Abstract debates about the historical coherence of particular European nation-states or of “Europe” more broadly—what it is, where it is—are often rooted in the smallest of places. A mosque, school, neighborhood shop, or plaque can become a lightning rod for much broader debates about identity and belonging in modern Europe. This interdisciplinary panel brings together scholars from four countries who study the ways in which anxieties about religious pluralism manifest in tangible physical places. “The mosque” in contemporary parlance can refer any number of things: a minaret that dots a skyline, a stand-alone building used for worship, a basement or store front gathering space and even an emotionally charged imagined space unmoored from the physical, what Ian Coller calls the mosque’s “half-real half-phantom presence.” Various actors create and steer the discourse of the mosque: political parties, worshippers, community activists, city planners, real estate developers, journalists, and even historians.
Each panelist focuses on a different location—France, the UK, Austria and the Netherlands—and from these site-specific presentations we seek to identify common themes. They include: the histories of small Islamic communities in Europe before 1945; the religious spaces created and inhabited by Muslims in Europe before and after large scale post-colonial migration; the manifestations of this migration in the built environment of city, neighborhood and street; religious place-making in ethnically diverse globalizing cities; and the attempted ‘domestication of Islam’ through cultural engineering of the built environment. Of course, the slippage in “mosque” terminology is not specific to Europe (we recall the ways that an Islamic community center in New York became the “Ground-Zero Mosque”), and the discussion will, we hope, draw interest from scholars working outside of Europe.