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A “Lucan Effect” in the Commitment of Iranian Converts in Transit. The case of the Pentecostal Iranian Enclave in Istanbul

L’effet “Saint Luc” dans l’engagement des convertis iraniens en transit. Le cas de l’enclave pentecôtiste iranienne à Istanbul
Johan Leman
p. 101-114


Les conversions ne sont pas des exceptions parmi les migrants en transit vers l'Occident. Les églises chrétiennes, et surtout les églises pentecôtistes agissent comme des enclaves, y compris dans des pays islamiques. Elles offrent une protection et des perspectives pour le futur, en bref : de l'espoir. Le nouvel arrivant va vers une re-naissance. Fondamentalement, le migrant en transit et la communauté religieuse ont en commun  leur regard transnational. Le converti découvre une nouvelle continuité entre le passé, le présent et le futur. Plus il participe de façon intensive à la vie de son enclave chrétienne, plus il s'approche de son objectif initial (la migration vers l'Occident). Il s'agit d'un paradoxe que l’on trouve illustré dans une parabole de Luc 19 : 17. Une telle référence à une parabole dans un article scientifique demande bien sûr une explication rationnelle basée sur du matériel concret.

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Enclaves of “interaction” and “incorporation”

«We are in a difficult situation. We feel trapped, but we still have hope. That is an important word: hope!» (an Iranian Pentecostal in Istanbul)
«Because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities» (Luke 19:17).

1Although the group of transit migrants which is the focus of this paper is quite limited, the reader will note that their story is closely connected to two findings from the literature: first, that Christian churches or Christian NGOs (Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and others) are quite emphatically present in the reception of transit migrants, even in Islamic countries (see e.g., Pliez, 2005), and, second, that fundamentalist-inspired (i.e. strongly devoted to fundamentals) Christian religious communities are highly successful in recruiting these migrants who, temporarily or definitively, lead a marginalised existence. This can involve a transit situation (see inter alia Köser Akçapar´s contribution in this issue, and Köser Akçapar, 2005) or a life as an undocumented person in a country of destination (see, for example, Okechukwu Onah et al., 2005), or a life of temporary family deracination during the first years of a normal migration (see e.g. Dericquebourg, 1977; Leman, 1979). All this can bring the individuals involved to the point of despair and/or cause them to lose self-respect.

2In Sebnem Köser Akçapar, we read that in Turkey a number of Christian faith communities (along with Baha´ism) are involved in receiving Iranians in transit. The traditional Christian churches simply offer aid. Whether intended or not, it would appear that Pentecostalism derives somewhat more actual membership from this activity. For the reception of refugees in Cairo, Olivier Pliez also went on site to the Christian churches, and he made the interesting comment that «the refugees and migrants and the churches help each other in the extension of their own territories» (Pliez, 2005: 81). This is worth elaborating upon and is the subject of my paper.

3What interests us is what those people experience. How do they transform their geographic and physical crossing of boundaries into a mental crossing of boundaries in communication with Pentecostalism? How is the complex social marginalisation (liminality) with which these people have to struggle purged and spiritualised at the place of worship and ultimately in the baptism ritual? Conversion is a key-word in such a community. Conversion, however, is «a process of change over time, generally exhibiting a sequence of processes» (Rambo, 1993: 16). In their case, the process is, at the same time, part of the intermediary structure of their migration (Van Amersfoort, 1998). We study this process only indirectly as one component within the intermediary structuring, and focus on the dynamics of their conversion.

4On the supply side, there is Pentecostalism, like other Christian religious communities, focused on “fundamentals”, that is, in the concrete, a fundamental truth, an unconditional belief, a fundamental commitment, salvation, and strong internal social control. Emphasis is placed on access rituals to adulthood and meticulous criteria for the organisation. These are the descriptions one finds in the sociology of religion, mutatis mutandis, in virtually all of the classic authors who report on this type of movement (Troeltsch, 1912; Wach, 1948; Niebuhr, 1967). On the demand side, there are people who are undergoing a temporary (or more definitive) familial and social deracination, and/or people who are residing illegally and thus experiencing a situation of social anomie.

