Belief in Solidarity


The Belief in Solidarity workshop, organized from 11 until 13 December 2023 by the Urban Studies Institute (University of Antwerp), Centre Pieter Gillis (University of Antwerp) and UCSIA, brings together interdisciplinary perspectives on the role of religiously inspired solidarity in modernizing and post-secular contexts. Central to the workshop are discussions on the role of faith and religious inspiration in organizing solidarity in contemporary superdiverse and post-secular urbanized societies as well as in secularizing societies from the nineteenth century on.

We proceed from the observation that religiously inspired or faith-based organizations have played and continue to play a significant role in offering social support and protection to vulnerable groups. However, these organizations do not sit easily in their intellectual and political-ideological context. While religiously inspired solidarity is driven by inner motives and personal faith, in the historical development of European welfare states, solidarity has become institutionalized as a set of impersonal redistributive mechanisms such as paying taxes and social contributions.

Relatedly, solidarity practices based on faith and religion can come into conflict with the political-philosophical standards and values of modern welfare regimes. Within the territorial context of nation states and against the backdrop of nation states conceived as ‘imagined communities’, access to social services is based on the idea of social rights, justice and equality and conditional on neutral criteria related to citizenship. While faith-based forms of solidarity can potentially lead to less calculated, more disinterested and less reciprocal forms of solidarity, they are often perceived as being at odds with what we call ‘modernity’.

The aim of the workshop is to unpack this tension in an interdisciplinary way. Both in the past and today the practices and views of religiously inspired people were both challenged by and related to the development of such ‘modern’ concepts and standards as equality, neutrality, human rights and democracy. This urges us to confront empirical insights from history and sociology with the normative views of political philosophy.

The presentations by guest speakers Chris Baker (Goldsmiths, University of London), Karolina Barglowski (University of Luxembourg), Fabio Bolzonar (JSPS / Waseda University / ULB) and Stijn Oosterlynck (University of Antwerp) and by the selected paper presenters concentrate on the historical and present-day interaction between, on the one hand, religiously inspired and faith-based practices of solidarity and, and on the other hand, the secular and modernizing context and the development of (European) welfare regimes. The public event preceding the workshop, features professionals from the social sector Koen Geirnaert (OCMW Ghent) and Petra Schipper (Protestant Social Centre Antwerp), who will discuss the existing prejudices on collaborating with faith-based and religiously inspired solidarity organizations.

The workshop hopes to contribute to ‘de-naturalizing’ the dominant conceptions of solidarity and to transcending the taken-for-granted binary of secular versus religious. Thematically, the workshop will add to discussions about the ‘post-secular’ condition, the strengths and weaknesses of the (European) welfare state, and the role of civil society and grassroots organizations in it.

Keynote Speakers

Chris Baker

Professor of Religion, Belief and Public Life, Goldsmiths University of London

Chris Baker is Professor of Religion, Belief and Public Life at Goldsmiths University of London, as well as Director of Research for the William Temple Foundation. His research and publications analyse the impact of lived religion and lived belief on the public square, in particular the intersection of religion and belief on urban and community development, political activism, environmentalism and inclusion and diversity policy. Recent work includes two major pieces of national research for the APPG for Faith and Society on evolving partnerships between faith-based actors and local authorities in response to COVID-19 (Keeping the Faith Reports 1 & 2) (2022, 2022). His latest book Reimagining Religion, Belief and Activism in a Postdigital Age will be published by Routledge in 2024

Karolina Barglowski

Associate Professor in Sociology, Social Interventions and Social Politics, University of Luxembourg

Karolina Barglowski is Associate Professor of Sociology, Social Interventions, and Social Politics. She specializes in migrants’ social protection, family relationships, and transnational social inequality. Before joining the University of Luxembourg, she held several scientific positions at TU Dortmund University, Bielefeld University, University Duisburg-Essen, Max-Planck Institute for the Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity, University of California in Berkeley, and University of Toruń.  She has extensive experiences in managing and leading research projects and in collaborating with various NGOs and stakeholders in migration and social protection. Her work has appeared in numerous international leading journals, and she has co-edited various special issues related to the impact of migration and transnational incorporation on family life, dealing with social risks and social inequality.

Fabio Bolzonar

Postdoctoral Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science / Lecturer, Waseda University

Fabio Bolzonar holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He is currently a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral fellow and part-time lecturer at Waseda University, and is also a scientific collaborator with the Centre d’Étude de la Vie Politique at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Before joining Waseda University, he worked at the Institute for European Studies at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and at the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University. He has also been a visiting scholar at the University of California Berkeley and the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. His main research interests are related to social Catholicism, historical sociology, LGBT rights, morality politics, populism, and the sociology of religion.

Stijn Oosterlynck

Professor in Urban Sociology, University of Antwerp

Stijn Oosterlynck is Full Professor in Urban Sociology at the University of Antwerp, Sociology department. He is a member of the Centre for Research on Environmental and Social Change (CRESC) and the Antwerp Urban Studies Institute. He teaches courses on urban studies, poverty and social inequality. His research is concerned with local social innovation and welfare state restructuring, the political sociology of urban development, urban renewal and community building, new forms of solidarity in diversity and urban diversity policies.

Collaborating with Faith-Based and Religiously Inspired Solidarity Organizations: Creative or Naive?

Public opening lecture on 11 December 2023

Staff and budget shortages make it difficult to provide appropriate social help and care for everyone. Can politicians, policymakers and social workers work together with religiously inspired initiatives to address this shortage?

Aid initiatives from religiously inspired organizations are often looked upon with suspicion. Can they be trusted? Do they really want to help people or do they just want to win souls for their outdated ideas? Are they emancipatory enough, or does their charity work stand in the way of structural reforms? In short, do religious solidarity initiatives really add value to the ‘neutral’ welfare system?

Petra Schipper (Protestant Social Centre Antwerp), an expert in religiously inspired solidarity, and Koen Geirnaert (OCMW Ghent), an expert from a Flemish government agency, will discuss some persistent prejudices about religiously inspired social work.



8.00 pm

Welcome by Erik De Bom, Deputy Director UCSIA

8.05 pm

Introduction by Bert De Munck, Director Urban Studies Institute, University of Antwerp

8.15 pm

Lecture by Koen Geirnaert, Coordinator Poverty Reduction OCMW Ghent

8.35 pm

Lecture by Petra Schipper, Pastor Protestant Social Centre Antwerp

8.55 pm

Sofa conversation with Koen Geirnaert and Petra Schipper, moderated by Liza Cortois (Editor Tertio)

9.30 pm

Concluding remarks by Bert De Munck

Date & Time

11 December 2023
8 pm – 9.30 pm


University of Antwerp – Hof van Liere
Conference room F. de Tassis
Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen


Free entrance.
Please register online.

Academic Workshop

Programme Day – 12 December 2023

University of Antwerp
City Campus – Hof van Liere
Elsschot room
Prinsstraat 13b – Antwerp

Session 1: Conceptions and Discourses on Solidarity in Challenging Contexts

Faith-based and religiously inspired practices of solidarity are rooted in different conceptions of solidarity. This session explores changing notions of solidarity among different religious communities and in different contexts. The paper presenters will reveal (1) the myriad theological, cultural and epistemological sources of specific conceptualizations of solidarity and need, (2) how they discursively shape potential representations and practices of solidarity and (3) how they respond to and are negotiated in changing circumstances, especially in periods of crisis.

9.00 am

Welcome and  introduction by chair Bert De Munck (University of Antwerp)

9.15 am

The Politics of Social Solidarity in Populist Times: The Theological, Cultural, and Anthropological Foundations of the Public Stances of Social Catholicism on the Current Migrant Crises

Fabio Bolzonar (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science / Waseda University / ULB)

Catholic social teaching is a dynamic body of thought that has adapted itself to different historical contexts to respond to the changing problems of our societies. Even though we can identify some core elements of social Catholicism (the option for the poor, the defense of the most vulnerable, the rejection of liberal capitalism, etc.), the reflections and practices of social Catholics show a great internal pluralism and the tendency to be cross-fertilized with non-religious discourses in order to broaden the resonance of Catholic humanitarian values beyond the shrinking Catholic milieu in our secularized societies.

This talk considers the theological, cultural, and anthropological foundations of the public stances and advocacy of Catholic authorities, intellectuals, and faith-based organizations on the current migrant crises in Europe. Although contemporary European societies are coping with multiple crises, the influx of migrants has opened highly divisive debates that have led to the implementation of restrictive, if not discriminatory policies, with potentially detrimental effects on the dignity of migrants. Our analysis aims to highlight how Catholic authorities and socially engaged Catholics have adapted the principles presented in doctrinal documents to the current historical circumstances in order to defend migrant rights, integrated these principles with the expertise of non-religious actors, and cross-fertilize them with the bodies of thought elaborated by secular intellectuals. This talk also discusses how the public stances of Catholic authorities and Catholic-inspired organizations have been shaped by the clashes with populist radical right parties that depict themselves as the better defenders of the Christian identity of Europe that they claim to be threatened by the growing influx of migrants.

The talk shows how the adaptation of social Catholicism’s public stances on migrant rights can let social Catholics play a salient role in the political debate in our secularized societies and lay down the foundations for a dialogue between Catholic-inspired organizations and other religious traditions and non-religious actors engaged in defending migrant rights.

Fabio Bolzonar holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He is currently a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral fellow and part-time lecturer at Waseda University, and is also a scientific collaborator with the Centre d’Étude de la Vie Politique at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Before joining Waseda University, he worked at the Institute for European Studies at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and at the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University. He has also been a visiting scholar at the University of California Berkeley and the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. His main research interests are related to social Catholicism, historical sociology, LGBT rights, morality politics, populism, and the sociology of religion.


10.00 am


10.15 am

Coffee Break

10.30 am

Paper Presentations Panel I

The Elementary Forms of Sociological Life: The Sociological Moderns Between Secularization Theories and Practices – Michiel Van Dam (University of Antwerp)

The organization of solidarity within the modern-day European welfare state is motivated by both institutional and ideological factors, with the different policies across the continent being, to a certain extent, able to be explained through the unique and distinct historical compositions of these factors in their respective nation-states (Stjerno, 2004). This presentation concerns itself with the latter factor, focussing on the role played by the discipline of sociology in imagining the kind of secularized mechanisms of solidarity so central in the model welfare state. The questions I will seek to resolve are twofold: were the secularization theories of these sociological moderns secularly performative in their articulation? And do our post-secular reimaginations of alternative forms of solidarity require us to abandon their categorical toolsets?

Relatively little has actually been written on the relationship between sociological modernity and the welfare state. Instead of a critical tradition of historical and meta-sociological examinations, the standard narrative is more akin to a myth of origin where a socio-historical symbiosis between a secularist-rationalist logic of self-interested individuals and its sociological analysis gradually unfolded. Sociology, understood as the exemplary modernist science, was both a reflexive interpretation of modernity as well as its discursive confirmation and legitimation, with certain sociological theories such as those of functionalism explaining the condition of modernity as a necessary stage of human social development (Heilbron, 1998).

While this symbiotic relationship was never denied by the moderns themselves, recent literature, especially in post-colonial and post-secular traditions, has committed itself to deconstructing this myth, as internally inconsistent and driven by mechanisms of power and domination (Josephson-Storm, 2017; Latour, 2019). And yet, while this shift in perspectives was important in its own right as a nuanced addition to the debate on modernity, it has done little to further concretely understand these historical relationships between sociological modernity and the welfare state. As a result, recent research projects, like the investigation into “multiple secularities” led by Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (Wohlrab-Sahr & Kleine, 2021) or the growing field of secular studies and non-religion (Arweck, Bullivant & Lee, 2014), have sought to address this lacuna, attempting to describe these historical relations, practices and constructions of secularity and non-secularity in a more empirical fashion.

Such a perspective is still mostly lacking for the history of sociology itself, I argue, with my presentation aiming to give a schematic overview of what such a renewed approach of the sociological canon could look like. Furthermore, I will further clarify my own methodology, which is rooted in the historical anthropology of beliefs developed by French historian and social theorist Michel de Certeau, with its emphasis on techniques, narratives and strategies of belief-construction (de Certeau, 1983). Through this method, I will be able to engage classical sociological theories anew, moving beyond a mere interpretation of its textual substance by turning towards the formal and performative level. As a result, I will be able to deduce a number of different strategies employed by classical sociologists in their usages of historical languages of belief and the secular, how they imagined their own role within the process of modernity and how they constructed their own spaces of meaning.

