The aim of this article is to highlight aspects of the complex relationship between religious and ethno-national identity-building processes from transnational and trans-state perspectives, using the example of Muslim migrants from the former Yugoslavia in Switzerland, focussing on Albanians and Bosniaks.
The starting point of the article is the idea that religions, in addition to their use of symbols and myths of origin to surround ethno-nationalist ‘assumptions’ with a special ‘aura of factuality’ (Geertz, : 90), provide important resources in the form of universal values that are adopted by individuals as norms of daily conduct. Furthermore, because of their universal claims, religions provide supranational and transnational beliefs and give rise to leaders whose reach can extend beyond their nation or faith tradition.
The article contextualizes the current West European debates on Islam within the framework of the specific modern Protestant understanding of religion. Using the case study of Muslim minority groups from the Balkan (Albanians and Bosniaks) in Switzerland, it illustrates how this essentialistic understanding of religion characterizes the public perceptions of religious minorities in West European societies, especially in the post 9/11 period. The main argument of this contribution lays stress on the fact, that, depending on their cultural background as well as on their perception by the non-Muslim majority, different Muslim actors internalize the essentialistic understanding of religion dictated by majority society and likewise reply with different essentializing discursive constructions of Islam.