5In the case of the transit migrants from the Iranian Gedikpasha Pentecostal Church of Istanbul all of these characteristics can be found. They find themselves in a “context” and in a “crisis”, i.e. stages 1 and 2 of the 7-step Sequential Stages Model developed by Rambo (1993). In Istanbul, they find a Christian enclave of “interaction” (stage 5), in which Rambo also places “incorporation” and “encapsulation”. The faith community represents an incorporation, where the official structures have abdicated. The fact that the faith community is part of a religious organisation which is essentially transnational, will produce an effect in the “consequences” (stage 7) of the conversion: the conversion makes their further migration to the West easier. Has this thought played a part from the beginning for the conversion candidates? That is not improbable. But the process is too complex to reduce its totality to such a functionalist logic.

A matrix of “encapsulation”, leading towards “commitment”

6In May 2004, I was able to visit, together with Sebnem Köser Akçapar, several Iranian transit migrants at home in Istanbul and Ankara, including a number of Pentecostal converts. In Istanbul, they were also visited at their place of worship, where over sixty members attend services with great regularity (up to three to four times a week). That sort of regularity recalls what I was once able to study among the Sicilian Jehovah´s Witnesses in the 1970´s and 80´s in Brussels (Leman, 1979, 1998) and today among the socially-marginalised African Pentecostals in Brussels. Among the Iranian Pentecostals, singing plays a major role in their celebrations, even indoors, much more so even than among the Jehovah´s Witnesses, for whom the word and the long homilies set the tone. However, we are focusing on Istanbul. In addition to the meetings within the context of worship, the people meet one another in their homes. People pass their apartments and their jobs along to others when they leave the city for good. Whoever wishes to do so can quickly develop into someone with a responsible position in the place of worship. One assumes responsibility for receiving the children, another for supervising young people, another participates in a theatre group or choir, and so on. One finds a place for oneself as a person in the community, and in exchange receives appreciation and develops self-respect. For the anthropologist, this is a momentary picture. At his first contact, he encounters a community in which “interaction” and “commitment” are very important. Ritually speaking, the “commitment” eventually leads to adult conversion.

7Yet there also appear to be several major differences with the Brussels' Jehovah´s Witnesses. Neither from the briefing by the researcher nor from what I could personally determine on site did it appear among the Iranian Pentecostals that the kinship ideology plays any major role during the service itself, although the participation in the service is celebrated with the whole family. Everyone commits himself as an individual and on an egalitarian basis. The traditional family gender division does not appear to apply among the Iranian Pentecostals. Fundamentalist movements do not all fit the same pattern. Their “grammars” (Leman, 1999) can differ. Rambo mentions of a “matrix of change” (1993: 167), «in which crucial elements of conversion operate. These processes employ four components: relationships, rituals, rhetoric, and roles» (Rambo, 1993: 103). In our case, specific “rituals” and “rhetoric” seem to be the most important components of the matrix.

8Central themes during the meetings are suffering and salvation. In this, Pentecostalism corresponds fully to the ideas that Max Weber and Clifford Geertz felt needed to be emphasised on the relationship between belief and suffering, as well as to Emile Durkheim’s comment that the first article of every faith consists precisely in the confidence that salvation comes through faith. Pentecostalism appears to correspond perfectly to the ideas that the earlier sociologists and anthropologists of religion held about religion. In terms of the literature on conversion, Pentecostalism is a religion which is a “catalyst” for the “experiences of illness and healing” that people encounter during a crisis (Rambo, 1993: 48).

9The songs constantly deal with salvation and even the theatre sketches performed by young people after the service tell over and over again about miracles and miraculous cures that one knows about from Iran and that led to conversion. Some converts, who are understood to have been saved by a miracle, are in turn believed to be able to cure others among their “brothers and sisters” in Istanbul.