I will conclude my presentation with some reflections on our current post-secular condition and its role in both our understanding of the history of social science and its impact on our contemporary possibilities for imagining solidarity in the welfare state. I will make the argument that sociological knowledge cultures do not so much govern our imaginations of collective solidarity, but rather represent collective spaces of contestation, narrative theatres in which the social and spiritual struggles of society are experienced and re-enacted. The sociological community has, in other words, become a small society in its own right, a “petite société” as Louis de Bonald would term it, in reference to the purpose and function of monastic orders in mediaeval society. The ultimate goal for sociology then, would not be to imagine a new kind of solidarity for society at large, but rather to find and experiment with a functioning solidarity for their own community and display it for the world to witness.


Elisabeth Arweck, Stephen Bullivant & Lois Lee (eds.), Secularity and Non-Religion (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014).

Michel de Certeau, “L’institution du croire. Note de travail”, Recherches de science religieuse 71 (1983): 61-80.

Johan Heilbron, “French Moralists and the Anthropology of the Modern Era: On the Genesis of the Notions of ‘Interest’ and ‘Commercial Society’”, in: The Rise of the Social Sciences and the Formation of Modernity: Conceptual Change in Context, 1750-1850, eds. Johan Heilbron, Lars Magnusson, & Björn Wittrock (Dordrecht: Springer Dordrecht, 1998), 77-106.

Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm, The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and The Birth of The Human Sciences (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Bruno Latour, “Beyond belief: Religion as the ‘dynamite of the people’”, in: The Routledge Handbook of Postsecularity, ed. Justin Beaumont (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019), 27-37.

Steinar Stjerno, Solidarity in Europe: the History of an Idea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Monika Wohlrab-Sahr & Christoph Kleine, “Historicizing Secularity: A Proposal for Comparative Research from a Global Perspective”, Comparative Sociology 20, no. 3 (2021): 287-316.

Doing Solidarity in Critical Times: Case Studies from the Philippines and Practical-Theological Approaches – Niel John Capidos (KU Leuven)

In the period of 2016-2022, the Philippines underwent major social upheavals in the form of two crises: the ‘war on drugs’ under the Duterte administration and the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Apart from the violent and polarizing effects on the population, these crises have resulted to interruptions which have provoked: (1) a revisiting fundamental (religious) assumptions shaping a predominantly Christian country (cf. Cornelio and Medina, 2019), and (2)  an unpacking of the complexity of ‘wicked’ contemporary problems which resist straightforward solutions (cf. Rittel and Webber, 1973; Bentley and Toth, 2020). Historically, the Catholic church and other faith-based networks in the Philippines have been socially-involved and cognizant, in theology and practice, in times of social calamities encompassing not just in the realm of politics but also natural disasters. In light of this, the paper revolves around a two-pronged inquiry: in what ways does solidarity take shape in times of socio-political crisis, and how can such forms of solidarity be understood in light of critical theories and practical-theological perspectives?

Based on empirical studies from two regions in the Philippines, we will look into social practices from faith-based organizations which mobilized various responses to the crises in the country during these times. On the one hand, the paper will look into how some value-laden practices which promote social cohesion (for example, the promotion of human dignity and the common good) have been put at risk and undermined by such crises. On the other hand, it will also consider the ambivalent character of crises that could afford opportunities in which these values are understood beyond facile and normative ways in theological and religious discourses. Thus, we will present counter-narratives that have three objectives: (1) to go against logics of isolation and protectionist survival mechanisms, (2) while at the same time countering the discourse of ‘discipline’ as an institutional and myopic strategy that render invisible the ordinary practices of people, and (3) provide illustrations of ‘weak’ tactics that make up a so-called everyday resistance from those who suffer from violent state policies and responses (cf. de Certeau, The Practice of Daily Life, 1988).

Furthermore, using postcolonial hermeneutics, the paper will also pay attention to local and contextual sensitivities which would help rediscover the creative impulses of people and the indigenous values of grassroots communities, and their generative deployment of theological narratives even in the midst of crisis (cf. Gaspar, 2014). In other words, we shall critically inquire into the multi-directional entanglements of practices and beliefs within purported solidarity-based social mobilizations. Then, we shall argue for a notion of ‘critical solidarity’ that is dialogically shaped by historical-contextual factors alongside praxis-informed theologies, cognizant of the dangers of competition and the zero-sum game in representing histories of suffering (cf. Rothberg, 2009; 2011).

In conjunction with the objectives outlined above, the paper hopes to offer a critical-constructive perspective of solidarity from the postcolonial, global South. This also takes into account epistemological issues arising from discrepancy in power dynamics which underlie notions of solidarity in theological and religious discourses. Finally, the perspectives we propose are not only relevant to theological discussions of solidarity, but also in emphasizing the relational underpinnings of solidarity in broader interdisciplinary discussions on cross-cultural/ transcultural and postcolonial witnessing (cf. Craps, 2013; 2016).

Keywords: critical solidarity, postcolonial, practical theology, Philippines, crisis


Bentley, Joseph C. and Michael A. Toth. Exploring Wicked Problems: What They Are and Why They Are Important. Bloomington, IN: Archway Publishing, 2020.

Clark, Meghan J.  The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2014.

Cornelio, Jayeel and Erron Medina. “Christianity and Duterte’s War on Drugs in the Philippines.” Politics, Religion & Ideology (2019). DOI: 10.1080/21567689.2019.1617135.

Craps, Stef. Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma out of Bounds. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
________. “On Not Closing the Loop: Empathy, Ethics, and Transcultural Witnessing.” In The Postcolonial World. pp. 53-67. Routledge, 2016.

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Dillen, Annemie and Gärtner, Stefan. Discovering Practical Theology: Exploring Boundaries, Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs, 47. Louvain: Peeters, 2020.

Gaspar, Karl. Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action. Quezon City: Institute of Spirituality in Asia, 2014.

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Sciences 4, no. 2 (June 1973).

Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.

________. “From Gaza to Warsaw: Mapping Multidirectional Memory.” Criticism; Detroit 53, no. 4 (Fall 2011): 523–48.

Exploring Grammars of Solidarity in Brazil: Notes on Poverty and Conviviality in the Context of Liberation and Prosperity – Carolina Falcão (Rural Federal University of Pernambuco)

This paper discusses transformations in the management of social assistance in Brazil, with a particular focus on the evolving political legitimacy of neo-Pentecostal denominations over the past few decades. I argue that one of the valid forms of incorporating religion into the fabric of the public sphere is through social action, which requires the organization of a specific “grammar of solidarity” ascribing distinguished meanings to concepts such as community, rights, and poverty, for example.

This grammar exerted a hegemonic influence rooted in Catholicism, so pervasive that a significant portion of the categories employed in political mobilization and their organizational approaches derived from the model of the Catholic Church, particularly from the 1970s onwards. This period coincided with the intensification of violence and surveillance under the Brazilian military dictatorship, during which the institution served as a source of inspiration and support for various movements that brought about and shed light on what has been termed “civil society” in the literature. Influenced by Liberation Theology, this grammar incorporates the “option for the poor” into political discourse as a fundamental right and advocates for “participatory mobilization” as a legitimate means of action.

On the other hand, the significant growth of neo-Pentecostal denominations in the Brazilian religious landscape (amounting to approximately 70% over nearly four decades) and their ability to articulate themselves around political-institutional agendas disclose an unequivocal transformation of the national Christian base into a distinct form of religious pluralization. As a result, a new framework emerges and consolidates itself, primarily revolving around the principles of Prosperity Theology. This framework exalts wealth and the concept of an “abundant life” while simultaneously marginalizing the poor, both as active participants and recipients of public policies.

This work envisions how the grammars of Liberation and Prosperity contest each other, by giving rise to agonistic perspectives regarding not only the management of social welfare but also the fundamental concept of social welfare itself. Specifically for this workshop, I propose an understanding of grammars of solidarity based on two structuring axes: the conception of poverty on one hand and the rules of conviviality on the other. Thus, in the first axis, we engage in a discussion that considers the uses of poverty both as a privileged means for religious actors to access resources and public concessions in the realm of social assistance, and as an efficient form of social penetration.

In this regard, it is crucial to consider how, within the framework of Liberation, the “option for the poor” emerges not primarily from “sweeping collective processes that impact social structures,” but rather from the “awakening of consciousness” and the disillusionment with practices that enable each small collective to perceive itself as the “agent of its own history” (Sader, 1988, p. 165). conviviality is founded on the concept of participation, a term derived from theological discourse that, as described by André Corten (1996), manifests as a discursive form generating a “pious effect”. This effect derives from a prophetic narrative that perceives divine signs within events, captivating the imagination and fostering a profound sense of active “participation”. The resulting “pious effect” forms a distinct image of the political Subject as the “people of God”, serving as the foundation for collective action. Consequently, Corten concludes that the objective of Liberation Theology was to imbue political discourse with a spirit of “participatory mobilization”.

The grammar of Prosperity positions poverty as a condition to be overcome, presenting an understanding of rights that is detached from the concept of citizenship. Instead, it emphasizes a multitude of rights related to property, access to goods, and political participation. According to Montero (2009), these formulations regarding poverty are shaped by the imperative of reciprocity, revealing the dynamics of giving and receiving. This is why neo-Pentecostal discursive practices assert that individuals should exercise their ‘right to prosperity’, which articulates notions of ‘social inclusion’ and ‘legal order’ in a distinct manner, diverging from the ideas of fraternity or transitional community found in Catholic discourse. In this grammar, conviviality is deeply connected to entrepreneurship and self-improvement. Consequently, their aim is to transform society through individual conversion, the internalization of biblical morals, and novel approaches such as expanding social initiatives, engaging in partisan politics, attaining positions of power in both the private and public sectors, and utilizing radio and television for religious purposes (Mariano, 2014, p. 45).

Finally, it is important to highlight that the distinction between the grammars of Liberation and Prosperity in terms of solidarity can be relevant for navigating the disputes surrounding the development and implementation of various public policies, ranging from child protection to food security. This reveals how the language of the State requires the mediation of religious agents and their corresponding perspectives on community action. In this sense, the field of social assistance and its solidarity practices frequently make use of religious language, which proves persuasive in the realm of political imagination, whether it is to serve the “People of God” or to ensure “abundant life”.


CORTEN, A. Os Pobres e o Espírito Santo: O Pentecostalismo no Brasil. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1996.

MARIANO, R. Neopentecostais: sociologia do novo pentecostalismo no Brasil. 5. ed. São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 2014.

MONTERO, P. Secularização e Espaço Público: a Reinvenção do Pluralismo Religioso no Brasil. Etnográfica [Online], vol. 13 (1), 2009.

SADER, E. Quando novos personagens entram em casa: experiências, falas e lutas dos trabalhadores da Grande São Paulo. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1988.

Islamic Forms of Life in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Temporalities of Tradition, Secular Expectations, and Divine Wisdom – Bilal Nadeem (Stanford University)

This research explores the experiences of Sunni Muslims in the United Kingdom during the Covid-19 pandemic and their engagement with theological frameworks in navigating the challenges posed by the indeterminate conditions of the pandemic. Drawing upon ethnographic observations, the abstract examines how these individuals justified, resisted, and negotiated public health measures using Qur’anic ethics and prophetic narrations, revealing the intersections of theological modes of reasoning and public health rationality. The study highlights the epistemic struggles and discursive possibilities that emerge at the nexus of theological reasoning and pandemic life.

This paper first addresses the temporal dynamics of Islamic tradition, challenging the secular conceptions of time prevalent in epidemiological discourses. Such discourses warn of religious fatalism in Muslim communities, assuming that reliance on God may lead to passivity in the face of the pandemic. The abstract insists that epidemiological anxieties reduce religiosity to a matter of belief and reinforce the division between belief and practice. It argues that Islamic practices during the pandemic – such as socially distanced congregational prayer or changes in burial rites – do not merely respond to crises but actualize latent histories embedded in religious texts, confounding binaries between precedence and innovation. Leaning on William Mazzarella’s notion of “constitutive resonance”  the abstract highlights how the present moment illuminates novel connections between the past and the present, underscoring the theological temporality inherent in Islamic epistemic practices.

Furthermore, the abstract explores the assumptions and biases present in secular discourses, particularly in the context of the healthcare system. It discusses how the perception of fatalism among Muslim communities can be misinterpreted, leading to stereotypes and overlooking the diverse ways in which religious beliefs and practices intersect with public health. By referencing the work of scholars like Jocelyne Cesari and Basit Iqbal, the abstract examines the tension between faith and secular frameworks, challenging the assumption that Muslim forms of life are inherently incompatible with liberal ideals.

