our study respondents framed these issues not in terms of their ability to adhere to democratic norms, but the ability of western societies to adhere to their own ideals, namely, by respecting cultural and religious differences. Many of our respondents suggested that faith has shaped their political outlooks, but they insisted that their beliefs were consistent with democratic principles. Many also referred to faith as a private matter, describing their community involvements as ‘secular’ – a term they defined not as the public denial or personal rejection of one’s faith but rather as the fair treatment of different religious groups and the removal of religious affiliation as a basis of political claims making. These respondents’ outlooks complicate current debates by challenging the view of Islam as inherently and singularly political (or as more political than Christianity) and as producing distinctive democratic outlooks.


Religious Belief Democratic Society Public Life Muslim Woman Religious Identity 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyDurham UniversityDurhamEngland, UK
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of South CarolineColumbiaUSA

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