Social liminality and the power of conversion

10In a certain sense, the notion of liminality can be invoked to most adequately interpret the social situation in which the Iranian transit migrants find themselves in Istanbul (or Ankara). This is a notion that, for example, is also invoked in order to explain the situation of undocumented migrants, as in a recent article dealing with undocumented Igbo migrants after their migration to Europe (Okechukwu Onah et al., 2005). What should be understood by liminality can be found in Victor Turner (1974) who sees in liminality a transitional phase in a complex ritual, whereby individuals with a specific social status (A) change over to another, entirely different status (B). First, they are removed from Status A (separation), arrive in a situation of liminality (marginalisation) in order then to be ultimately again aggregated in a new Situation B. According to Victor Turner, the participant in the ritual in the transitional phase is a human being who is «neither here nor there, betwixt and between all fixed points of classification; he passes through a symbolic domain that has few or none of the attributes of his past or coming state» (Turner, 1974: 232-3). One can, with this model from the anthropology of religion in mind, see the undocumented Igbo migrants – or in our case the Iranian transit migrants – as people who have left Iran (separation) in order to arrive in a state of marginality in Istanbul (liminality) from which they are delivered (re-aggregation) via a ritualistic-sacred enclave (Pentecostalism) in the first instance within the community in Istanbul itself and then possibly definitively in another country of destination (the USA, Canada, etc.). Referring to Csordas (1997), Maria Pia Di Bella points to the fact that «language, ritual, and liminality are important elements in the study of conversion» (2003: 90). However, authors who invoke the notion of liminality (e.g. Di Bella, 2003), must remain aware that Turner situated liminality within the ritual environment itself, while in the migration it remains localised outside the ritual, namely in society.

11It seems to me that, although the Turnerian model can provide inspiration in a discussion of the Iranian converts, it is too exhaustively “ritualistic” to explain the complexity of the processes the Iranian transit migrants undergo in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey. Rather than fall back on a handy ritualistic explanatory model in order to periodise the society-ritual relationship, it appears more useful to analyse the reality of the complex conversion process itself in its different successive phases.

12Participant observation and in-depth conversations with the parties involved indicate that what these people go through in their conversion in a condensed way, whether it takes place in Iran or in Turkey, is a metaphor for what is taking place in their lives. They leave behind a lifestyle A (the Islamic) for a lifestyle B (modernity, westernisation), but with maintenance of emblems and symbols on the level of language and physical expression. This is a movement that they actually already commenced themselves in Iran, even if for many their explicit conversion only takes place in Istanbul.

13The faith community offers them “bridging social capital”, which becomes all the more important to the extent that other forms of capital are lacking. This is the first step towards releasing them from their despair as it evolves into hope to the extent that this social capital not only provides “bridging” but also invests originally negative material realities with a positive significance (i.e. it transforms them). In several cases, new worldly horizons are even opened up. A poor home that per se has nothing attractive about it is very positively interpreted from the enclave: because several families have already been able to depart from there for the West. The message “Jesus saves” becomes visible in a chair or in household amenities private at home, because these objects can be associated with someone who has now resides in the West. In this way, many things which are in themselves unattractive or neutral take on a new, positive meaning.

Conversion in a transnational perspective

14In the shabby little apartments where the Iranian transit migrants stay, the few photographs that already refer to the West strike the eye. Acquaintances who once stayed in the enclave and now reside in the West have sent a photograph showing themselves standing in front of a shopping centre or in a busy shopping street. Such pictures alternate with Christian symbols. But the past, Iran, also remains present at the table during meals. And there is the present: where one must secure a small income in order to maintain oneself and one’s family.

15To the extent that one talks about Turkey, it is to emphasise that, although this country allows them to live, it is not really a Western country. This is especially highlighted when situations of exploitation in employment are described but actually much less when the actions of the police are discussed. In fact, there are relatively few complaints about police actions in Turkey.

16It is of course characteristic for conversion religions that they also invest in new memory fields (see Dumont for the Jehovah´s Witnesses, 2003). Some things from the past must be forgotten, above all things which might have positive associations with Islam. Islam is spoken of only negatively. The positive memories from the past are related to the current, new situation of conversion. For the people who were already Christians in Iran or who were already on the path to becoming Christians there, Iran is the place of the miracle cures which, generally through the agency of a Pentecostal prayer leader, led to conversion.