Drawing from an ethnographic example, the abstract delves into the ritual transformations within the Muslim community during the pandemic. It discusses how congregational prayers and funerary rites were adapted to comply with epidemiological mandates, highlighting the shifts in temporal structures and the complex relationship between tradition and the present. By invoking the work of Talal Asad, it emphasizes that Islamic forms of life disclose time rather than being confined by it.

Finally, the abstract presents a personal narrative of a Muslim interlocutor, Syeda, who reflects on the pandemic as a fulfillment of prophecy and a sign of the imminent end of days. It explores her belief in the divine hikma (or wisdom) behind the pandemic and the subtle ironies she perceives in the normalization of Islamic practices by Western society. Indexing a discursive tradition that told her that God is all-benevolent and all-wise, even as He is unknowable, Syeda viewed the complexity of divine workings as a tangible source of delight even as she conceded that her speculative claims were perhaps no more than conjecture. For Syeda, the shifting landscape of society under the pandemic provided a set of endless signifiers – the closing of pubs, the institution of masks, the rising health consciousness – each one indexing a divine address pointing to God’s perplexity and wisdom, qualities attested by the stories of tradition.

This abstract contributes to anthropological discussions and to conversations in religious studies by illuminating the multifaceted ways in which theological reasoning, tradition, and temporalities intersect with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It calls for a nuanced understanding of the diverse experiences of Muslims and challenges the binary oppositions between faith and secularism, belief and practice, and tradition and innovation. By highlighting the complex interplay between religious commitments, public health mandates, and notions of divine wisdom, the abstract offers insights into the registers of Muslim life during times of crisis.

Works Cited

Abeysekara, Ananda. “Religious Studies’ Mishandling of Origin and Change: Time, Tradition, and Form of Life in Buddhism.” Cultural Critique 98 (2018): 22-71.

Asad, Talal. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford University Press, 2003.

Asad, Talal. “Thinking about tradition, religion, and politics in Egypt today.” Critical Inquiry 42, no. 1 (2015): 166-214.

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature-New and Expanded Edition. Vol. 1. Princeton University Press, 2013[1953].

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press, 2011.

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Harvard University Press, 1999[1982].

Cesari, Jocelyne. “Muslims in European and American public spheres and the limits of the liberal theories of citizenship.” (2012).

Fabian Johannes (2002 [1983]) Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object, 2nd edition. New York: Columbia University Press.

Iqbal, Basit Kareem. “Asad and Benjamin: Chronopolitics of tragedy in the anthropology of secularism.” Anthropological Theory 20, no. 1 (2020): 77-96.

Mazzarella, William. The Mana of Mass Society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Pandolfo, Stefania. Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam. University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Shahid, Hina, and Salman Waqar. “Covid-19 and Ethnic Minority Communities—We Need Better Data to Protect Marginalised Groups.” British Medical Journal, Opinion. BMJ, July 7, 2020.

Varieties of Constituents, Varieties of Solidarities: Insights from the Central/Eastern European Context – Sinisa Zrinscak (University of Zagreb)

The paper brings an experience of Croatia, and some other post-communist countries, which have had different trajectories of modernization and welfare state development compared to majorities of Western European countries. However, such an experience might not be just particular. It has broader relevance in two ways: (1) it shapes the practice and discourse about solidarities to various social groups in Europe in general, and (2) it can contribute to the understanding of how solidarity is framed in circumstances of rising social fragmentation and the failure of inherited welfare state models to meet the needs of such fragmented constituents.

The paper is structured in three parts.

The first part is based on the European Value Survey (EVS) data on concerns about the living conditions of various groups. It presents data from 2017-2018, the last wave of the EWS research, for selected Western and Central/Eastern European countries. The first results show differences between these two groups of countries, but also that the Central/Eastern European region is not homogeneous and that there are important differences among the countries researched. However, the main difference comes from the fact of which group is in question. Concerns about living conditions are pretty different concerning various social groups. One angle is about the level of concerns (from immediate neighbours to regional, national, European, and global levels), and the other one is about groups of concerns (unemployed, elderly, sick and disabled, and immigrants). This speaks against the simple and straightforward generalization about different countries’ levels and deepness of solidarities. It also raises a question of what reveals the current way of researching solidarity in the EWS questionnaire, e.g., is there a need to improve ways we research solidarity in quantitative research?

The paper’s second and main part is based on the Croatian experience from a comparative perspective. It focuses on how institutionalized religions and faith-based organizations have responded to what has been termed a “refugee crisis” since 2015/2016. The “influx” of refugees called for solidarity, which was implemented in quite different ways. The first was the official rhetoric of major religious communities which mainly followed the official teachings of respective religions about strangers and those in need. The second was concrete help to refugees, which was, at the beginning, mainly humanitarian, without invoking any human rights discourse. As such, humanitarian help was important but was somewhat limited in scope. However, as the “refugee crisis” has continued, and as the country has recently faced new immigrants due to the labour force shortage, the gap between humanitarian and non-interest stances and engagement and advocacy on behalf of these groups has been deepening. The latter is performed by a few non-governmental organizations, among them faith-based organizations. Their work has questioned how the majority, including dominant religions, understand and practice solidarity. This also points to different images of solidarities – the one we got from quantitative research, like EVS, and the other by researching various groups’ concrete experiences. The third is how the state has responded to new demands via its welfare arrangements. So far, the welfare state has seen such demands as temporary, not pointing to the need for any significant restructuring of existing welfare arrangements. This part of the paper is based on several concluding and ongoing research, some of them comparative (e.g. Cosan Eke, Đurić Milovanović and Zrinščak 2023, Čepo, Čehulić and Zrinščak 2020; Giordan and Zrinščak, 2018; Župarić Iljić 2020; Župarić Iljić and Gregurović 2020).

The third part of the paper has yet to be developed, but it aims to theoretically question the way notions of solidarity, the welfare state, (post)modern, and secularization have been discussed. There are a few issues which prompt a more comprehensive discussion. Two of them seem the most relevant. The first is how to take into account the welfare state fragmentation, which is conditioned by the inability of the welfare state to respond to the needs of the traditionally understood “constituent” population and, above all, to understand quite diverse needs which people with different backgrounds have been bringing. The second is to differentiate between religion’s general role in society, religion’s role in shaping narratives about welfare, and the specific role of religion in meeting the welfare needs of various social groups. Various research and those on which this paper is based conclude that general theories on the welfare state, secularization and post(modernization) do not help in analyzing the specific contexts. The question then is whether we need to ignore such particular contexts, or they ask for a broader theoretical rethinking.


Cosan Eke, D., Đurić Milovanović, A. and Zrinščak, S. (2023) Comparative Perspective on the Role of Religious Actors in Interfaith Dialogue. Paper presented at the MIGREL Conference, Stavanger, Norway, 14-16 June 2023.

Giordan, G. and Zrinščak, S. (2018) One pope, two churches: Refugees, human rights and religion in Croatia and Italy. Social Compass, 65(1):62-78.

Čepo, D. Čehulić, M. and Zrinščak, S. (2020) What a Difference Does Time Make? Framing Media Discourse on Refugees and Migrants in Croatia in Two Periods. Hrvatska i komparativna javna uprava / Croatian and Comparative Public Administration 20(3):469-496.

Župarić-Iljić, D. (2020) Reshaped Roles of Faith-Based Actors Toward Refugees in the Balkan Corridor Phase and its Aftermath. In: M. C. Jacobsen, E. B. Gebre, D. Župarić-Iljić (eds.) Cosmopolitanism, Migration and Universal Human Rights, pp. 75-89. Springer.

Župarić Iljić, D. and Gregurović, M (2020) Dismantling Security Discourses and Threat Perception Related to Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Croatia. In: M. C. Jacobsen, E. B. Gebre, D. Župarić-Iljić (eds.) Cosmopolitanism, Migration and Universal Human Rights, pp. 181-201. Springer.

1.00 pm


Session 2: Dealing with Geographic Mobility in Territorial Welfare Regimes

The return of faith and religion in practices of solidarity is very much related to geographic mobility and globalization. While welfare state regimes face the question of how to extend social rights to people in contexts of arrival, new solidarity practices often emerge in networks of migrants, or they address the needs of people on the move. This session is focused on the relationship between welfare state mechanism and daily practices of solidarity. It examines (1) the impact of migration and migration policies on practices of religiously inspired solidarity, (2) whether and how religiously inspired forms of solidarity challenge and negotiate the territorial logic of national welfare regimes, and (3) whether and how welfare state regimes adapt to or accommodate this.

2.00 pm

Introduction by chair Michiel Van Dam (University of Antwerp)

2.15 pm

Solidarity in Motion: Exploring the Role of Migrant Organizations in Social Protection and Inclusive Policies

Karolina Barglowski (University of Luxembourg)

This lecture explores the role of migrant organizations in fostering solidarity within diverse societies particularly in the fields of social protection and inclusive policies. Historically seen as places for preserving ethnic identities and building transnational connections, migrant organizations have evolved significantly in recent years.

The lecture will draw on research with migrant organizations to highlight how they have transformed their goals and structures to effectively meet the needs of migrant communities. The discussion will include case studies and research findings, examining both the challenges and achievements of these organizations. The objective is to facilitate a sociologically informed dialogue on the role of migrant organizations in promoting solidarity and a sense of community in changing societies.

Karolina Barglowski is Associate Professor of Sociology, Social Interventions, and Social Politics. She specializes in migrants’ social protection, family relationships, and transnational social inequality. Before joining the University of Luxembourg, she held several scientific positions at TU Dortmund University, Bielefeld University, University Duisburg-Essen, Max-Planck Institute for the Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity, University of California in Berkeley, and University of Toruń. She has extensive experiences in managing and leading research projects and in collaborating with various NGOs and stakeholders in migration and social protection. Her work has appeared in numerous international leading journals, and she has co-edited various special issues related to the impact of migration and transnational incorporation on family life, dealing with social risks and social inequality.

3.00 pm


3.15 pm

Coffee Break

3.30 pm

Paper Presentations Panel II

Humanitarian corridors: Christian Churches and De-bordering Solidarity Towards Refugees – Maurizio Ambrosini (University of Milan)

Catholic and Protestant churches have developed various forms of solidarity towards refugees through time, both in Western Europe and in North America.  Among these,  humanitarian Corridors represent a relevant endeavour, introduced first in Italy, then also In Belgium, France, and more recently, and under a different label, in Germany.

In the case of Italy, humanitarian corridors have been promoted by religious actors (Waldensian Church, the Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches, the Catholic Community of Saint Egidio, then also Caritas Italy and the Italian Bishop Conference have joined the project), through an agreement with the national government.  The HC approach  provides complementary legal and safe pathways, and  international protection for vulnerable asylum seekers. The first and more relevant experience regards Syrian refugees coming from Lebanon, through which about 3,000 people have been admitted in Italy so far.   The second corridor has sponsored the arrival of about 500 refugees coming from Ethiopia and originating from Eritrea and other neighbouring countries. A third corridor has been created in Niger, in cooperation with UNHCR, and  has  taken charge of about 50 refugees. More recently, 500 refugees arrived from Libya and 1,200 from Afghanistan, in agreement with OIM and UNHCR.

Refugees were selected in cooperation with local NGOs, mainly on the basis of vulnerability and family charges, and they were allowed to reach Italy with a special visa and  could present their asylum application after arrival[1]. All were accepted. Refugees were received through a diffused hospitality model, namely in local communities across the country, with some concentrations in the case of the first corridor in the region of Piedmont where the Waldensian church is historically settled. Usually, one or two families were hosted through the support of religious institutions, without any public expenditure. Volunteers were made responsible for their accommodation and for supporting their integration in local societies, such as  learning Italian language, knowing the territory, accessing social services, helping children at school, searching for an employment or vocational training, creating a network of acquaintances. In the case of the corridor from Ethiopia, the project promoted the involvement of a local family as “mentor” for newcomers, with the task of becoming the first point of reference for them, providing useful information, orientation to local services, and social and emotional support. The Italian project resonates with the British experience, where “the main role of sponsors (…) is that of facilitators – a bridge offering guidance as well as some material assistance in the earliest days, and in some ways mentors, with a changing relationship over the course of time, as the refugees start to both integrate in wider society and become increasingly independent” (van Selm 2020: 193).

The paper  will present the findings of a research study on the second HC, from Ethiopia,  in which more than 350 semi-structured interviews and 50 semi-structured group discussions were conducted in  45 locations. Interviewees encompass social workers, local volunteers, mentor families, and 121 adult refugees. The group discussion  included 150 volunteers (at least 1 for each location), 25 mentor families, and 60 social workers.

