Identity is socially constructed, a process that begins at an early age. Child rearing practices at home and school and community socialization begin the process of identity construction (Rogoff, 2003). As the individual constructs his or her own identity, exogenous forces also shape that individual's identity such as reactions to the way a person's appearance. For visible minorities, belonging to closely-knit communities in small groups can greatly enhance the process of identity construction, particularly for minority youth (Bratt, 2015). This remains true throughout the young person's life, including the person's transition from adolescence into young adulthood. Adolescence remains the critical point of identity construction, holding "a special role in virtually all cultures as a time of transition between childhood and adulthood," (Cauce, Cruz, Corona, & Conger n.d., p. 14). Therefore, it makes sense to focus on adolescence and young adulthood when investigating biculturality among Muslim American youth.
Religion and culture are both significant features and factors of identity construction. At times there may be significant nodes of intersection between national, ethnic, and religious identities, leading to multiple and interlinked identity constructions. Gender can also factor in, as can socio-economic or status class differences. For example, South Asian Muslims share a Muslim identity with their Arabian counterparts, but also share a common identity with their Hindu South Asian counterparts (Mohammad-Arif, 2000). Theories of identity formation are often culturally constrained themselves, revealing biases in the way identity itself is conceptualized. For example, as Joshanloo (2013) points out, Western scholarship on identity construction is built on Western values and concepts integral to Western personality theory and worldview. When considering the unique elements of Muslim identity construction, or any other non-Western identity construction, it may be necessary to reconsider issues such as how happiness and other psychological variables are defined (Joshanloo, 2013).
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Identity and culture are both structural elements in sociology and psychology. As structures they are "mutually sustaining cultural schemas and sets of resources that empower and constrain social action and tend to be reproduced by that action," (Sewell, 1992, p. 29).
Biculturalism Theory and Identity Formation
Bicultural identity construction is already complex, even in a pluralistic society that recognizes the range of multicultural identities an individual might have, for Muslims in America, biculturalism theory presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Especially since September 11 and the ways attitudes of non-Muslims in America towards Muslims either in America or abroad, how individuals construct their bicultural identities depends on a number of factors. Bicultural theory suggests that individuals can successfully negotiate their position vis-a-vis the dominant culture, as well as one or another minority cultures, or two minority cultures (Cauce, Cruz, Corona, & Conger n.d). Bicultural theory shows how alternative means of identity construction ranging from religion and class to gender and occupation, can lead to social group cohesion that enhances identity construction for bicultural adolescents.
For Muslims in America, cleaving to their religious heritage and community of origin becomes critical in the face of discrimination (Peek, 2005). Discrimination can, in face become the means by which young adults construct an even firmer foundation as a Muslim in America. When a bicultural identity no longer serves to provide social and psychological sustenance, the individual might find it more fruitful to align with the subculture and adopt a more Muslim identity. The identity development can become oppositional in character after the experience of discrimination. However,….....
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