This study examines in-depth the experiences of a sample of young, mostly second-generation, Muslim Americans both prior to and following the events of September 11, 2001. The research draws on data gathered through participant observation, focus groups, and individual interviews with 127 Muslim university students in New York and Colorado. I use an inductive theoretical model to define and analyze various issues, concepts, and themes that emerged from the personal stories of these Muslim men and women. The goal is to improve social theory regarding religious, ethnic, and gender identity development and identity transformation in response to crises. Further, this research explores the social psychological effects on a minority population of blame and hostility following a human-initiated disaster. It also contributes to our understanding of the social vulnerability and reactions of minority communities to catastrophic events.

Throughout this dissertation, I apply perspectives and ideas derived from the theoretical frameworks of symbolic interactionism and identity theory to explore the ways that these young Muslim Americans developed, understood, asserted, and maintained their personal and social identities. Specifically, I show how minority group consciousness and solidarity may emerge in response to social exclusion; offer a three-stage model of religious identity formation; examine patterns of ethnic selfidentification and the negotiation of ethnic identity; and address the relationship of gender and religion to power and identity.

This research illustrates how identity emerges in social and historical context and demonstrates that its development is variable and evolutionary rather than static. Additionally, I discuss the myriad impacts of September 11 for this particular group and show how such a crisis event can impel certain identities to become more or less central to an individual’s concept of self. I also offer policy options to help communities better prepare for and respond to the social consequences of terrorist attacks and other human-induced disasters.

Ph.D. in Sociology
University of Colorado Boulder

Committee Members

Patricia A. Adler (Co-Chair)
Dennis S. Mileti (Co-Chair)
Janet L. Jacobs
Joyce M. Nielsen
Frederick Mathewson Denny