Against this empirical background, the paper will elaborate on the theoretical dimension of religious solidarity, as expressed through the experience of HC. It will discuss the concept of “de-bordering solidarity” (Ambrosini 2021). HC imply an objection against national borders, joining other initiatives by the civil society: they contest both external borders (rescuing people from the sea, against border closure), and internal borders, providing various types of help to people who are not authorized to remain on the territory, against removals and bureaucratic obstructions (Artero and Fontanari 2021). Although the proponents HC do not take an overt political position, they contest policies of asylum and borders in practice. They recall what Fleischmann (2020: 14) argues, defining solidarity towards refugees as a “transformative relationship that is forged between established residents and newcomers in migration societies, one that creates collectivity across or in spite of differences. Such relationships of solidarity hold the potential to invent new ways of relating that challenge the divide between citizens and non-citizens”.

The concept of de-bordering solidarity is then close to the concept of “inclusive solidarity” introduced by Schwiertz and Schwengen (2020). As they argue, “civil society initiatives acting in solidarity with those considered outside the nation have a crucial function in challenging social exclusion” (p.405). I add: they challenge the establishment of harsh borders and policies trying to deny asylum seekers’ access to the national territory. Clearly, they cannot erase borders, nor reverse State policies, but they have made possible the reception of thousands of asylum seekers, questioning political and cultural borders in fact: triggering local acceptance and developing mutual relationships between native residents and foreign newcomers, they have demonstrated that asylum seekers are not a threat to receiving societies.

In such a way, they become part of the “battleground” of migration policies: a concept focusing on the involvement of various subjects, with their interests, beliefs, and values, in the practical governance of immigration, at international, national and local level (Ambrosini 2021). Practical help, and even more the introduction of a new legal way for the reception of asylum seekers, is imbued with political meaning, even when it is not declared or acknowledged (Schwiertz and Schwenken 2020). The notion of de-bordering solidarity is intended to grasp the tension between these actions of support and policies which seek to reaffirm national sovereignty through stricter asylum and migration measures. In this case,  as Oomen et Al. (2021: 22) observe, “national borders are not necessarily torn down by directly confronting and defying the central government or the established legal and policy frameworks, but also through a process of negotiation, collaboration, and use of already available legal tools”.

[1] To simplify we called the beneficiaries of the humanitarian corridors “refugees” even before they granted the refugee status in Italy.

Two Sides of the Same Coin? Catholic Solidarity Initiatives and the Perception of the Societal Problems of Poverty and Migration in Postwar Brussels (1965-1985) – Els Minne & Stijn Carpentier (KU Leuven)

At the end of the 1960s, the quickly changing social fabric of the Brussels metropole unveiled two groups in need of support. First, the poor were visibly present in the urban center, making the capital a prime example of the continued existence of poverty in affluent societies. Second, non-European labor migrants struggled to find their footing in the city, facing harsh labor conditions, cultural hindrances, and emerging xenophobia. With their focus on caretaking for underprivileged groups, catholic inspired solidarity initiatives were among the prime organizers of poor relief and migrant care in the city. Alarmed by dwindling church attendance and the unraveling of the catholic social cohesion, and spurred by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), they returned to safeguarding the wellbeing of the local population in need. Because migration and poverty were both perceived as pressing social issues stemming from modernization from the end of the sixties onwards, and because both issues were mainly being addressed by catholic inspired initiatives, we will study how catholic inspired solidarity initiatives conceptualized the emerging topics of poverty and immigration and, subsequently, how these topics were (not) intertwined in their operations.             

Recently, these postwar urban solidarity initiatives have started to catch the attention of historians, yet their scope is predominantly limited to either poverty or migrants. While adding much needed insights into the role of religious solidarity initiatives for different societal problems, this approach leads to a fragmentized understanding of historical realities. Sociological literature and historical sources both show how this divide is mostly artificial, since poverty and migration were inherently connected, if not by the social intersections of both groups, then through the hindrances they experienced. Both the poor and the immigrated populated Brussels’ unsafe and polluted neighborhoods, faced poor housing conditions, were significantly more prone to health issues and struggled to stabilize their daily sustenance. Consequently, they both grew isolated from the city’s social and cultural sphere, left to suffer the metropole’s anonymat, and often experienced the intersectionality of poverty and migrant problems.

By combining historical research on (1) catholic poverty initiatives and (2) catholic labor migrant initiatives, we want to gain more knowledge on how both societal problems were perceived as having mutual interests and, if so, if this resulted in the cooperation between poverty initiatives and migrant initiatives. In our research, we will combine a diverse range of catholic solidarity initiatives, chosen for their variety of activities (including a youth center, material poor relief, primary care, commune, self-advocacy organization), their diversity of lifespan (spanning from the century old organization of Saint Vincent de Paul to initiatives that took off in the middle of the nineteen seventies), and their different catholic inspirations (including initiatives of the redemptorists, oblates and (secular) priests).    

Through the analysis of interviews with founders and volunteers, published sources like magazines and books, and internal documents like annual reports and meeting reports, we hypothesize that these catholic based solidarity initiatives did in fact consider migration and poverty connected topics, but chose to prioritize their care towards either ‘the poor’ or ‘the immigrants’. The themes were intertwined, but the audiences were not. This caused the Brussels’ caritative field to be split, established organizations continuing their care for the poor, while new initiatives came to be known for their solidarity towards Moroccan and Turkish immigrants. This division became already apparent in the late 1960s and crystallized further through the next decade as the initiatives expanded their activities and scope. During the 1980s, they professionalized further as either providers of poor-relief or migrant care, spurred on by government calls for rationalization in the non-profit welfare sector.  

We consider four possible explanations for this divide. First, we argue that the choice to cater towards either migrants or the poor was pragmatic and needs-based. The poverty initiatives had a long-built expertise and continued reaching out to their usual audiences, be it through adapted and modernized approaches. The studied migrant organizations, however, started out without defining their target audience, yet quickly felt compelled to fill Brussels’ vacuum and provide migrant care. Second, the divide also mirrors how these catholic based solidarity initiatives understood the social complexity of the city. Even though they came to be isolated in poor neighborhoods together, and even though their day-to-day problems were similar, the Belgian poor and foreign migrants were understood to occupy different and separated ‘social margins’.

Third, we look at how these organizations constructed distinguished cultural frameworks for the poor and the immigrated. People in poverty were counted among the emerging ‘fourth world’, a class of isolated, underprivileged people who developed their own dynamics of meaning-making and social behavior. The immigrated Moroccan and Turkish communities, alternatively, were understood to be culturally different a priori – from both the Belgian population and the Belgian poor. Per consequence, we argue that these ‘fourth world’ and ‘migrant’ cultures informed the religious and spiritual approaches towards the respective groups, particularly considering the proceedings of Vatican II. Catholic based solidarity organizations understood the poor as increasingly secularized and fallen prey to the vices of the modern city, and therefore sought to moralize them using catholic narratives. To connect with Moroccan and Turkish immigrants, however, the organizations relied on ideas of pluralism and interreligious dialogue to end their social and cultural isolation.


Cantillon, Bea et al. “Twintig jaar armoede en beleid inzake armoedebestrijding.” Economisch en sociaal tijdschrift, no. 1 (1996): 5–36.    

Deslé, Els. “Brussel 1968-1995: de politieke constructie van een migrantenprobleem. Een inleiding,” n.d., 17.

Holohan, Carole. “The Second Vatican Council, Poverty and Irish Mentalities.” History of European Ideas 46, no. 7 (October 2, 2020): 1009–26.          

Horn, Gerd-Rainer. The Spirit of Vatican II: Western European Progressive Catholicism in the Long Sixties. First edition. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2015.          

Kesteloot, Christian, and Cees Cortie. “Housing Turks and Moroccans in Brussels and Amsterdam: The Difference between Private and Public Markets.” Urban Studies 35, no. 10 (October 1998): 1835–53.

Van Hamme, Gilles, Taïs Grippa, and Mathieu Van Criekingen. “Migratory Movements and Dynamics of Neighbourhoods in Brussels.” Translated by Jane Corrigan. Brussels Studies. La Revue Scientifique Pour Les Recherches Sur Bruxelles, March 21, 2016.              

“Waaile Zaain van Muilebeik”. 35 Jaar Foyer in Multi-Etnisch Brussel. Brussel: Foyer vzw, 2004.

From Sanctuary to Solidarity. The Role of Immigrants’ Religious Communities as Welfare Providers in Italy – Samuele Davide Molli & Maurizio Ambrosini (University of Milan)

«When the fog begins to thicken on the horizons of our lives, we turn our eyes and our thoughts to this sanctuary, and we find here safety, relief and peace». The passage comes from the periodical of the Italian Catholic community in New York – the “Bollettino”, published in September 1929 – and tells the story of a sanctuary – called “The Madonna of 115th Street” (see Orsi, 2002) – which was recreated by Italian emigrants in memory of their belonging and used in the city as a refuge in the face of the difficulties and traumas they met after the arrival.

One century later, Italy has gone from being a country of emigration to one of immigration, and the diversification of the religious panorama represents one of the main implications that is marking this unexpected transition (Pace 2014). Several urban areas have experienced important «processes of re-sacralisation», namely international migrants have «readjusted and revived» abandoned and disused places where to transplant their religious traditions and recreate a transnational continuity with the motherland. These «re-sacralised spaces» also offer a hospitable and welcoming atmosphere, provide social capital and ties, help to soften pressures through emotional and psychological comfort as well as often sponsor altruistic activities and different forms of aid tailored on the difficulties newcomers may encounter in a new country (see Hirschman 2004).  

In this line, the proposal focuses on the role of religions in terms of solidarity by examining how immigrants’ religious communities have progressively become welfare hubs that have incorporated a multifaceted range of social questions, which are not (or only partially) covered by public services and are closely correlated to the different social needs emerging from the process of settlement into the receiving context: a role we call «welfare from below».

First, the paper introduces its meaning for the Italian case by considering the «welfare-diamond»: a theoretical framework often adopted in the literature for the study of the main sources of guarantees for individual well-being and against the risks of exclusion (e.g., Ferrera 2005; Jenson 2015). In this sense, the role of immigrants’ religions takes on particular significance in relation to each corner of this diamond, namely: «state, market, family and community». Specifically, their solidarity function emerges by considering the different institutional barriers to accessing public welfare services – migrants’ social rights are often linked to the kind of legal status, time of residence and job position –, the lower economic incomes (and saves) migrants often dispose for buying private social securities as wells as the lack and/or fragility of extended parental networks in the receiving country. Faced with these limits, the immigrants’ religious associationism represents an emerging networking dynamic in the sphere of the community. Through self-organised and self-funded aid groups and information desks/offices (often informal) as well as direct supports and caring/assistance relations, they offer responses that can difficultly come from the other sources of the diamond, transforming in this way the religious spaces into welfare points of reference for the foreign population.

Second, the paper empirically examines the issue by using a wide dataset that results from a research project on immigrants’ religions in Italy, which involved a total of 348 religious communities identified in the territory of Lombardy. The proposal builds on 120 semi-structured interviews collected in six different religious areas «Orthodox parishes, Neo-Evangelical churches, Catholic ethnic communities, Islamic centres, Sikh and Buddhist temples», a prolonged series of ethnographic observations (collected in a sample of these communities), and on various documents (e.g., leaflets, information on social media pages, newspaper articles) related to the forms of support sponsored in various cities. These may include first aids points (e.g., soup kitchens and food banks), emergency health and psycho-social assistance, advice and help desks for bureaucratic issues and for juridical status, information for jobs and rooms, fundraisings for situations of economic need and fragility, but also language courses and citizenship classes, accompaniment of families and young people, and finally aid practices transnational.

Third, the ways in which the «welfare from below» develops will be a key argument of discussion. Data will be clustered and analysed by considering (1) the concrete modes of gathering resources, (2) the complexity of the altruistic offer, (3) the types of the links these communities can establish with other civil society/volunteering actors for providing supports, and (4) the grade of openness towards possible users. These are four key analytical lenses that we synthetically identify through the formula of the four Ms: “mutualism, multiplicity, mediating and mission” which are then used for a typology on the variety of the welfare experiences our research has identified for the case of immigrants’ religions. 

Four we conclude by addressing the implications that derive from this emerging religious-based solidarity. In particular, the fact that immigrants through their sacred communities are trying to provide in autonomy the means for their well-being will be discussed in terms of «bonding/bridging activism» in order to explore in which ways and «to what extent» this self-promoted solidarity can (or cannot) benefit their processes of adaptation and inclusion in the host society. This argument, in addition, can be useful for comparative studies in other countries which present different religious geographies and welfare schemes.


Ferrera, M. (2005) The boundaries of welfare: European integration and the new spatial politics of social protection. Oxford University Press.

