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Abstract

This dissertation examines the developmental identity trajectories of second-generation Muslim American women (MAW). Specifically, it answers if, how, and why young MAW’s experiences and identity development processes differ from their peer groups, placing these questions within the socio-cultural context of post-9/11 and Trump-era political rhetoric. It examines the population within the three age brackets of adolescence, emerging adulthood, and adulthood with the focus being on the former two groups. Through semi-structured qualitative interviews and brief demographic questionnaires, the 68 participants helped create a larger cross-sectional experiential image of MAW. To focus this image, I analyzed the data using ecological terms of vulnerability: risks, coping mechanisms, protective factors, and emergent identities. The findings support the hypothesis that MAW’s identity trajectories do indeed differ from their peers’ due to specific vulnerabilities they face as a result of being at the epicenter of the three identities of Muslim, American, and woman; these identity challenges are most conflicted during adolescence. While certain risks become less threatening to the individual’s identity during emerging adulthood, when risks do present, they intrude on lives in serious, traumatic ways. Furthermore, the responses of the adult cohort also supported the secondary hypothesis that 9/11 and the subsequent Islamophobic rhetoric did not imprint on identity formation as strongly on adults as the other two age cohorts because their emergent identities had already been established by 2001 (i.e., 9/11). Even though from their teens to their thirties MAW seem to be caught in a pressurized psychological maelstrom, they are actually dynamic innovators at the forefront of a new American sub-culture. MAW are not struggling passively and unarmed against multiple socio-cultural norms; rather, their choices regarding education, career, and family life are birthing a specifically American Islam.

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