«There were two miracles which made me believe in Jesus. The first one is about my son. My eldest son was very sick when he was a baby. Doctors said they could not do anything. I tried everything but in vain. One day I learned about the church and Jesus Christ. I prayed to Jesus that he heal my son and he did. I became a believer after that.» (An Iranian woman who converted in Iran)

17Looking back at Iran, this country today is for them pre-eminently the site of several Christian “fundamentals” (the cure, the miracle, “Jesus saves”, etc.) and of the first call to submission to the new faith. No references to the political situation in Iran are ever made during a service or in public. (Does a well-founded fear of the Iranian secret police play a role here?) In the personal stories at home, however, this subject does come up in terms of abuses, social injustice, what they call the hypocrisy of Islamic religious officials.

18For those who convert in Istanbul, Iran is actually spoken of just as much in their conversion. One can note that this has to do with the fact that this fits within a strategy where conversion is helpful for the migration, but this phenomenon can be seen just as frequently among people who have understood perfectly well that it makes no sense to present this story to the UNHCR officials. For them, too, it appears as if God had a plan for them already in Iran, one that is only now being revealed in Istanbul.

«Some friends told me that I had to lie in order to become accepted as a refugee…. They suggested I should tell the officials at the UNHCR that I became Christian…. Every thing was a lie of course. Two weeks later, the UNHCR officials called me. They recognized the fraudulent document and closed my case and never helped me again. I am now a real Christian.»(an Iranian who converted in Turkey)

19For these people, conversion – whether it takes place in Iran or in Istanbul and whether it will lead them to the West or not – appears to provide a benefit. Referring to a publication of Altemeyer et al. (1997), Décobert finds that

«Le gain du converti est tangible : il parle de sécurité, de protection. Le changement de la conversion est que désormais Dieu le protège, le protègera jusque dans l´au-delà: le groupement dans lequel il est entré le protège, avec ses frontières, ses certitudes.… Rétroactivement, le temps d´avant la conversion est considéré comme celui de l´insécurité, de l´état de faiblesse, de fragilité» (Décobert, 2001: 70).

20According to Décobert, converts see the inability to control their emotions (comparable to certain stories of Iranians who converted in Iran, although there the emotions were expressed in physical syndromes) or the state of total insecurity as their earlier fragility.

21Nevertheless, some of those who converted in Iran have their doubts about the ´new´ conversions that take place in Turkey. Thus it is not true that everything always runs smoothly or that no criticisms are thought or expressed within the small congregation.

«There are other Iranians that converted in Turkey. But I converted back in Iran. They say that they become Christians only to get help. I don´t think they really feel Jesus in their hearts. If you want to do something, you can do it anywhere, even in Iran, even under oppression. But these refugees convert in order not to be deported.» (an Iranian who already converted in Iran)

22But even if dubious cases do undoubtedly exist, it still very much looks as though many of the conversions taking place in Turkey, seen from an “emic” perspective, are credible.

«It was my decision to become a Christian. I think it was good for us to come to Turkey. We had no connection whatsoever with God. Now we are believers.» (an Iranian who converted in Turkey)

«I was a Shiite before but I was not doing much for Islam. I was a Muslim because I was born into a Muslim family. It was not my decision to become a Muslim. But it was my decision to become a Christian.»(an Iranian who converted in Turkey)

«I was not a believer at first. But now I do… and I feel better.»(an Iranian who converted in Turkey)

23Reinterpretation will certainly be playing a role, an updating of earlier memories, but if one accepts the creation of a new memory field for people who converted in Iran, can´t this also be perfectly well defended for people who converted in Turkey? Not only people who have been baptised, also those who have not yet been baptised but who visit the community very frequently, gradually grow into regular visitors and carriers of a community life that demands more and more commitment from them.