Hirschman, C. (2004) The role of religion in the origins and adaptation of immigrant groups in the United States. International Migration Review, 38.3: 1206-1233.

Jenson, J. (2015) Social innovation: redesigning the welfare diamond. In A. Nicholls, J. Simon and M. Gabriel (eds) New frontiers in social innovation research, pp. 89-106.

Orsi, R. A. (2010) The Madonna of 115th street: faith and community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950. Yale University Press (third edition, first edition published: 1985, second edition: 2002).

Pace, E. (2014) Increasing Religious Diversity in a Society Monopolized by Catholicism, In G. Giordan and E. Pace (eds) Religious Pluralism. Framing Religious Diversity in the Contemporary World, Springer, pp. 93-114.

5.00 pm


7.00 pm

Conference dinner

Programme Day 2 – 13 December 2023

University of Antwerp
City Campus – Hof van Liere
Elsschot room
Prinsstraat 13b – Antwerp

Session 3: The Politics of Faith-Based and Religious Inspired Solidarity

While faith-based and religiously inspired actors and organizations typically face challenging ideological and political contexts, their responses to these challenges can be extremely variegated. They can try to adapt to or accommodate the challenging factors, but they can just as well refuse to do so, resist them or develop counter-narratives and alternative practices. This session addresses the politics of the different ways in which faith-based and religiously inspired actors and organizations respond to both secularizing challenges and post-secular opportunities.

9.00 am

Introduction by chair Stijn Oosterlynck (University of Antwerp)

9.15 am

A Politics of Interference – How Faith Can Shape a New Policy Narrative for a Post-COVID Generation

Chris Baker (Goldsmiths University of London)

Taking as a starting point the premise behind the main theme of this conference, the paper argues that the time is now right for faiths to adopt a more strategic leadership role in shaping the debate about how we reconstruct UK and other European societies from the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using national research I conducted on the growth of partnerships that emerged between faith-based and secular actors in the UK during the pandemic, I argue that a new space has opened up to talk about the role of faith in shaping the policy discourse about new social futures.

I will then articulate what that new narrative could be with reference to the Bloom Review of 2023 – the first ever report commissioned by a British government on how it interacts with religion and belief.

I conclude with reference to an historical precedent when the church, under the leadership of Archbishop William Temple, identified the contours of what he called a ‘welfare state’ in a short and popular book Christianity and Social Order published in 1942. These contours (based on middle axioms) were integral to the reconstruction of Britain after World War II. He also spends the first third of the book arguing why the church should interfere in the debate about the future of British society.

I conclude by asking to what extent Temple’s framework for deep structural change, based on profound theological and philosophical principles offers any blueprint for today’s context. Can we read the 2020s from the 1930s and 40s?

Chris Baker is Professor of Religion, Belief and Public Life at Goldsmiths University of London, as well as Director of Research for the William Temple Foundation. His research and publications analyse the impact of lived religion and lived belief on the public square, in particular the intersection of religion and belief on urban and community development, political activism, environmentalism and inclusion and diversity policy. Recent work includes two major pieces of national research for the APPG for Faith and Society on evolving partnerships between faith-based actors and local authorities in response to COVID-19 (Keeping the Faith Reports 1 & 2) (2022, 2022). His latest book Reimagining Religion, Belief and Activism in a Postdigital Age will be published by Routledge in 2024.


10.00 am


10.15 am

Coffee Break

10.30 am

Paper Presentations Panel III

Translation or Hegemonic Intervention? Dominion Theology in the Flemish Welfare Regime – Lise Dheedene (University of Antwerp)

Over the last decades, the vertical subsidiarization of social policy has produced an increased focus on local welfare systems – mixes of formal and informal welfare actors, public or not – to meet the needs of citizens in Europe (Bode, 2006; Kazepov, 2010). These dynamic arrangements, it has been argued, often generate remarkably innovative solutions to local problems, transcending boundaries of difference in doing so. Renewed attention, in this respect, has been given to the continued role of faith-based actors in providing care to the socially excluded and their potential to engage in experimental learning processes, creating ethical crossovers with secular and other faith players through mutual translation (Cloke & Beaumont, 2013). Inspired by Habermas’ Post-secular Society (Habermas, 2008), human geographers have used the term “postsecularity” to indicate such a liminal condition in which “the blurred boundaries between religious and secular belief, practice and identity can undergo reflexive engagement and produce new ethical and political subjectivities” (Cloke, Baker, Sutherland, & Williams, 2019: 21). Although these scholars mainly ground their statements in Anglo-Saxon contexts, the potential of religious players to provide welfare and generate postsecularity has increasingly been stressed in Flanders, with its strong corporatist tradition, as well (Maes, Schrooten, Broeckaert, & Raeymaeckers, 2022; Meeus et al., 2015; Schrooten, Thys, & Debruyne, 2019). This presentation, however, aims to provide a reminder for scholars of welfare and religion to remain critical and remember that this situation does not only produce rosy scenarios of postsecularity (see Lancione, 2014). To that end, it will address the case of an evangelical homeless center called House of Transformation (HoT), which is marked by postsecular failure, owing to an inability of reconciling evangelical and secular right-based welfare grammars. The case study draws on in-depth interviews, fieldwork and discourse analysis, and forms part of my broader Phd work in which I examine the roles of evangelical Christian solidarities in the Flemish welfare regime from a postsecular perspective – i.e. by focusing on the co-assemblage of the secular and religious, and whether/how these patterns are marked by postsecularity.

The homeless center under study secretly adheres to “dominion theology”, a current in Christian Restorationism which seeks to “transform” modern secular culture in order to establish “dominion” on earth and reinstate Christ’s Kingdom before His Second Coming. At first glance, this here-and-now theology provides an avenue for the kind of faith-by-praxis that Cloke and Beaumont have identified as a fruitful catalyst for postsecularity: the center has become an eclectic coming together of socially excluded people across faith and other boundaries, all gathering around the praxis of care. When taking a closer look, however, this has not truly created a laboratory for the experimental transformation of rigid faith mentalities. Rather, the center violates the fundamental rights of welfare recipients in many ways and fails to comply with bureaucratic rules – most notably, receivers are forced to perform as givers and convert as Born Agains. There are strong indications, moreover, that public social centers including OCMW and CAW have referred the most vulnerable people to the center.

Looking from a postsecular gaze, I will argue that part of the explanation for this unofficialized partnership lies in the secular-religious interplay around which it was constructed, a pattern I call “logocide”, referring to a dynamic in which (secular) words are appropriated and endowed with new (evangelical) meaning so that they become code words (Garrard, 2020). Most notably, HoT has switched repertoire according to audience, thereby shifting significant elements of the message by publicly using common words but filling them with evangelical meaning – this has happened with “freedom”, “love, “empowerment” and “business”. Rather than as a form of Habermasian translation intent on finding common ground via generally accessible language, this dynamic produces a consensus that is based on false assumptions. On a more ideal-theoretical level, therefore, I argue that Habermas’ consensus-oriented theory of Communicative Action (of which the concept of translation is a part) should be complemented with a more struggle-oriented perspective, for instance as elaborated in Laclau and Mouffe’s “Hegemony and Socialist Strategy” (Laclau & Mouffe, 1985). The logocide which takes place in HoT, from this perspective, can be considered a “hegemonic intervention” intended to weaken the hegemony of secular discourse in favour of an evangelical one. Logocide then constitutes a mode of “dark postsecularity”, with secular and religious sensibilities entwining in ways that neither stem from or spark receptive generosity and true rapprochement (Cloke et al., 2019: 25). In the case under study, I will conclude, the occurrence of this mechanism was offered a fruitful ground by the structural failure of the local welfare fabric to meet the needs in the field of housing.


Bode, I. (2006). Disorganized welfare mixes: voluntary agencies and new governance regimes in Western Europe. Journal of European social policy, 16(4), 346-359.

Cloke, P., Baker, C., Sutherland, C., & Williams, A. (2019). Geographies of postsecularity: Re-envisioning politics, subjectivity and ethics: Routledge.

Cloke, P., & Beaumont, J. (2013). Geographies of postsecular rapprochement in the city1. Progress in Human Geography, 37(1), 27-51.

Garrard, V. (2020). Hidden in plain sight: Dominion theology, spiritual warfare, and violence in Latin America. Religions, 11(12), 648.

Habermas, J. (2008). Between naturalism and religion: Philosophical essays: Polity.

Kazepov, Y. (2010). Rescaling social policies: towards multilevel governance in Europe (Vol. 38): Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (2014 (1985)). Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics (Vol. 8): Verso Books.

Lancione, M. (2014). Entanglements of faith: Discourses, practices of care and homeless people in an Italian City of Saints. Urban Studies, 51(14), 3062-3078.

Maes, S., Schrooten, M., Broeckaert, B., & Raeymaeckers, P. (2022). Working in the name of God: Faith–Based organisations and poverty alleviation in Flanders. Paper presented at the European Conference for Social Work Research (ECSWR), Date: 2022/04/06-2022/04/08, Location: Amsterdam.

Meeus, B., Schillebeeckx, E., De Decker, P., Pannecoucke, I., Verstraete, J., & Volckaert, E. (2015). Geloofsgeïnspireerde organisaties en de woonnood van nieuwkomers in stedelijke aankomstwijken.

Schrooten, M., Thys, R., & Debruyne, P. (2019). Sociaal schaduwwerk. Over informele spelers in het welzijnslandschap.

Solidarity with the “poorest of the poor”. Faith, Secularization and Transcontinentalism in Belgian Roman Catholic Missions in Congo – Mick Feyaerts (KU Leuven)

Religiously inspired solidarity initiatives did/do not necessarily limit their actions to the needy within their own country’s – or even continent’s – borders. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, a great number of Belgian Roman Catholic organizations emerged that engaged with the poor in the “Third World”, leading to a substantial Catholic presence in the developmental aid sector.[1] These organizations had to navigate a secularizing Belgian society in order to remain eligible for donations and sponsorships to guarantee their operations. Such a secularized modernity, however, hardly exists/ed outside Western Europe: other parts of the world, among which the fields of action of these development aid organizations, were/are subject to radically different religious dynamics.[2] My research aims to provide insight into the influence that a transcontinental action field might have (had) on the position of faith in the self-identification of initiative-takers.

To do so, I will explore whether the religious revival in the late 1970s in Congo impacted the discourses in internal and external communication of the Heverlee-based Annonciade congregation. The Annonciades have been active in the South-West of the Congo (Kwango) since 1931. Through their propaganda, which mainly took the form of yearbooks, publications, lectures and exhibits, they attempted to motivate the Belgian public to engage in financial support for this evangelizing mission. Following the Second World War, however, they too had to adapt their discourse to the secularizing tendencies in Belgium and to decolonizing efforts in Asia and Africa. Because of these dynamics, the Annonciades gradually rebranded their activities, moving away from notions of “evangelization” and “civilization” towards one of “material development” from the 1960s onwards.[3] This becomes visible through the discourse in Ancilla Domini, the yearbook targeted at alumni and sympathizers of their schools in Belgium. Donations were no longer needed to “spread the word of God to the heathens”, but to “help people raise their standard of life”.[4] Starting from the 1980s, the notion of “solidarity with the poorest of the poor” was invoked to motivate Belgians to support projects, raise money, or donate clothing and school books.[5]

This discursive secularization was complemented by an organizational shift in 1985, with the foundation of a non-profit mission fund that separated the everyday financial workings of the congregation from the development aid for Africa. Although this fund was still “missionary” in name and spirit at the time of its foundation, it laicized over the following two decades. In 2004, it transformed into the predominantly lay-run “Blik op Afrika” (“View on Afrika”). This non-profit engages in basic development aid initiatives in the fields of education, health care, and agriculture.[6] Today, the involvement of the Annonciade sisters themselves in the non-profit is limited; almost all responsibilities are transferred to lay men with years of professional experience in their field. It seems as if faith moved to the background of the solidarity initiative of the Belgian Annonciades in Congo linearly.

While Belgium was secularizing, however, Zairean society was subject to very different religious dynamics in the second half of the twentieth century. The late 1970s/begin 1980s were characterized by a substantial religious revival. This period marked the mushrooming of Pentecostal Churches, but the Roman Catholic Church equally gained momentum.[7] The Annonciades observed a substantial rise in vocations among Congolese women. Their novitiate, that had been founded in 1956 but closed down again in the 1960s because of a lack of vocations, was reopened in 1979, and ultimately transferred from the countryside to the urban center of Kikwit in 1982 because the original building had become too small to accommodate all the new sisters. In total, the congregation welcomed seventeen new sisters from 1979 to 1986, while only five postulants entered in the sixties and seventies combined.[8]

I will compare how the Annonciades presented themselves to the wider public in their yearbooks on the one hand, and their self-perception as it becomes visible through internal circular documents on the other, in order to provide insight into the complex relationship between faith and secularization in a transcontinental Catholic solidarity initiative. A discourse analysis will be conducted on both “Ancilla Domini”, their yearbook, and the “Annuncianda”, an internal communication letter.[9] The analysis will show that, although the discourse in the yearbooks does secularize increasingly, the circular letters display a return to religious language once the number of vocations in Zaire raised.

