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My current research:
As a Leverhulme Early Career Researcher at the University of Nottingham, I am currently exploring the experiences of LGBT religious refugees and asylum seekers.
Discourses mobilised through ‘transnational queerdom’ (including ‘Western’ queer scholarship, political discourses, and liberationist NGOs) have produced ‘homosecular’ frameworks establishing universal ways of being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) through the rejection of faith. ‘Homosecularism’ refers to the expectation of belligerent secularism among LGBT people, deserving of rights only if they adhere to neoliberal values (Scherer 2017). While recent studies have explored political responses to LGBT asylum through the exclusionary management of cases in the UK (Raboin 2016), most literature departs from ‘Western’ models of being ‘authentically’ LGBT.
The critical importance of my study lies in its future impact considering that no research has explored the role of religion for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers in the British context against the normative expectations of the Home Office when assessing their applications. ‘Credible’ testimonies are expected to describe narratives of escape, from an oppressive religion and society, into the protection of a secular and gay-friendly UK. Theoretically, I will bring together two overlapping branches of epistemological inquiry: queer studies in religion (Wilcox 2020) and postcolonial theory (Puar 2018), to problematise the role of ‘homosecularism’ in asylum processes through the perpetuation of sexual, gendered and racialised power structures vis-à-vis the intimate experiences of my participants, whose narratives often clash with official approaches to queerness and religion as ‘opposites’. With this, I will advance a framework conceptualising queer religious agency as an alternative to epistemologies grounding queer emancipatory discourses on secularity alone.
Aims and objectives:
This critical and original study will explore the role of religion for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, and the impact of the British Home Office’s ‘homosecular’ approaches on LGBT asylum claims. In the British asylum machine, religion and non-normative genders and sexualities are perceived as incompatible forces based on assumptions around religion as sexually restrictive. Disclosing religious beliefs has led to the rejection of asylum claims among LGBT asylum seekers in the UK (Dyck 2019). While this occurs, these individuals often profess a religion and practice their faith. This study will comparatively explore the case of Muslim and Christian LGBT refugees and asylum seekers living in the UK through the following objectives:
Objective 1: To determine the role that religion and spirituality play for LGBTrefugees and asylum seekers living in the UK, and to identify how this leads to the emergence of queer religious spaces. Research questions (RQ):(RQ1) What might we learn about the agency of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers by exploring how, why, and to what extent they engage in individual and collective religious practices? (RQ2) Where, when, and how do we find actions that participants understand as religious, spiritual, or faith-related, and what impact do these have on their subjectivities? (RQ3) (How and why) do religiosities evolve across different times and settings?
O2: To understand how LGBT refugees and asylum seekers contend with queer liberationist secularist discourses by uncovering the impact that secular values have on the negotiation of their gender, sexuality, and religion. RQs: (RQ4) What is at stake in employing religious values to promote sexual minority rights instead of a language of secular ‘liberation’?
O3: To examine the impact that the religion and spirituality of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have on the UK’s Home Office’s management of asylum claims. RQs: (RQ5) What are the expectations and presumptions of Home Office staff regarding LGBT ‘authentic’ identities? (RQ6) (How) do the religion, faith and spirituality of LGBT asylum seekers impact their applications?
From 2020 to 2021, I led the process of data collection, analysis, and the writing of study outcomes working as a researcher for the PEDAL Study at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (University of Sussex/ University of Brighton). The PEDAL Study explores the experiences and perceptions of people living with HIV (PLHIV), who are currently receiving care at the Lawson Unit in Brighton, regarding their dual and triple-drug combination therapies.
Employing an innovative hybrid online and in-person methodology comprised of cultural domain analysis sessions, focus group discussions, and semi-structured in-depth interviews, the study aims:
My PhD research:
Since I first visited Indonesia in 2014, the country become the key location of my research until 2019, through which I explored gender, sexuality and religious issues. Even though I have not been able to be back in the country since then, I am still writing articles and sharing findings from my PhD project. My first book, "Gender, Sexuality, and Islam in Contemporary Indonesia: Queer Muslims and Their Allies", will be published by Routledge in August 2023.
Background of my PhD research:
While dominant discourses have perpetuated the assumption that Islam is a monolithic and barbaric religion that oppresses women and non-normative genders and sexualities, Muslims the world over have found ways to experience Islam as an ‘empowering’ force. Using the Indonesian island of Java as my primary fieldwork site, my research aims to examine the role that intersecting gender, sexuality and religious subjectivities and subject positions play in relation to the emergence of queer religious agentic processes and outcomes.
The difference my research has made:
As the first in-depth study of queer Muslims and their allies in contemporary Indonesia, my PhD thesis contributes to academic debates within, and among others, Indonesian, gender and sexuality, and religious studies. It does so by providing a snapshot of how queer Muslims navigate, negotiate and come to their gender, religious and sexual subjectivities in relation to the social institutions around them. The approach guiding this study, drawing upon postcolonial feminist debates about the agentic power of religious subjects, breaks away from narrow conceptualisations of agency as resistance, which are common within liberal feminist and queer scholarship. Challenging existing representations that have stressed a conflictual relationship between being queer and Muslim, my study contributes to new understandings of these intersecting subjectivities by identifying the role that religious practices such as fasting and prayers have for queer Muslims in Indonesia. Through my exploration of such practices, this study sparks new debates for future research on religion and sexual minorities exploring the agentic power of queer religious subjects.
Secondly, my PhD study is impactful in the field of religious activism by exploring the origins of pro-queer Muslim activism in relation to progressive Islam and Islam Nusantara. Additionally, it explores the strategies developed by allies of queer Muslims to promote the inclusion of sexual minorities within Islam. To my knowledge, to date no empirical studies have been conducted on the role of non-queer progressive actors in the promotion of queer inclusion in Indonesia. While existing literature has explored progressive Islam in the ‘West’, little has been discussed under the notion of ‘progressive’ discourses in Indonesia with literature mostly discussing liberal Islam. My findings can help articulate strategies of activism combining religion, gender and sexuality to reduce and prevent discrimination and intolerance. The contributions of my thesis also relate to the study of Islam in a way that contests its depiction as a ‘homophobic’ religion, essentially inimical to queer people, by considering how, from within both Indonesian and religious values, the inclusion of queer individuals can be promoted.
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