Date of Degree

9-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

Nancy Foner

Committee Members

Richard Alba

Van Tran

Philip Kasinitz

Subject Categories

Migration Studies | Race and Ethnicity | Sociology of Religion

Keywords

Muslim Americans, immigrant assimilation, religious transmission

Abstract

At present, it is estimated that there are 3.45 million Muslims living in the United States, the vast majority of whom are immigrants and the children of immigrants. While religion has typically been found to foster assimilation among immigrant newcomers, Islamophobia is rampant and threatens to challenge this process. This dissertation project intervenes in this empirical puzzle by asking the following research questions: How do we explain the conscious attempt by second generation Muslim parents to foster a distinctly Muslim and American identity among their third-generation children? More specifically, how have the parenting decisions of upper-middle class, second-generation Muslim Americans primed their children for adult life as fully incorporated members of the American mainstream and as devoted members of a religious minority? To answer these questions, I draw on qualitative data collected among upper-middle class second-generation Muslim Americans in suburban Metropolitan Detroit. During the 2016-2018 academic school years, I interviewed 57 second-generation Muslim parents about their school choice in addition to 15 after school activity leaders, teachers, and school administrators. I also conducted ethnographic field work by attending school activities, community fundraisers and banquets, and mosque events and holidays. I found that instead of assimilating entirely after having achieved high levels of socioeconomic success, they worked hard to maintain their minority religious identity and practices even as they moved closer to the American mainstream in contrast to their first-generation parents and peers in a process called strategic assimilation. While they did so, the second-generation Muslim Americans in my study sought, on the one hand, to shed ethnic attachments in line with their subjective sense of assimilation, while, on the other hand, they gave cultural preference to a pan-ethnic, pan-racial, decultured Islam (which they referred to as pure Islam). My data also revealed how second-generation Muslim parents temporarily created a sacred canopy from the religiously particularistic social world of the Islamic schools, mosques, and home (what they termed a “Muslim bubble”) to protect their young children from potentially morally compromising and religiously confusing outside social influences; after carefully creating the bubble, parents then consciously and slowly deflated it to prepare them for life as a member of a minority group in America. Lastly, this project explored the lived experiences of Muslim American parents in the wake of Islamophobia, finding that members of this community simultaneously felt scared for their personal and community’s safety in the face of such hostility but were also empowered to combat it. Overall, this study contributes to the sociology of immigrant assimilation, the intergenerational transmission of religion, and Islamophobia by providing a detailed portrait of what the everyday lives of second-generation Muslim American families look like.

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