Based on these significant discursive differences, I will argue that the religious dynamics specific to the Congo, their field of action, allowed for the Belgian Annonciades to reestablish the position of faith in how they make sense of their presence in Zaire. The Congolese religious revival brought the congregation’s evangelizing potential back into the picture, which allowed for the sisters to profile themselves as both catholic inspired development workers and as bearers of the faith. They were no longer just living by the Word of God, they were once again spreading it. The idea of evangelization thus never disappeared completely from their minds; it resurfaced in an ad-hoc way, as a response to transcontinental evolutions. This allowed for the sisters to once again fully embrace Catholic proselytism as a major inspiration for their presence in the Congo and a crucial marker of their identity, even though they could not claim it in every discursive space.

[1] For example Broederlijk delen in 1961, Memisa in 1988, DISOP in 1961…

[2] Ignace Pollet, Benjamin Steegen, and Idesbald Goddeeris, ‘Giving Religion a Place in Development Cooperation: The Perspective of Belgian NGO’s’, Forum for Development Studies, 2020: 2.

[3] Idesbald Goddeeris, Missionarissen: Geschiedenis, herinnering, dekolonisering (Leuven: LannooCampus, 2021); Maarten Langhendries, ‘Nonkel Pater. De figuur van de missionaris als feit en fictie’ (KU Leuven. Department Social and Cultural Anthropology, 2017): 17.

[4] Ancilla Domini, 1965-1966: 80.; for examples: Ancilla Domini 1986-1987: 45., Ancilla Domini 1988-1989: 52.

[5] Ancilla Domini, 1985-1986: “de armsten der armen”: 67

[6] ‘Onze projecten’, Blik op Afrika. (

[7] I. Ndaywel è Nziem, La société zaïroise dans le miroir de son discours religieux (1990 – 1993)., Cahiers africains 6 (Bruxelles: Institut africain-CEDAF, 1993); Katrien Pype, ‘Dancing For God or The Devil: Pentecostal Discourse on Popular Dance in Kinshasa’, Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 36 (3-4), 2006, 296–218: 300.

[8] Ria Christens, Terra incognita: 75 jaar annuntiaten in Afrika (Heverlee: Annuntiaten, 2006): 386-196.

[9] Archives of the Annuntiates (Heverlee), 5.5.1. ‘Brieven van medezusters’ 1960-1968’.; Archives of the Annuntiates (Heverlee), 5.5.2. ‘Annuncianda 1968-1993’.

Piety, Poverty and Politics: the Dynamics of Vincentian Charity in Modern Belgium (1830-1945) – Hannah Fluit (University of Antwerp)

During the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, the domain of poor relief and public assistance in Belgium went through important transformations. Industrialization, urbanization, and population growth in the nineteenth century contributed to increasing proletarization, and poverty came to be seen as endemic to wage labor. At the same time, Belgium’s constitution foresaw little social legislation and public assistance to alleviate poverty, leaving a vast field of action to private social initiatives. Driven by the observation of these socio-economic issues, as well as by a renewed apostolic energy spurred by the religious revival of the 1840s, a plethora of Catholic social organizations dedicated to relieving poverty through charity was created in Belgium. These organizations could take the form of religious congregations, societies of apostolic life, or lay associations, and they could focus on a specific group of needy (children, elderly, the sick, etc.) or on the poor in general. Because of the great need for social assistance among the poor, but also because of concerns for the morality and lack of religious knowledge among the lower classes, these Catholic social organizations were able to play an important role in Belgium’s welfare economy. However, as time progressed, these organizations received increasing criticism for their paternalistic attitude and religious motivations. From the late nineteenth century onwards, they were confronted with fierce competition from emancipatory social organizations, such as workers’ unions. After the First World War, moreover, the notable expansion of social legislation and public social provisions added to the idea that private Catholic social organizations had lost much of their former relevance.

              In historiography, the shift of private charity to emancipatory social organizations and public provisions was for a long time interpreted as a victory of rational, effective solidarity over religious, ineffective paternalism, which took place congruently with the process of secularization. Recent research has shown, however, that this evolution was not linear and various sources of social aid existed alongside each other, creating a ‘mixed economy of welfare’ that took on different forms at different times. This perspective calls into question the idea that religious social assistance was replaced by more rational and secularized modes of social care because it was unable to provide structural solutions to the problem of poverty. Rather, it posits that the welfare economy expanded to include various forms of social existence, and that religious initiatives were able to significantly shape the nature of the welfare economy that resulted from these developments, thereby leaving their stamp on the welfare state as it developed after the Second World War as well. However, these studies tend to highlight the contribution of ’progressive’ religious organizations, e.g. Christian-Democratic initiatives, thereby leaving open the question how ‘traditional’ Catholic charities dedicated to poor relief dealt with socio-economic and political changes in society and the expansion of this welfare economy, while still maintaining the religious foundation of their work. This latter question is of particular importance because the historiographical focus on the effects and efficacy of social assistance has obscured our understanding of its purpose, which, I will argue, needs to consider its function as a religious practice in order to adequately grasp the way Catholic charities construed and maintained their role in society.

              In this paper, I examine the ways in which traditional Catholic charity was constructed as both a religious practice and a social service, and how the tensions between both functions affected the goals of charity towards the poor as well as its concrete practices. Specifically, I will focus on the period between Belgium’s independence and the Second World War, during which the issue of poverty sparked intense debate and social conflict between Catholics and secularists, progressives and conservatives, ultimately laying the groundworks for the Belgian welfare state as we know it today. Two Catholic lay organizations dedicated to poor relief will serve as my case studies: the Society of Saint Vincent (for men) and the Ladies of Charity of Saint Vincent (for women). Unlike many other Catholic social organizations, the Ladies and the Society did not focus on a particular group of poor, such as the poor sick, but, in principle, offered their services to all types of poor, whom they helped by means of home visits during which they distributed material relief and moral guidance. Because these were lay associations, moreover, they did not require their members to take religious vows, in addition to being highly action-oriented rather than focusing on contemplation. While lay charitable associations were not new, lay apostolate gained significant popularity in the nineteenth century, offering a means for religious practice and social engagement without the requirement of seclusion.

              To shed more light on the relationship between the spiritual purpose and social goals of Catholic charity during modernity, this study examines three central topics in the history of the Society and the Ladies of Saint Vincent against the background of socio-economic, political, and religious change. First, I investigate the ways in which these organizations constructed their spiritual purpose and identity, thereby uncovering the relationship between, on the one hand, the expression of religious devotion and the pursuit of self-sanctification, and, on the other, the religious underpinnings of social engagement and the impulse towards proselytism through charity. Second, I examine how ideas about deservingness and the maximalization of spiritual gain translated into the categorization of the poor according to worthiness, as well as the development of various strategies to approach, help, and guide the poor. Lastly, I contextualize these strategies and goals within the Society and Ladies’ efforts to contribute to the construction of modernity on the basis of a Christian worldview, thereby shedding light on the organizations’ search for continued legitimacy amidst societal change and on the process through which Catholic piety was reconciled with life in modern society.

Prophetic Acts, Obedient Practices: Religious Forms of Citizenship-as-practice in Flemish FBO’s – Dries Ver Elst (University of Antwerp)

A common concern within government agencies and academic literature regarding Faith-Based Organizations (FBO’s) is that the increasing attention and recognition for service delivery through FBO’s may conceal a neoliberal agenda, which transfers the responsibility of welfare services to civil society actors who, based on religious beliefs, promote a charity-focused paradigm. This paradigm would disregard structural causes of inequality and vulnerability, and thus constitute a significant regress in the way societies address inequalities. However, some authors have challenged this assumption by highlighting subtle forms of resistance and politicization among FBOs, beyond overtly activist ones. While most research focuses on specific institutional contexts and government retreat from welfare provision, this paper adopts a broader perspective by examining FBOs through the lens of citizenship, specifically citizenship-as-practice. This concept encompasses citizens’ contributions to co-creating society through political participation, activism, citizen initiatives, and everyday public and private behaviours. FBOs, serving as spaces where citizens gather to deliver services in the semi-public sphere, mediate this political dimension of citizenship. They offer platforms that expand citizens’ opportunities to practice citizenship beyond what is possible as an individual, but within the limits defined by the initiative.

Different ways in which FBOs facilitate citizenship-as-practice reflect diverse approaches to the existing social structures. Some FBOs engage in depoliticized “active citizenship,” emphasizing care and prosocial behavior that reinforces concerns about a mere charity approach. More activist FBOs demonstrate overtly antagonistic citizenship, while “acts of citizenship” that challenge the status quo and harbor political claims offer less obvious pathways for questioning existing structures. Additionally, there are more subtle forms of practicing citizenship within FBOs, such as signaling the needs of the target group to government officials or attempting to change attitudes and behaviors of other citizens. These nuanced approaches have received limited attention in current literature.

To address this gap in the literature, this paper presents findings from fieldwork conducted in two Flemish cities, Oostende and Leuven, involving 13 FBO’s selected based on a set variation criteria. The data, comprising semi-structured interviews, document analysis, and participant observations with individuals involved in the initiatives and government actors interacting with the FBOs, sheds new light on the capacity of FBOs to mediate the political dimension of citizenship among their constituents. The research uncovers a multitude of ways in which FBOs enable citizenship-as-practice, ranging from depoliticized prosocial behavior to antagonistic activism and everything in between. In these practices, religiosity and citizenship intertwine, challenging conventional notions of citizenship as secular and religiosity as private. Instead, they provide novel perspectives on religious citizenship through the specific manifestations of religiosity in the public sphere via FBO activities.


Atia, M. (2012). ‘A Way to Paradise’: Pious Neoliberalism, Islam, and Faith-Based Development. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102(4), 808-827.

Dekker, P. (2019). From Pillarized Active Membership to Populist Active Citizenship: The Dutch Do Democracy. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 30(1), 74-85.

Isin, E. F., & Nielsen, G. M. (2008). Acts of citizenship. Zed Books.

Williams, A., Cloke, P., & Thomas, S. (2012). Co-Constituting Neoliberalism: Faith-Based Organisations, Co-Option, and Resistance in the UK. Environment and Planning A, 44(6), 1479-1501.

Striving for “Christian Character” of Social Work in the Czech Republic: Shift from Horizontal to Vertical Secularity – Barbora Spalova (Charles University Prague)

In 2019-2022, I led two research projects (one basic, one applied) about the churches – society relationships in the Czech Republic in the context of the progressive financial separation of church and state started by the adoption of the so-called „restitution law“ in 2012. In these years, the churches had to decide how to survive financially when the state contributions to the churches budgets would end. For some churches or congregations, it meant the existential thread.

The implications of the restitution process for religious-secular relationships may be interpreted in multiple ways: On the one hand, it reinforced the churches’ autonomy and economic power. On the other hand, as the state’s financial support has begun to vanish, churches have been forced to seek new methods of cooperation with secular society, especially at the local level. Some churches chose a strategy giving preference to co-funding from non-church sources whenever possible. This strategy requires close cooperation with non-church funding sources, adapting to their norms and values, and proving the project’s relevance to non-church audiences. Religious contributions to projects or services adapted for secular funding might thus be hard to identify (Spalová, Gajdoš and Nosál, 2023). it is especially true for the organisations such as Caritas Czech Republic (RCC) or Diakonie Czech Republic (Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren) – the big professional social work organisations whose budgets are financed by their founding churches only up to 2 – 3%.

