7-8 Nov 2013 Collège de France - Paris (France)


Did You Mean Halal ? Islamic Normativities, Globalization and Secularization


Call for Papers

The Larousse dictionary defines the term "halal" as an adjective describing, "meat of an animal killed according to the Islamic rites that can be consumed by Muslims". This definition reflects the ordinary meaning of that term in a secularised industrial context in which the "halal market" refers mainly to meat for a population defined by religious affiliation. However, over the past years, especially in countries without Muslim tradition, we have witnessed an expansion of this term attached to other products and services offered by Islamic banks and insurance companies (halal credits), sharia-compliant hotels as well as behaviours and institutions (marriage, sexuality, etc.) to the point that "halal", originally qualifier, has become a noun: " the halal". Some see in this proliferation of halal the invisible hand of the market eager to ride on the heritage and values of a multisecular religion. Others detect a religious attempt to recapture a hackneyed concept: as it reaches out and into the ethics of action, halal, according to them, rediscovers its original theological sources. Finally, for a number of political analysts, the extension of the halal domain is, above all, symptomatic of the way European Muslims communities restructure themselves – one could even talk of communitarism – in the early twenty-first century, as they compete for the representation and the control of their communities.

The fact remains that the word halal, having become a noun, implicitly refers to the normative system itself rather than to its sole positive polarity of « permitted ». This contributes to obscure the history of this concept, its construction and its unique genesis. Neither the meat market nor the religious market need deconstruct and historicize the concept in order to expand their sales or their influence: its efficiency actually lies precisely in its opacity. On the contrary, “the halal” must embody qualitative (good, tasty and healthy) or religious properties (good, pure and holy), all of which are relative and subjective attributes. Halal items are in that sense what economists call « credence goods » (Darby and Karni) whose quality cannot be obtained either before or after their acquisition.

Whether ritual killing is considered as a result of the industrial application of religious directives, hereby submitting the market to religious forces, or as an industrial ploy of marketers taking advantage of religious credulity, both interpretations corroborate and reinforce the imaginary tale of the "truth of halal." However, halal is neither purely economic nor purely religious, it is an object negotiated according to different normative dynamics.

To understand the construction of the halal norm (in the sociological sense of the term), it may prove useful to apply the socio-economic theory of conventions. For conventionalists, quality is the result of negotiations between actors, in compliance with norms, rules and institutions beyond the trade relation itself and involving different sized worlds within the context of global uncertainty (Boltanski, Thévenot, Knight).

This conference proposes to welcome contributions whose approach avoids the trap of normative validation, which reduces halal to what it claims to be : merely a religious attribute. Halal products (i.e objects, ideas and behaviours) should, in that perspective, be analysed as the interaction of various actors and institutions within the different frameworks of economic, religious, cultural and expertise markets.

Contributors may regard them as 1) a constituted object 2) an object in constitution or, 3) in relation to their uses.

1. "The halal" as a constituted object

By applying the theory of conventions, the process of making a product halal results from negotiations between producers, consumers and regulators who have different responsibilities in the production, distribution and consumption activities. Considering that the qualities of halal goods can never be objectified, since no individual and no means of traceability can prove its authenticity, how can the belief in halal be sustained? To analyze the construction of a halal domain, one must identify the players, locations, collaborative patterns, recognition practices and the competition that are at work in maintaining the belief and its conditions of emergence far beyond the mere religious field, even though everything seems to point in that direction.

2. "The halal" as an object in constitution

In principle, anything can, at least potentially, be "halalised", but that does not necessarily happen. What are the processes involved in the definition of objects intended to convey, translate and embody the "halal"? How and by whom are these choices among various possibilities made and what rationale is behind the decision’? How to understand the choices and non-choices of certain objects produced and retained as ‘haram’ or as undetermined.

3. The uses of "halal"

Although the products or behaviours are defined by contradistinction between halal and haram, people who consume or use halal do not refer to ‘halalised’, but to ‘religious’ items.

As the halal food market has shown, ‘credence goods ‘ require third instance validation, able to certify the product authenticity. This produces a strategic arena in which various groups (Islamic certifiers, Muslim consumer associations, virtuous associations etc.), compete to define the norm that determines its use and therefore its effectiveness. What normative dynamics are at work to determine not the items, objects and services to be regarded as halal, but their halal use? What is at stake in the process? The control of halal is a financial issue, since it enables some to accumulate the income resulting from Muslim and sharia friendly consumption. But beyond the financial benefits, islamic fashion, a type of Muslim pride consumerism, is also coveted by traditional religious institutions: the challenge of controlling halal standards is thus clearly a political issue in the religious realm. Finally, the control of halal standards, particularly as far as food is concerned, is a godsend for moral entrepreneurs (Becker). The plasticity of halal makes it an ethical stake. When it comes to food, this opens the way to speeches on themes that go far beyond the mere intake of food. Food is good to eat and good for thought (L-Strauss): how is this or that type of food constituted (production processes), how is it distributed and sold (distribution channels), how is it produced (the death of animals), who guarantees its compliance (trust), who controls it (food safety), who prepares it at home (male/female relationships), who eats it (identity), with whom (commensality) etc.?


The study of Islamic normative dynamics will be at the heart of this conference that will focus on ‘halal’ qualification / disqualification processes in all areas: how and by whom, for whom, for what reasons objects, discourses, practices can or are actually called "halal" or "haram"? What methods, institutions, arguments of Islamic legitimation / de-legitimation are used ? What are the procedures for monitoring compliance with the standard and how and by whom are they developed or institutionalized?

Proposals may question the issues of qualification and disqualification through objects, practices, behaviours qualified as halal or haram in areas such as: food, matrimonial relationships , sexualities, finance, tourism etc. We will select in priority contributions in the social sciences and humanities, history and law, based on empirical studies, archival research, comparisons and syntheses that take a deconstructive perspective.

Contributions may, for example, include:

The history of halal markets: communications on the history of the market of halal meat, its birth and development from the last third of the twentieth century and on its prehistory are welcome (Middle East, Australasia).

The history of Islamic standards for food, sex, marital relations: analysis of reviews and discursive fatwas concerning slaughtering practices, dietary laws and the commensality with non-Muslims, especially since the end of the nineteenth century in Muslim and non Muslim countries.

Halal-haram, Islam, postislamism and consumerism: the Islamic way of life through different expressions of what is called the urban (sub) cultures. The construction of halal in the cultural field: Islamic fashion, exhibitions, consumerism.

Halal and free market economies: the role of multinational companies (such as Nestlé) in the definition of the halal norm, as well as the incidence of the theory of free trade on Islamic standards in food, finance etc., especially in in South-East Asia countries (Malaysia, Indonésia, etc.).

The halal industry: the role of industrial-economic constraints on the definition of halal, including the issue of stunning before slaughter, ethical conflicts (‘animal welfare’ representations and practices).

Halal sciences: standards, knowledge, certification: how the ‘science of halal’ is taken in a dynamic innovation which consists in optimizing returns thanks to new discoveries and the steady expanding of the scope of halal to new product categories (cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, or even household products).

Halal policies: legitimacy, representation: control of the reach of halal within community representation strategies implemented by Islamic institutions regarding the organization of local halal markets in ordinary or festive situations (Eid Al Adha).

Consumption and collective mobilization: theoretical and methodological contributions that do not directly look at halal quality but might elicit insights on the mechanisms of its attractiveness, mobilization patterns, etc.

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