CASIM 2024: Conference Recap

June 4, 2024

On May 23rd and 24th, the Canadian Association for the Study of Islam and Muslims (CASIM) met in Halifax, at St. Mary’s University, for the second conference organized since its founding in 2021.

The conference centered around “Movement” and involved the spectrum of scholars from graduate students to mid-career professionals. The CASIM conference intends to address the specifically Canadian gaps in research concerning the experience of Muslims in the country amid the vastly American-centered literature.

“One of CASIM’s qualities”, said Shobhana Xavier, Professor at Queen’s University, “is that the Association is not about selling itself. It is a friendly opportunity for faculty and students to come together, which ultimately strengthens the field.”  During the closing session of the conference, the attendees widely echoed Professor Xavier’s sentiments. The opinions reflected include the purpose found through the gathering, in which scholars are often working alone in their institutions.

The conference reflected the diversity of projects being undertaken across Canada. There were presentations on Muslim political life in Canada, from the controversies in the news surrounding Bill 21, to the discrimination they face in the child welfare system, to attempts to archive their lived experience. There were also projects discussing the social life of Muslims in Canada, from the creation of safe community spaces both in person and online, to the place of technological innovation in religious life. The wide variety of topics showcases the available avenues of growth in the discipline, and it provided all those present with fresh perspectives on their own work and its place in the field.

Scholars had ample opportunities to familiarize themselves with each other’s work – not just through presentations, but through regularly-scheduled breaks and a well-spread agenda. They also had the opportunity to continue discussing their work and personal motivations over three meals, which is another feature distinguishing CASIM’s more intimate inclination. Many met for the first time, yet they felt feeling like they’ve gotten to know each other and their work thoroughly during the two-day conference. These ties were solidified during the conference’s final session oriented towards mentorship, when the more senior academics discussed their experiences studying and growing the field of Islam and Muslims in Canada. There were many questions about the hiring process in Canada, strategies on how to negotiate a position, and ways to incorporate new research in an emerging field into a more traditional academic post. It was generally found to be productive by the attendees, many of whom have now become part of the CASIM organizational team.

CASIM attendees hear from hosts at St. Mary’s University before enjoying dinner together (photo credit: Shobhana Xavier)

The two-day conference was capped with the viewing of a documentary on the lives of Sufi Muslims from Aleppo during and after the Arab Spring. It was filmed between 2010-2012 and released in 2018, and the private viewing was accompanied by a talk with the film’s director. The film highlights the struggles of feelings of homeland, compromises made in the diaspora, and religious themes of happiness and meaning in life. It bore direct relevance to the content of the conference since these are many of the same themes broached by conference presenters. It offered a new and human-scale perspective on these themes, giving a renewed impetus to the good research being conducted on Muslim experiences across Canada.

Whether for sharpening an argument, sounding out an idea, or connecting with fellow researchers with whom it may otherwise not be possible to connect, the CASIM conference was widely considered to be a success by its attendees and gained an increasing membership. The now-enlarged CASIM administrative team looks forward to the many opportunities in the coming years, and has already begun planning many activities and the 2026 conference. Stay in touch with these activities by signing up to CASIM’s emailing list for the latest updates!

Writeup provided by Timothy Boudoumit, Research Assistant at the Institute of Islamic Studies and organizing assistant to CASIM 2024.