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Spectrums of belonging: entanglements of religion, culture and belonging in forced migration politics in Australia and the Netherlands

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posted on 2023-10-25, 03:17 authored by Aukje Muller

Political actors and the public increasingly express their concerns about forced migrants in terms of religious identity and religious difference. This thesis explores the role of religion in political differentiation of forced migrants and classification of their belonging to nation-states that selfdefine as secular. It aims to demonstrate how contemporary constructions of national belonging are connected to understandings of religion and secularism, and as such, contributes to a growing body of scholarship that acknowledges a continuing role of religion in post-secular societies. It further aims to provide new and enhanced insight into how ‘religion’ and ‘belonging’ are understood. The research is interdisciplinary and uses critical discourse analysis and biographical narrative interviews to address religion’s marginality in the analysis of contemporary societies and the largely overlooked role of religion in migratory and integration processes. It focuses on the Netherlands and Australia as case studies, combining discourse analysis of parliamentary debates with biographical narrative interviews to include the lived experiences of forced migrants in both national contexts. The discourse analysis demonstrates that belonging is best understood as a multiplicity of spectrums, that may intersect at some points or exist alongside each other, on which religious identification is one of many factors determining one’s belonging. It further highlights how formal inclusion and admission of forced migrants has become increasingly dependent on their anticipated prospects of whether they can live up to the standards of what a ‘good citizen’ or a ‘good newcomer’ is and does. This research argues that not only are archetypal ‘good’ refugees those that wait patiently for humanitarian resettlement in regional refugee camps, but they also demonstrate a law-abiding character and potential to integrate successfully by showing a close proximity to ‘Western’, ‘secular’ values. Religion – in the guise of ‘culture’ or ‘cultural values’ – seems to be pivotal to, yet mostly only implicit in, this construction of ‘good’ refugees. In this way, religion plays a vital, if substantially invisible, role in creating and reproducing a scale of deservingness according to which forced migrants’ belonging can be determined. In the Netherlands and Australia, discourse on ‘cultural values’ and cultural integration show a culturalisation of religion as this discourse implicitly includes assumptions about some religious identities as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’. Such discourse further reveals that concerns about religion may be implied in and are connected to arguments about cultural difference, cultural values, national security and socio-economic integration prospects. These harmful assumptions predominantly impact forced migrants’ substantive or discursive belonging, as visible in the life stories of the interview participants, but may ultimately shape the contours of formal membership and admission as the state uses its sovereign power to decide whom to include. The thesis findings suggest that formal membership statuses such as citizenship are not necessarily a prerequisite for substantive belonging, and vice versa. The analysis further indicates that formal membership and substantive membership are precarious statuses for those who hold them and those who aspire to them.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Intersections of religion and belonging in forced migration politics -- Chapter 3. Australia’s history of belonging, migration and membership -- Chapter 4. Constructions of belonging in the Medevac debates -- Chapter 5. Dutch history of belonging, migration and membership -- Chapter 6. Analysis of Dutch debates on refugee reception during the ‘refugee crisis’ -- Chapter 7. Discussion -- Chapter 8. Conclusion -- Bibliography


Supervised under cotutelle agreement with the University of Groningen ADDITIONAL SUPERVISOR 3: Todd Weir

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University ; University of Groningen

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie School of Social Sciences

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Marion Maddox

Additional Supervisor 1

Stephen Wood

Additional Supervisor 2

Erin Wilson


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




Australia Netherlands


247 pages

Former Identifiers

AMIS ID: 257816

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