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Professor Willy Jansen, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Prof. dr. Willy Jansen is Professor in Gender Studies and director of the interdisciplinary Institute for Gender Studies of the Radboud University in Nijmegen. She was trained as an anthropologist and received her PhD in 1987 on the study Women Without Men. Gender and Marginality in an Algerian Town (1987 Leiden: E.J.Brill).

A main research line deals with the history of women's education in the Middle East, with Jordan as a case study. Another research focuses on Marian pilgrimages and their relation with social inequalities in the modern world. Recently a new research programme was started on Gender, nation and religious diversity in force at European pilgrimage sites. In her presentation she will deal with one aspect of this research.

Abstract Shared Symbols. Marian Pilgrimage, Gender and Competing Identities
In present day Europe, religion is gaining a new meaning in identity politics. In this context, the Virgin Mary functions as a powerful symbol. Whereas in former times the Virgin served as a symbol of Christian and national identity in opposition to Islam, at present certain practices and discourses point at new uses of this symbol to express unity and reconciliation.

Despite continuing secularisation in Europe, pilgrimage to Marian sanctuaries is vital and expanding, with women playing an important role in this religious practice. Moreover, many of these pilgrims are non-Catholics, including Muslims. By analysing the experiences of Muslim pilgrims at Marian sites in Germany, Portugal and Turkey, it is asked which meanings of Mary they share with Christians and to what extent Mary can be seen as a uniting rather than a divisive symbol, in particular for women.