Sensorial (dis)continuity

24Apart from the language – Farsi is spoken – other typically Iranian emblems and symbols appear to have been repressed. This is an enclave for the “born again”. At the place of worship there are no references to Islam. Nor are there references to Persepolis and Persian antiquity or to classical Iranian music, which remain so emphatically present among Iranians from earlier migrations (Bafekr et al., 1999). The songs during the service, the instrumental accompaniment, and the entire framework, except for the language, appear today in Istanbul to have nothing Iranian about them any more.

25And yet – sometimes it still appears that several clearly Shiite Islamic traits can be found in the prayer atmosphere: a great deal of bodily movement while praying and singing and a certain religious euphoria. At the same time, however, this also seems very Pentecostal. The melody of the songs is that of Pentecostalism as we know it from the USA. This is not insignificant in an Iranian community where musicality is traditionally a carrier of nostalgia for the motherland.

26Caron et al. (1996) pointed out the importance of Iranian music in the life of Iranian migrants in order to maintain and celebrate the tie with the motherland. They speak of a sad type of music, full of melancholy, a music that must be more played then listened to and that sketches the inner condition of a human being and carries the Iranian listener back to his roots, reunites him to his earliest childhood experiences. Listening to the music that they experience as “their own” stimulates, according to these authors, a nostalgic pining for the motherland, and this musicality is the ideal means for invoking Iran in a foreign country.

27The music that can be both sung and listened to during the services is at first hearing clearly of a different type: Christianity stands for the West, and nowhere is the West so Western as in the USA. The songs and the melodies seem not really to refer to Iran but to the “mythic” America (which stands for Modernity, the West, Christendom). Or are things even more complex?

28The language is Farsi, language of origin. The musicality is predominantly “American”, but the musical framework nevertheless also includes quite a few nostalgic melodies that seem to be more Iranian. The importance that is attached to the song, the music, as well as to bodily movement during the rituals is both Iranian and Pentecostal. Within the ritualistic space, the two worlds are united. One is simultaneously in Iran and in the West. One is where one really wants to be: at home.

29Memories live on not only in the mind (“inscriptive memory”) but also in the body (“bodily social memory”, “embodied memory”). The process is so profound that one can speak of “bodily processes of remembering” (Connerton, 1989). Above all rituals and the sensorial are anchoring points for remembering, certainly when the rituals are the same as those ones earlier practiced since childhood. Participating in rituals that are not entirely discontinuous with the past can guarantee a certain continuity with the person one really is. From this perspective, the Pentecostal rituals in the life of Shiite Muslims in transit, crossing boundaries both geographic and in their minds, are especially interesting.

30There are still several other points of recognition with the earlier “self”: some rules of conduct remain the same or are even more consciously (in their eyes: less hypocritically) experienced: the prohibition of smoking, the prohibition of drinking alcohol. But at the same time, before the baptism ritual is performed, the frequent visiting of the Pentecostal enclave prepares for a “born again” experience: the gender role division is completely revised. The man assumes greater domestic responsibility; the woman is more active outdoors, above all in her witnessing mission. Both partners experience this as liberating.

31Islam does not have a word for conversion. Islamic life is, traditionally speaking (and that is what matters in e.g. Iran), both a model of society ánd the only true concept of being a full human being. This identification of religion and society is much less relevant for the transit migrants after their conversion to Christianity, so that there is still room for elements of their former society and culture, not belonging to the life codified by Islamic law, but being of a more sensorial, less indoctrinable nature. So this is where the continuity with the former Iranian culture should be situated.

An enclave of hope and “truth” in a time of crisis

32The movement in which the Iranian Pentecostals in Istanbul are re-socialised leads them away from a past of suffering, after an event possibly experienced as a miracle, to a future of safety and self-development in the West. In the meantime, the congregation is their enclave of salvation. The congregation, the local church, helps the transit migrant to bear the situation of provisionality in self-respect. It is an enclave of hope (in the sense of the word hope as in “Cape of Good Hope”: the place where one is past the dangerous zone of storms, where one is safe at last). An analysis of the components of the hope within this enclave allows us to see several dimensions that give hope.

