Individualization, Fragmentation of Authority, and New Organizational Forms among Muslims in Europe


The aim of this research programme is to ascertain how Muslims in Europe today determine the identity of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. Which organizational and participatory forms play important roles in this process? What scope is left to the individual to determine these matters? Which sources of authority are accepted, and how do these relate to traditional established institutions? The working hypothesis is that the religious life of Muslims in Europe today is characterized by three complementary and partially conflicting phenomena: individualization, fragmentation of authority, and a wish to belong. Many Muslims in Europe, especially young people and women, experiment with new forms of interpretation of the religious sources. This leads to a greater individualism in the production of Islamic knowledge and also to fragmentation of religious authority. At the same time, the need felt by many Muslims in Europe to pool knowledge and compare views results in the rise of new participatory forms.

This programme investigates the interplay of the individual, participation, and authority in three settings: institutions of Islamic higher education, Muslim student associations, and Muslim women's organizations. Each of these is a locus where new ways and voices are being developed to determine the nature of Islam and how to be a Muslim.

These developments undergone by Islam in Europe constitute a test of existing accounts of religion in the modern world. The migration situation means that established authority structures legitimizing a particular image of Islam are weak. On the other hand, the categories of privatization of religion and "believing without belonging" cannot be applied in a straightforward manner to Muslims in Europe: questions of belonging and participation continue to play an important part in the reinvention of Muslim identities in Europe.


Chapter in book

  • F. Oueslati, W. B. Drees, P. S. van Koningsveld(2007): The Study of Religion and the Training of Muslim Clergy in Europe: Academic and Religious Freedom in the 21st Century pp. 403 - 427
  • N. M. Dessing, P. M. Kruiniger(2010): Recht van de Islam pp. 51 - 66 , Den Haag
  • M. Bano, H. Kalmbach(2011): Women, Leadership, and Mosque pp. 217 - 234 , Leiden
  • N. M. Dessing, M. Bano, H. Kalmbach(2011): Women, Leadership, and Mosques pp. 217 - 234 , Leiden

Professional publication

  • N. M. Dessing(2006): Continu├»teit en verandering in de huwelijkssluiting bij Marokkaanse en Turkse moslims in Nederland

Publications for the general public

  • N. M. Dessing(2010): "Wat denk je wel dat je bent?" Vormen en elementen van islam in de moderne tijd


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. N.M. Dessing

Affiliated with

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden University Centre for the Study of Religion

Team members

Dr. N.M. Dessing, Drs. L. el Morabet, Drs. F. Oueslati


01/01/2006 to 08/10/2012