During the workshop, I would like to discuss the potential benefit of Dalferth’s unconventional approach to postsecular for understanding the contemporary shifts in religious-secular conceptualisations in Czech society. These shifts can be particularly well seen in the efforts of the Caritas and Diakonie leadership to imprint a “Christian character” to their services. This Christian, religious character is not constructed as horizontally opposed to similar secular organisations; the secular condition (Taylor 2007) is taken for granted. The religious distinctiveness of the services should be expressed by values such as mercy, fortitude, community and hope. But the workers nor the clients are usually believers so they understand and practice these values in hybrid ways blurring the categories of religious and secular. The Czech situation could fit Arie Molendijk’s conclusion that ‘the emergence of the “postsecular” refers to very real phenomena, the most important being the “intertwinement” of the secular and the religious in sometimes new forms’ (2015: 110)

Dalferth’s provocative conceptualisation, which Stoeckl and Uzlaner (2019) would rank among the postmodern currents of thinking on postsecularity, seems to be the most suitable for Czech society. Building on empirical research of apatheism in East Germany, Slovenia, Estonia, Czechia and the Scandinavian countries, Dalferth (2010: 335) claims that a ‘postsecular’ society is one in which religion may or may not be present and practised, but in which this fact is of no particular importance to the political or any other (non-religious) sub-system of society’. The condition for such a postsecular society is a state’s indifference to the question of religion or non-religion. The ideal postsecular states do not take a stance on religion or non-religion; this question has become irrelevant to their self-understanding. Even if this is not an entirely accurate description of the current Czech state, there are surely trends in that direction.

If we accept Dalferth’s description of Czech society as postsecular, it raises several questions: How can we then situate the religious within the society? Dalferth points out that in the history of the West, the secular and non-secular were constructed as a contrasting binary. Religious-versus-secular (he uses the terms ‘horizontal’ or ‘R-secularity’) is a contrast between two realms of human life and activity (holy vs profane; ecclesial vs political). This contrast is still well embedded in the social sciences’ approach to the religious. However, the distinction between the divine and the secular (‘vertical’ or ‘D-secularity’) has been no less important: ‘Here the basic idea is that there is a fundamental contrast between God and the world. The world is created but not divine’ (Dalferth, 2010: 326). From a religious point of view, this contrast introduces a more positive view of the secular world, understood as creation depending on the creator.

It could be useful to view the striving for the Christian character of charitable work through the prism of this vertical secularity. In a postsecular (i.e., religiously indifferent) society, the vertical contrast is more easily discerned than the horizontal contrast. When the boundaries of the religious and the secular blur on the horizontal dimension, the religious as a transcendental, divine state in contradistinction to the created world can be brought into relief. To the extent that we are not trained and accustomed as social scientists to note, take seriously and include in our frames of the analysis these transcendental realities, I would be happy to consult the pro and cons of this approach.


Dalferth IU (2010) Post-secular Society: Christianity and the Dialectics of the Secular. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78(2): 317–345.

Molendijk, AL (2015) In pursuit of the postsecular. International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 76(2): 100–115.

Spalová B, Gajdoš A and Nosál M (2023) Čo (ne)zhorí, to (ne)zhnije. Predstavy o budúcnosti v prostredí českých a slovenských cirkví. In: Spalová B and Lukeš Rybanská I (eds) Vize zdaru, vize zmaru: Proměny církví v Česku a na Slovensku v kontextu restitucí (Visions of success, visions of failure: Transformations of churches in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the context of restitution). Praha: Karolinum (in print).

Stoeckl K and Uzlaner D (2019) Four genealogies of postsecularity. In: Beaumont J (ed) The Routledge Handbook of Postsecularity. New York: Routledge, pp. 269-279.

Taylor C (2007) The Secular Age. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

1.00 pm


Session 4: Building religious and post-secular bridges in the urban spatial landscape

Today’s religious landscape is becoming more diverse and pluralistic. This is especially the case in cities, which are more and more shaped by ‘geographies of post-secularity’. In this context, faith-based and religiously inspired actors and organizations build on and interact with the city as a layered institutional, organizational and material fabric. This session explores how this translates into specific attitudes and practices in historical and present-day cities.

2.00 pm

Introduction by chair Patrick Loobuyck (University of Antwerp)

2.15 pm

Religiously Inspired Solidarity Practices in the Changing Urban Welfare Mix in Established Welfare Regimes

Stijn Oosterlynck (University of Antwerp)

Cities are strategic sites for the ongoing bottom-up transformation of welfare mixes. The emergence of a range of new social risks since the late 1970s, amongst others related to external migration, de-industrialization, the weakening of family ties and the development of new understandings of emancipation, resulted in a situation in which the existing welfare provisioning no longer adequately protects against all social risks or satisfies all social needs. In an attempt to address this, actors that were up until then not (usually) part of the urban welfare mix, started engaging in welfare provisioning. In this contribution, we reflect on the position of ‘religiously inspired solidarity initiatives’ in the changing urban welfare and how it changes the relationships within this welfare mix. I make a plea for analyzing the changes in the urban welfare mix due to the rise of religiously inspired solidarity initiatives in terms of their underlying conceptions and modes of organization of solidarity. In doing so, I want to pay particular attention to (perceived) structural conceptions and formally institutionalized modes of solidarity of established welfare provisions and whether and how this is challenged by religiously inspired solidarity initiatives.

Stijn Oosterlynck is Full Professor in Urban Sociology at the University of Antwerp, Sociology department. He is a member of the Centre for Research on Environmental and Social Change (CRESC) and the Antwerp Urban Studies Institute. He teaches courses on urban studies, poverty and social inequality. His research is concerned with local social innovation and welfare state restructuring, the political sociology of urban development, urban renewal and community building, new forms of solidarity in diversity and urban diversity policies. 

3.00 pm


3.15 pm

Coffee Break

3.30 pm

Paper Presentations Panel IV

Reconquering the City: the Pastoral Agency and Spatial Impact of Belgian Workers’ Parishes in the Late Nineteenth Century (1884-1914) – Dimitri De Roover (KU Leuven)

The turn of the 20th century saw significant changes in the socio-pastoral strategies of the Catholic Church, mainly characterized by the shift from traditional paternalism towards an increasing focus on the moral and material well-being of the faithful. This shift was largely catalysed by the promulgation of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. This led, among other things, to the emergence of a network of religious societies and associations at the parish level dedicated to the welfare of the faithful.[1] This trend developed into a civilisation paroissiale, which laid the foundations for the pillarisation that developed in the course of the twentieth century.[2] The aim of this paper is to examine the evolution of pastoral strategies in urban parishes in Belgium between 1884 and 1914, relying on the newly available parish dossiers of the archives of the Services des Cultes from the Belgian Ministry of Justice and Worship.             
              The aforementioned shift towards a more proactive approach also required a new level of agency from parish priests, who were tasked with managing various parish associations and responding to the changing needs of their communities. However, this was not without its challenges – the explosive urbanisation that occurred during the Second Industrial Revolution placed significant demographic pressure on urban parishes, necessitating the creation of new parishes, the so-called ‘workers’ parishes’ in cities across Belgium. While the primary aim of these new parishes was to provide moral and pastoral guidance for the growing number of parishioners, the main objective was to counter the rise of socialism among the working class. As such, the Catholic Church sought not only to improve the material well-being of its faithful, but also to impose its values and beliefs in the face of social change.[3]

This paper seeks to explore the emancipatory transformation of the Catholic Church in the late nineteenth century through a ‘history from below’ perspective. Whereas existing scholarship has largely adopted a top-down institutional approach, there remains a gap in understanding the actual implementation of these strategies on the ground. The first part of this paper will analyse the pastoral methods applied through acts of charity and care towards the faithful. Particular attention will be paid to the agency of the priests and the extent to which they relied on the support provided by religious orders and congregations, and on the participation of lay organisations in their parishes.[4]                                                                   
              The second part of the paper deals with the multi-governance structure in which the parish functioned. The ecclesiastical level was governed by the deanery and the diocese, while the administrative level involved the municipality, the province and the Ministry of Justice and Worship. Since independence in 1831, the Belgian state granted the Church a “subsidised freedom” to carry out educational and welfare tasks which the stated allocated during the French period. As a result, the Church has maintained its ethical leadership in these areas. At the parish level, religious groups competed with public “bureaux de bienfaisance”, and male orders carried out pastoral activities through “popular missions”, while female congregations cared for the impoverished, the sick and the elderly. In the period between 1884 and 1914, politically dominated by Catholic majority governments, the Church sought to assert its moral dominance over society as far as possible independently of the state. The scope of an urban working-class parish provides an insight into how this system functioned in impoverished living conditions.[5]           
              The final section of this study aims to make an innovative contribution to the burgeoning scholarship on the intersection of religion and urban space. Specifically, this section seeks to examine the impact of urbanisation on local parish networks and the ways in which the establishment of new parishes influenced urban planning processes. In particular, the formation of parish boundaries created both physical and mental spaces that had distinct implications for the social dynamics of urban areas.[6] For example, the physical boundaries of a new parish could reflect patterns of social segregation. In such cases, the ‘bourgeois’ character of the mother parish was preserved, while residents of impoverished areas were incorporated into the new parish. The construction of the parish church was another important aspect of this process. The visibility of the church in the urban landscape was emphasised, marking the strong presence of the church in the community.[7]     
              Meanwhile, the mental landscape of the parishes reflected collective identities constructed by local Catholic elites. At the parish level, this was manifested in public events such as processions and pilgrimages, which emphasised the Catholic identity of the area. Among the increasingly secularised working class, the construction of a collective identity became crucial.[8] This identity combined elements of class consciousness and religiosity, leading to the development of the Christian workers’ movement. In its early stages, this movement organised itself into parochial syndicates and mutual societies, which had a significant emancipatory effect on the material conditions of the working class.[9]


[1] C. CLARK, ‘The New Catholicism and the European culture wars’, in C. CLARK & W. KAISERS (eds.), Culture Wars: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Cambridge, 2003, 11-46.

[2] W. DAMBERG & P. PASTURE, ‘Restoration and Erosion of Pillarised Catholicism in Western Europe’, in L. KENIS, J. BILLIET & P. PASTURE (eds.), The Transformation of the Christian Churches in Western Europe 1945-2000, Leuven, 2010, 55-76.

[3] T. VAN OSSELAER, ‘Reform of Piety in the Southern Netherlands/Belgium’, in J. ANDERS et al. (eds), Piety and Modernity: The Dynamics of Religious Reform in Northern Europe 1780-1920, Leuven, 2012, 101-124.

[4] H. MCLEOD, ‘Religion in an Urbanizing Europe, c. 1840–1939’, Journal of Urban History, 6 (2013), 1175-1180.

[5] E. LAMBERTS, ‘Liberal State and Confessional Accommodation, The Southern Netherlands/Belgium’, in K. ROBBINS (ed.), The Dynamics of Religious Reform in Northern Europe, 1780-1920 I, Leuven, 2010, 99-116.

[6] S. STERKEN & E. WEYNS, ‘Introduction: Faiths and Territories’, in S. STERKEN & E. WEYNS (eds.), Territories of faith. Religion, urban planning and demographic change, Leuven, 2022, 9-36.

[7] U. ALTERMATT & F. METZGER, ‘Religious Institutes as a Factor of Catholic Communities of Communication’, in U. ALTERMATT, J. DE MAEYER & F. METZGER (eds.), Religious Institutes and Catholic Culture in 19th- and 20th-Century Europe, 2014, Leuven, 11-20.

  1. STEINHOFF, ‘Nineteenth-Century Urbanization as Sacred Process: Insights from German Strasbourg’, Journal of Urban History, 37(2011), 828-841.

[8] N. NICGHABHAHN, ‘‘A Development of practical Catholic Emancipation’: laying the foundation for the Roman Catholic urban landscape’, 1850-1900.’, Urban History, 46 (2018), 44-61.

[9] P. PASTURE, ‘Kerk, natie en arbeidersklasse. Een essay over collectieve identificatie, in het bijzonder m.b.t. de (christelijke) arbeidersbeweging’, Bijdragen tot de Eigentijdse Geschiedenis, 6 (1999), 7-36.



Religiously Inspired Solidarity in Brussels – Sylvie Van Dam (University of Antwerp / Odisee), Anke De Malsche & Mieke Schrooten (University of Antwerp)

In the superdiverse city of Brussels, the social work landscape reflects the city’s diversity, challenges and complexity. The range of services, organizations, social movements and more informal initiatives supporting people living in a vulnerable situation reflects the wide variety of identities, requests for help, residence statutes, cultural, linguistic and migration backgrounds and beliefs of people who call on them. Religiously or ideologically inspired solidarity initiatives (RSIs) are part of this broad and diverse ‘social infrastructure’ offering support to vulnerable groups. Where many people struggle to find their way to formal social work, or cannot rely on it because of their status, our research shows that people with vulnerable residence status often turn to RSIs. Under the radar of most administrations or social work organizations, RSIs provide many forms of solidarity in addition to their primary offering of religious work. For example, they offer material assistance such as food, clothing or small collections, provide shelter, organize homework assistance or even childcare, politicize, and much more. Moreover, they create a sense of belonging and community within an urban context that seems increasingly fragmented and divided along social and cultural lines or class.