33Earlier, we already saw why the Christian enclave can be a source of hope for the participants: departing in despair, the participants arrive in a situation of bridging social capital, where negative experiences from the past are taken care of and can even be avoided through «personal connections and interpersonal interaction». This can go hand in hand with «shared sets of values that are associated with these contacts» (Field, 2003: 13), and, from “bridging”, this social capital can even become “bonding”, meaning that a tie like that between neighbours and relatives can develop (Woolcock, 2001: 13-14).

«When we come together in this church and discuss our problems, it helps sometimes. We consult and we encourage each other. We know it is not true when friends say ´Don´t worry, you will go West´, and although we know that every nice word is a lie, we find consolation.» (An Iranian who converted in Turkey)

«The Church helps us financially as well as psychologically. There is a Sunday school children can attend.» (An Iranian who converted in Turkey)

34We also saw another reason: the spiritualisation (or transformation) of ostensibly negative and neutral experiences into positive signals for a later life after this life, but also – and that is a third reason – for a later life already here on earth.

35One can also elucidate the concrete elaboration of this social capital in Istanbul from a broader perspective, i.e. from the globalisation under way on a planetary scale, with its dimensions of transnationalism and its predilection for “local truth” (and/or search for “fundamentals”). The enclave in which the local truth is ritualistically celebrated, i.e. the “encapsulation” (Rambo, 1993), can, from its own substantive and organisational dynamic, modulate the social capital and orient the migrant very strongly in his social life choices (Leman, 1999).

36For the internal substantive dynamic that religions convey to their members, we refer to what Clifford Geertz convincingly demonstrated long ago. Religions can teach the human being how to deal constructively with his suffering (in this case his marginalisation, his lack of positive self-image). And once the authority of a religion is accepted, this acceptance can thoroughly transform the human experience or at least bring positive chronicity into the perception and experience of reality (Geertz, 1973, originally published in 1966). However, such religious transformations need to be fed.

Transnationalism feeds the hope

37The salvation in Istanbul comes from “a Saviour”, Jesus, and - despite the doubt appearing from some citations - to some people salvation is totally fulfilled thanks to his disciples in the West who will take their co-religionists from their transit situation and receive them in the West. Not only within the enclave and later in Paradise but far away in the West there is already a place on earth that opens up new prospects. Transit migrants may doubt, but nevertheless they hope.

38Woolcock speaks about a connection-bringing social capital whereby people who live in unequal situations are united with one another in a network and thus whereby resources can be used that come from outside one´s own local network (“linking social capital”). The most important linking social capital for the Pentecostal enclave of Istanbul lies outside its own community, «those who are entirely outside the community, thus enabling members to leverage a far wider range of resources than are available within the community» (Woolcock, 2001: 13-14). This reality extends as far as the USA, Canada, and Australia.

39In this sense, their religion becomes an efficient «structural intermediary link» (Van Amersfoort, 1998) in the migration process for those who may have converted for whatever reason. Still, one cannot say that this is a priority within the enclave as if this enclave saw its transnational activities in the sense of «occupations and activities that require regular and sustained contacts over time and across national boundaries» (Portes et al., 1999; see also Basch et al., 1994) as its absolute priority because that is not what it does.

40For the participants in the worship, one cannot really say that the absolute “local truth” (Robertson, 1993: 164-181) is not the basis of their community life. However, the fundamentals in which the Iranian Pentecostal migrants appear to be quite existentially investing offer those involved a non-negligible “linking” capital, and they realise that. After Turkey even more can be in store for them in the form of opportunities in various cities, in the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden or elsewhere. But this by no means stands in the way of the spiritualisation of their world view. On the contrary. That the pastor in the faith community is an Iranian who has been trained at Elam College, the Persian language Bible school near London, may support the transnational dimension.

