The Market of Religions in Europe: Governments still get it wrong

This blog post includes short excerpts from the author’s forthcoming publication entitled “Religiosities in a globalized market: Migrant-origin Muslims’ self-positioning in Europe beyond the sending and receiving states’ politics of religion” in Nativist and Islamist Radicalism: Anger and Anxiety eds. Ayhan Kaya, Ayşenur Benevento, and Metin Koca (London: Routledge, 2023).

Metin Koca, ERC PRIME Youth Project Post-Doc Researcher, European Institute, Istanbul Bilgi University

January 11, 2023

In Europe, migrant-origin Muslims are approached by their countries of origin not simply as relatives but also as a means of influencing European politics. Alongside reproducing the community ties, a primary venue for these countries to exert influence in Europe is that of religious repertoires. The countries with ethnically or nationally marked diaspora communities in Europe, such as Turkey and Morocco, export their official religions through theology programs, state-funded mosques, government-backed religious organizations, and charities. Meanwhile, the ideologically and economically self-confident states without a nationally defined community in Europe, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, target the same migrant-origin communities to spread a more transnational message, be that in the form of (post)Wahhabi-Salafism or Muslim Brotherhood.

Beyond this well-known state-level power politics, less hierarchical and more decentralized religiosities arise among Muslims. Some go for the spiritual, mystical, or esoteric aspects of religion, some prioritize faith-related ethical questions, and others integrate non-religious ideologies in circulation into their religious beliefs (e.g., the vegan Muslims quoting al-Bukhari to argue that animals should never be killed). In this saturation of the religious field, migrant-origin Muslims’ socialization at mosques funded by their countries of origin is far from representing a clear-cut process of religious indoctrination. However, their changing needs and interlocution processes with non-Muslims and Muslims of different origins in Europe are overlooked both by the sending states and the receiving states.

The religion market: Neoliberal and Marxist alternatives, and the nuances

First things first: what does the religion market stand for? It has been decades since this metaphor became a debate among economists[i] and sociologists of religion,[ii] starting from the Anglo academia. In the neoliberal approach to globalization, the word market symbolizes the free movement of religious repertoires in harmony with the other marketplaces. Assuming religion to be a freely exchangeable commodity, the free-market explanation starkly contrasts with Marxist alienation theories.[iii] Introducing the power relations, the latter interprets religion as part of the superstructure maintaining the means of domination and, as such, a defect to be surrounded, contained, and eventually overturned—i.e., secularization. However, instead of leading simply to non-religion, secularization coupled with neoliberal globalization contributed to a new market of global religious fundamentalisms decoupled from local-territorialized cultures. Now, the fear of fundamentalism brings together right and left-wing European politics around the desire to build national religions.

Both centralized (i.e., those promoted by the migrant-sending states) and decentralized representations of Islam (i.e., those that appear online or in relatively microcosmic environments) have been taken as threats in Europe: the former as a religious-nationalist foreign infiltration (e.g., “the Gray Wolf radicalization”), and the latter as Pandora’s box, including violent extremisms (e.g., “the ISIS radicalization”). What adds to the confusion is that the former seems to have appeared as a side-effect of the campaign against the latter. An illustration of this degradation is the gradually worsening image of the Turkish High Board of Religious Affairs branch in Germany, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, DITIB.[iv]

Among the organization’s most recent collaborative activities in Europe was providing imams for Germany’s prisons and teachers for religious education at schools.[v] The teamwork is increasingly contested after the failed July 15 coup in Turkey as various authorities from Rhineland-Palatinate, North-Rhine Westphalia, and Baden Württemberg accused DITIB of conducting intelligence activities on behalf of Turkey.[vi] With its spillover effect, a Europe-wide public debate questioned if Erdoğan managed to mobilize his relatively new ultranationalist allies, known as Gray Wolves, with the state-led (DITIB) or private (Milli Görüş, en. National Vision) religious organizations.[vii] The funding of mosques from abroad has also been securitized by others in Europe, including German, Austrian, Dutch and Belgian authorities at various administrative levels.[viii] Before all else, Macron promised to build a republican “French Islam.” Not paying attention to the nuances, his policy does not distinguish between Muslim communitarianism and violent religious extremism.

While promoting an imagination of national Islam, the governments overlook the nuances in their migrant-origin citizens’ activities at mosques funded by their countries of origin. In my contribution to the PRIME Youth edited collection, I questioned the relationship between acculturation strategies and migration-related risk factors led by the feelings of discrimination, such as internalizing (i.e., anxiety) and externalizing problems (i.e., aggression). In this contribution, I argue that mosque socialization does not purely signify a religious indoctrination process but often serves as an antidote to total social secession. Rather than a clear-cut religious indoctrination, the gatherings include alternative knowledge claims over intergenerational and gender relations, nationalism and ethnocentrism, and traditions in the country of origin.

