Narrative café in Vienna. Syrian women’s migration stories

Oct 26, 2023

On 7 October 2023, the Third COST Action COREnet Narrative café was held at the Department for Practical Theology at the University of Vienna. This event aimed to listen to the migration stories of nine female refugees from Syria who have been living for at least five years in Vienna and explore the role of religion during their migration process, both during the migration and as a migrant in Austria.

The leader of COREnet Working Group 2, Prof. Regina Polak (University of Vienna, Austria), spent a whole day meeting these nine Muslim refugee women, listening and learning about the dramas and tragedies of their unique experiences on their way to Vienna and discussing, if and how faith, religious practices and belonging to a religious community affected their process of migration and their integration into a new society.

The event was organised with the help of the local NGO “The NEIGHBOURS”, which is an organisation supported by the Vienna government focusing on supporting refugees and migrants in their integration process in Austria. A translator who speaks Arabic, English and German also joined the research group and participated in the event.

During the Narrative Café, the participants shared their personal experiences during their flight and how their faith helped them – or did not help them – to bear the suffering, fear and sometimes even violence on their way to Vienna. They also described how they practice their faith now in Vienna and talked about experiences of discrimination and anti-Muslim racism. It became visible that Vienna offers a lot of possibilities and support to practice their religion in an atmosphere of freedom, including visiting mosques and religious education at public schools, but also means experiencing discrimination in the public sphere by autochthonous people.

According to Regina Polak, “This one-day event offered me a deep insight of how faith can help to face the dangers of migration in an existential way, but also can lead to doubts and rejection of faith. I learned that opening a space for sharing experiences built of trust is something that is very much appreciated by the interview partners, as these women usually make the experience that no one is interested in their stories. This puts a great responsibility on the researcher and asks for responsible ways of interpreting the “material”, which perceives the shared stories not just as “data” but as unique stories of human beings. Giving voice to the experiences of migrants thus is a precious and politically necessary contribution from academia and its research on the role of religion in the context of migration.”      

Currently, COREnet members are developing a methodology of how to interpret the results of the three Narrative Cafés, which will be published in a BRILL-volume on “Religious and Non-religious Narratives on Migration” within the book series “Religion and Transformation in Society” of the University of Vienna.


Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

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