Dr. Anna Piela has been awarded the AAR international Collaborative Research Grant for 2022
December 17, 2021
Congratulations to Visiting Scholar Dr. Anna Piela who has been awarded the AAR Collaborative International Research Grant for 2022. The award supports generative research collaborations between and among scholars located in different geographical regions who wish to pursue focused, joint projects in any area of the study of religion.
Dr Piela and her collaborator, Dr. Joanna Krotofil from Jagiellonian University, Poland, worked together on a project about Polish female converts to Islam between 2017 and 2021. The first systematic study of Polish conversion to Islam not just in the Polish, but also the British context (there are 900,000 Polish migrants living in the UK), it was based on qualitative interviews as well as responses collected through an online survey.
The 2017-2021 study did not explicitly ask about race. “We had quite a few enquiries from journal reviewers about racial dynamics among our respondents and the face-value response we initially gave was that Poland is such a racially homogenous country that whiteness of Polish people is almost implied,” said Dr. Anna Piela. “But these questions pushed us to re-analyze the interview data as we realized that since Whiteness is so often ‘unmarked,’ ‘invisible,’ we may find significant patterns in the silences, or implicit references to race and racialization.” They found some striking discursive constructions of race that were employed strategically and consistently by participants across the dataset, which became a basis for a journal article, currently under review.
Dr. Piela and Dr. Krotofil decided to apply for the AAR CI Research Grant to collect more data, including the already-existing data such as online Polish convert testimonies. They will also conduct more interviews in which they will explicitly ask about racial identities and their role in the lives of converts who, upon conversion, often enter multiracial settings such as mosques, religious organizations, and study groups.
The project likely caught the eye of the committee as it contributes to a new field: study of race and ethnicity in Central and Eastern Europe. Sometimes it’s easier to understand social phenomena if we study them using exceptional, rather than typical cases, and white converts to Islam, a religion often racialized as non-white, are definitely such a case. A paper based on speculative findings from this project has already been accepted by the International Conference on Religion & Spirituality in Society, at University of Córdoba, Spain (June 2022).