At the same time, RSIs and formal social work seem to operate largely in different worlds. They rarely collaborate structurally. When they have already made attempts to establish contacts and cooperate with formal social work actors and local administrations, Brussels-based RSIs often do not feel valued or respected as equal partners when working with local administrations or formal social work actors in providing support to people in vulnerable positions. Specifically in the complex context of Brussels, we see a lack of overview of RSIs, but also of dialogue, mutual understanding or networking even when contacts do exist. This raises questions about the position of these actors within the broader social field.

In our study, we explore the possibilities and desirability of building bridges between RSIs and formal social work. Based on case studies of RSIs in Brussels and interviews with formal social work actors, we explore their respective roles in organizing solidarity. We also investigate what connections exist between RSIs and formal social workand how these might be strengthened.

To achieve these goals, we held in-depth interviews with representatives of both RSIs and secular social work organizations, organized focus groups and conducted participant observation within several RSIs in Brussels. Moreover, we had discussions with key figures in the field of social work research and practice. Finally, we organized a community service learning (CSL) trajectory as part of the research design. We immersed a group of five social work students, as well as two lecturers / researchers in two religious actors in Brussels – a mosque organizing solidarity initiatives during Ramadan and an angelic church running a community kitchen. The students and researchers engaged in the activities of these religiously inspired organizations and listened to the lived experiences of the members of these communities. The reflections that arose during this trajectory proved useful in understanding the differences between the two religiously inspired actors with regard to their religious position and solidarity practices, their beneficiaries, and so on.

Both the case studies in our field work and the CSL trajectory taught us that there is no such thing as a typical RSI and its position in the broader field of social work. The diversity and complexity of Brussels is mirrored in the range of RSIs, their features and their solidarity practices.

This hampers finding shortcut answers to questions concerning their stance on solidarity in modern post secular societies, their position and attitude towards secular social work and their aptitude to network and structurally support or empower vulnerable groups. Neither can we simply settle discussions on alleged tendencies such as paternalism, proselytism or exclusion.

Nevertheless, our fieldwork reveals many observations that can inform discussions on the relationship between religion, solidarity and the welfare state. We find both differences and similarities between initiatives of various religions and social work organizations. For instance, RSIs tend to be closer to their beneficiaries, and better able to respond to constantly changing local needs, as compared to formal social work. However, lacking the resources or the expertise requires them to get in touch with formal social work when they aspire to address such needs sustainably. In addition to these observations, our fieldwork shows that in most RSIs, very few beneficiaries are excluded. While many aim to reach certain groups – for instance, people from the own religious community or the surrounding neighborhood – most RSIs welcome any person that comes in search for help and creatively seek answers to their needs. Moreover, many RSIs apply a religious language and volunteers’ motivation to support people is rooted in their beliefs. Nevertheless, our research reveals few RSIs explicitly focus on converting beneficiaries while helping them.

In this session we discuss the differences and similarities between religiously inspired solidarity initiatives and institutions linked to welfare regimes. Is paternalism an exclusive and defining feature of religiously inspired solidarity initiatives? What about conditionality in both realms? By showing the diversity of both welfare regimes institutions and religiously inspired solidarity initiatives, we call to abandon existing generalizations about both types of actors and to look for common ground in the support of vulnerable groups such as undocumented migrants.

Sharing Sacred Space and Nurturing False Idols: the Moral Economy of Heritage Church Buildings in Montreal – Sam Victor & Hilary Kaell (McGill University)

In Quebec today, solidarity and secularity go hand-in-hand. But this has not always been the case. The provincial government’s framework for “l’économie sociale” can be traced directly to an influential Quebecois financier’s early 20th century vision for a banking cooperative based explicitly on Catholic values (Kaell 2023). In the mid-century, though, Quebec’s Catholic dominated public institutions were abruptly secularized. Church membership and attendance had already been dwindling for decades, but it accelerated after the 1960s. Perhaps the most visible sign of secularization in Quebec is the ubiquitous repurposing of historical church buildings. Many churches have been transformed for commercial use, such as condo units, fitness centers, and even nightclubs. Many others have been demolished. The churches that do manage to retain their religious status usually do so via collaborations with the community and arts and culture sectors. Drawing on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork about one such church in Montreal, this paper highlights religious actors’ innovative uses of material heritage to contest the perceived moral economic failings both of traditional religious institutions and of secular capitalism. This case study is part of a broader project examining a network of Christian property development experts that revitalize heritage church buildings across Canada. The church under study in Montreal is where that network is based.

St Jax Church is an evangelical Anglican parish in Montreal that has turned its 19th century building into a secular “community hub”. Situated on a prized lot in the heart of downtown, the priest sees his historical church as a bulwark against rampant anti-social real estate development in the city. The property, he insists, is managed for maximizing social impact, not profit. St Jax is meant to be a new kind of shared sacred space that belongs to its local community, which is secular and pluralistic. The Anglican congregation is the primary religious tenant, but “Centre St Jax”, a secular administrative wing recently created within the parish, rents space in the building to three other Christian churches and to a range of secular community groups (e.g., a food bank, a language school, and a refugee service organization). The most conspicuously unorthodox tenant is a circus company that uses the church nave as a performance stage.

St. Jax’s property strategy is indicative of a broader shift among evangelicals in North American urban settings (Bielo 2011; Dejean & Germain 2022; Effa 2015; Hovland 2016). Instead of proselytizing, alternative strategies for propagation and influence seek to demonstrate Christian virtue in more subtle ways; they tolerate and even promote a significant degree of “dedifferentiation” between religious and secular discourses and symbols (cf. Knoblauch 2008; Huss 2014; Mapril et al. 2017; also Oliphant 2021). For St Jax, this means trying to normalize the presence of Christian semiotic forms (specifically the materiality of the church building itself) within their surroundings by demonstrating that when a neighborhood has a living, active church in it, good things happen. Their use of the building as a community hub is explicitly framed within a subversive theopolitical vision aimed at contesting the status quo of Quebec’s secular public sphere in which churches, the priest observes, no longer have “social permission to operate”. Thus, the St Jax leadership openly takes advantage of economic privileges related to the property’s religious status and heritage designation. In Montreal, zoning status as a religious property makes many of its activities tax-exempt. Whatever the range of secular services the community hub offers, the legal basis for the building’s fiscal privileges rests upon the property remaining under the auspices the Anglican Diocese.

Driving the dedifferentiation of religious and secular space at St Jax is the merging of pastoral and entrepreneurial visions for social impact. But this is not simply another case of church growth and competition in the so-called religious marketplace typically associated with contemporary evangelicalism (cf. Ekelund, Hebert, and Tollison 2006). For example, the St Jax leadership criticize their own and other church institutions for lacking an adequately theologically informed sense of fiscal responsibility. In the priest’s view, church buildings have become “false idols” which drain economic resources both from congregations and from the public they are meant to serve; if they are truly to be of value to the local community, his argument goes, then churches must hold themselves accountable to the public by demonstrating sound financial practices. After all, heritage properties are expensive to maintain and are subsidized by taxpayers. This situation poses a challenge for each set of moral economic actors involved. On the one hand, the municipality must evaluate to what extent it is in the public’s interest to enable a religious institution to conserve its own private property, especially when the latter’s activities push the limits of a conventional non-profit organization. On the other hand, St. Jax must align its activities with the perceived values of the public to persuade them that sacred spaces have social value in a secular society.

This paper examines St Jax’s property strategy via the concept of “moral economy” in social anthropology (Hann 2010; Fassin 2009; Palomera & Vetta 2016). Rather than assuming that solidarity and capitalism are mutually exclusive, we ask how distinctly moralizing secular and religious perspectives on solidarity under capitalist conditions both clash and align in unexpected ways. Grounded in a Canadian case study, this paper also contributes to international conversations about the ways in which religion, government, and economy intersect in distinct national contexts.

5.00 pm



Bert De Munck, Urban Studies Institute, University of Antwerp

Erik De Bom, Deputy Director, UCSIA

Patrick Loobuyck, Centre Pieter Gillis, University of Antwerp

Stijn Oosterlynck, Centre for Research on Environmental and Social Change & Urban Studies Institute, University of Antwerp

Barbara Segaert, Project Coordinator Europe & Solidarity, UCSIA

Michiel Van Dam, Centre for Research on Environmental and Social Change, University of Antwerp

Kaat Wils, Research Group Cultural History Since 1750, KU Leuven


Gilke Gunst, Project Coordinator Religion, Culture & Society, UCSIA
E |
T | +32 (0) 3 265 95 67


University Centre Saint-Ignatius Antwerp

Practical details

Date & Time

Academic workshop: 11-13 December 2023
Public lecture: 11 December 2023, 8.00 – 9.30 pm UTC+1


University of Antwerp
City Campus – Hof van Liere
Prinsstraat 13 & 13 B, 2000 Antwerp

Travelling to Antwerp from Abroad

International trains

Antwerp Central Station offers direct railway connections to Amsterdam Centraal, London St Pancreas International, Paris Nord and Köln Hauptbahnhof.

This makes the train a comfortable and green way to travel to Antwerp from many larger cities in the Netherlands, Great-Britain, France and Germany.

We recommend you to order your train tickets as soon as possible, because prices increase in time. The earlier you book, the cheaper your trip. Ticket sales open three to six months in advance, depending on the trainline operator.

When you arrive in Antwerp Central Station, take a minute to look around you. Many travel guides have rated it as one of the most beautiful stations in the world.

Visit Antwerp

While visiting Antwerp for academic purposes, take the opportunity to get to know our unique and beautiful city!

Antwerp skyline with Cathedral

Brussels National Airport

Brussels National Airport in Zaventem is the most travelled airport in Belgium. If you are coming by plane, you will most likely arrive here.

The Airport Express is a direct coach service that runs every hour (3 a.m.-12 p.m.) between Brussels Airport and Antwerp Central Station. The ride takes about 45 minutes. You can find the bus stop at park P15, close to the terminal. The covered walkway leads you automatically to and from the terminal.

There is also a direct train connection (twice an hour) between Brussels Airport and Antwerp Central Station. The approximate travel time is 32 minutes. The airport train station is located below the terminal (basement level -1). Keep your train ticket at hand upon arrival at Brussels Airport. You will need to scan it at the automated access gates.

More information:

Antwerp City Airport

Antwerp Airport is a small airport located in Deurne at a mere seven kilometers from the city centre of Antwerp. It covers a selection of mostly European destinations such as London Southend, Florence, Innsbruck, Malaga, Split, Toulon, …

The easiest way to travel to the city centre is by taxi (15 min, € 15).

You can also take public transport, but there is no direct service. Take bus 51, 52 or 53 directly in front of the airport building to Antwerp-Berchem railway station in 10 minutes, where you can take bus 21 and 32 or tram 9 and 11 to Rooseveltplaats (Roosevelt Square), near Antwerp Central Station.

More information:

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Another option is the international airport in our neighbour’s capital: Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Especially for long distance flights, it is an alternative worth looking into. Your journey could turn out significantly cheaper and/or shorter.

There is a direct train connection between Schiphol Airport and Antwerp Central Station every hour. The estimated travel time is under an hour.

We recommend you to order your train tickets as soon as possible, because prices increase in time. The earlier you book, the cheaper your trip. Ticket sales open four months in advance.

You can also buy international train tickets at the NS Hispeed desks, located near the Meeting Point at Schiphol Plaza.

The NS train station is located directly below the terminal building. Take the escalator or lift downstairs and board the train.

More information:


Brussels South Charleroi Airport

This is an airport with mostly short distance destinations (with the exception of Hong Kong). The majority of the flights are operated by low cost airlines.

Mind: although your flight might be cheaper, travel time to and from Antwerp will be longer and your transport options for early and late flights are limited.

Also take into account that, although the airport is called Brussels South, it is located in Charleroi, which is in no way near to Brussels National Airport. When booking your train tickets make sure to select the right railway station.

You can buy a single or return ticket (same day return) to “any Belgian station” from the ticket machines outside the terminal near Door 2. This ticket includes the TEC bus journey (from the airport to Charleroi-South station) and the train journey (from Charleroi-South station to another Belgian station of your choice).

More information:

Register now!

You can attend the public lecture for free.

Admission to the academic workshop is preserved for scholars and professionals in the social sector.

Registration fee: 65 euro
Included: syllabus, coffee breaks & lunches.
Not included: conference dinner (paper presenters & guest speakers only)


Registrations close in









Koningstraat 2
B-2000 Antwerpen
Tel. +32 (0)3 265 49 60

Voorlopige locatie tijdens de renovatiewerken:
Blindestraat 14, 2000 Antwerpen