Boundaries Against Muslims in Europe

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Bart Bonikowski , Department of Sociology, Harvard University
Kristina Bakkær Simonsen , Department of Political Science, Aarhus University
Negative attitudes toward Muslim immigrants have become increasingly salient in European politics, fuelling support for radical-right parties and exclusionary public policies. The boundary commonly drawn against Islam is not solely a function of religious stigma, but of particular understandings of nationhood. Scholars have recognized that the manner in which people define legitimate criteria of national membership is associated with attitudes toward perceived out-groups and related policy preferences. Yet, there is little comparative research on the cultural bases of exclusionary attitudes toward Muslims. Given that Muslim Europeans are a highly heterogeneous group, their social exclusion can be based on a range of related but distinct criteria, including religion, ethnicity, nationality, and immigration status. Utilizing new cross-national survey data, we address this gap in research by exploring two questions: (1) whether the strength of the boundaries against Muslims varies across European nations-states and if so, what explains these differences and (2) whether anti-Muslim sentiments in specific countries are based on ethnic, cultural, or legal criteria, or some combination thereof. In answering these questions, we use multi-level models to distinguish within- and between-country sources of variation in exclusionary attitudes and to examine predictors at both levels of analysis. We are especially interested in whether differences in respondents’ general understandings of nationhood (i.e., their civic vs. ethnocultural definitions of the nation) are associated with anti-Muslim attitudes or whether the latter constitute a distinct axis of social differentiation. Our paper contributes to research on social exclusion, nationalism, and radical politics in Europe and beyond.