The spiritual and geographical transit

41Let us apply the capacity of reality transformation that Clifford Geertz attributes to religions to a salvation religion such as Pentecostalism. In Istanbul, we see mutual aid in a situation of scarcity, shabby objects that become signifiers of a success story and, through a religious transformation, quasi-naturally produce something unexpectedly magnificent. This takes place in a series of steps: from trust it goes through commitment and truth to hope and energy. A human being who, as a migrant, is marginalised and separated allows his social capital, no matter how small, to yield a profit via the just-sketched series of steps and will ultimately be rewarded. One can call this a “Lucan effect”.

42In the parable of Luke, a nobleman, before departing on a journey, entrusted several pounds to his servants. As he himself notes, in each case it involves something very little. But to the servant who, during his absence, did something positive with it, the master says after his return: «Because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities» (Luke 19:17). It's only a parable, of course, but its rational is interesting as a metaphor for the “linking” (transnational) dimension in the transit situation and the logic of a faith community as structural and – at the same time – operational intermediary structure in an irregular migration process . He who displays intense commitment in the faith community in Istanbul, even if it essentially involved very small things, will be rewarded by being able to depart to cities other than Istanbul in the West. One may call it a spiritual and geographic “crossing boundaries”.

43For the thoroughness of the change, a clear ritual is reserved at a certain moment in the cultural perception of the participants. In the practice of everyday life, the conversion, being “born again” admittedly takes place much more complexly, among other things via a pitched battle to work free of the liminality of social life, but in the baptism ritual the transition takes place more briefly, more clearly, and being “born again” is summarised in its essence. The long period of social liminality is left behind in the ritual. The old philosophy of life is forsworn, and one publicly expresses acceptance of Jesus as “Saviour and Lord”, is submerged in the water, and emerges from it draped in a white sheet and surrounded by fellow members of the community. The enormous, de facto – and essentially: painful – social discontinuity between the social context of origin and that of destination, which is gradually bridged in the religious enclave, is now definitively sealed in one brief ritual. This can take place in Istanbul but actually may also, and not rarely, take place in the ultimate country of destination, certainly for those who converted in Turkey.


44Given that both the transit migrant and the religious community are fundamentally transnationally oriented, the convert sees a new continuity emerge in his life between the past, the present, and the future. The more intensely he participates in life within the Christian enclave, the more he approaches his initial objective (i.e. migration to the West). However, one does violence to the experience of the people and the dynamics of the faith communities if one presents this transnationalism, which is inherent both to the project of the transit migrant and to that of the religious enclave, without reciprocal articulation and without processes of gradually growing towards one another, as the sole reason why migrant and faith community find one another. From the conversations and observations it appears that the subject and the religious community initially find each other because the migrant discovers support in the enclave that offers bridging and bonding interactions. That transnationalism also comes up rather quickly on both sides does not contradict this.

45In his study of conversion, as mentioned, Rambo (1993) has pointed out seven stages. In the case of the converted Iranian transit migrants, we found five stages in particular (context, crisis, interaction, commitment and consequences). Less attention has been paid to stages 3 (quest) and 4 (encounter) because they have indeed proven to be less important. It is the enclave of interaction which gives to their life, whether or not following incidental contact, a definite turn. The interaction leads to emotional ties with the group around symbols and rituals that introduce the identification with a new way of life. The increasing commitment then establishes the transformation of the self-image and lies at the basis of an “embodied knowledge” that is further maintained in the rituals, with baptism as the definitive transition to a new future. The migration to the West then becomes the ultimate consequence, which one can admittedly already have in mind during the “quest” phase and the first “encounter” (in Rambo´s terms) but which in any event remains for a period in the background in the phase of “interaction” and “commitment” within the Christian enclave. The “crossing boundaries” in the baptism and in the migration from Turkey to the West is a prospect that seems to shine brightly at the beginning, then temporarily dims during the articulating conversion process, and finally grows much brighter again over time.

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Johan Leman, « A “Lucan Effect” in the Commitment of Iranian Converts in Transit. The case of the Pentecostal Iranian Enclave in Istanbul », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 119-120 | novembre 2007, mis en ligne le 02 mars 2012, consulté le 27 mai 2017. URL :

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Johan Leman

Social and cultural anthropology, Social Sciences, K.U. Leuven (Belgium).

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