Recasting the Community Ties at Mosques

In the PRIME Youth project, the narratives I analyzed made it clear that mosque attendance met “not necessarily a religious need, but a need to belong to something” (Interview-France, 2020, March 6). For instance, one interlocutor recalled her distress with her secondary school teacher who had claimed that “Germans are smarter because of their genes” (Interview-Germany, 2020, September 28). When she reported the incident, the mosque community members believed her account of the incident, whereas the head of the school did not find it convincing.

More broadly, the mosque appears in our interlocutors’ narratives as a reflection of cultural nostalgia, a center of basic services such as funeral procedures, a medium of civic activity to form charities, a place to organize leisurely activities—e.g., kermises and movie days—an economical option for school tutoring, or a political network. Despite frequenting mosques, many interlocutors had problems with the religious expertise claimed by the mosque authorities. A noteworthy illustration is İlayda’s struggle in the DITIB community. “You are born into [DITIB],” said İlayda about her ties with the organization as a Turkish-origin German citizen. The discussion sessions and preaches about the borders of acceptable diversity provoked fundamental disagreements between herself, her parents, and the organization. Although she continued to attend the organization meetings at the time of our interview, she started to “question things they say” (Interview-Germany, August 4).

The diaspora communities also include individuals who problematize the traditions settled in their countries of origin. Instead, they are busy with the relatively decentralized and non-hierarchical approaches to the belief system: “the Turkish nationalists […] want to help some people prior to others, but this is not what Islam means” (Interview-Belgium, October 23). Especially in topics of religious ethics, our research participants occasionally recalled the intergenerational (e.g., parent-children) and intracommunal (e.g., among Turkish-origin people) tensions.

In conclusion, these arguments have implications for state-led religious reform or conservation projects. A community of believers who feel discriminated against will not accept the terms imposed by the state authorities. After all, these authorities share the blame for externalizing and internalizing problems exemplified above. Structuring national Islams following the state officials’ words is likely counterproductive for the self-identification of migrant-origin individuals. On the other hand, the sending states’ religious personnel, lacking the awareness of European specificities, will not be able to “conserve” their official religion in the diaspora either. Both sides miss the saturation of the religious field in Europe. 


[i] Iannaccone, Laurence R., and William Sims Bainbridge. 2009. “Economics of Religion.” Pp. 475–89 in The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. Routledge.

[ii] Yang, Fenggang. 2006. “The Red, Black, and Gray Markets of Religion in China.” The Sociological Quarterly 47(1):93–122. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2006.00039.x. “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” 2008. Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. Retrieved January 8, 2023 (

[iii] Roy, Olivier. 2014. Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways. Oxford University Press (UK).

[iv] Müller, Tobias. 2017. “Engaging ‘Moderates’ Against ‘Extremists’ in German Politics on Islam.” The Review of Faith & International Affairs 15(2):55–65. doi: 10.1080/15570274.2017.1329398.

[v] Neitzert, Alina, Maurice Döring, Tim Röing, and Marc von Boemcken. 2021. “Haftanstalten Als Orte Der Radikalisierungsprävention? Herausforderungen Und Bedarfe Der Präventionsarbeit in Justizvollzugsanstalten Nordrhein-Westfalens.”

[vi] “Germany Cuts Funding to Largest Turkish-Islamic Organization, DITIB.” 2018. DW.COM. Retrieved April 21, 2022 (

[vii] Tastekin, Fehim. 2020. “Screws Tighten on Gray Wolves, Erdogan’s European Guard - Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East.” Retrieved April 23, 2022 (

[viii] Borger, Julian. 2015. “Austria Defends New Law on Foreign Funding of Mosques.” The Guardian, March 8.

Goebel, Nicole. 2018. “Germany to Curb Mosque Funding from Gulf States.” DW.COM. Retrieved March 21, 2022 (

Tremblay, Pinar. 2020. “How Clipping Turkey’s Religious Reach Has Boosted Erdogan in Europe.” Al-Monitor, May 12.

Chini, Maïthé. 2022. “Belgium Revokes Recognition and Funding of Muslim Executive.” The Brussels Times, February 18.  


Published: Jan. 11, 2023, 2:08 a.m.
Edited: Jan. 11, 2023, 10:59 a.m.