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Columbia Presents First-Ever Study on Muslim Political, Social, Religious Identity in NYC


New York City's large Muslim population has increasingly attached more importance to their religious rather than ethnic identity since 9/11, according to one of 14 studies on the Muslim New York community being presented at a two-day conference, October 4-5, at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). More than a dozen scholars from the fields of anthropology, media studies, political science, religion, psychology, sociology and social work will discuss the results and implications of their six years of research.

"Numbering an estimated 600,000, Muslims now represent one of the fastest growing religious communities in New York City," said Peter Awn, co-principal investigator and Columbia University dean of the School of General Studies. "We're pleased to be convening some of the best minds at the University and throughout academia to explore the results of this long-term scholarly endeavor."

The conference will present the findings of the studies organized around four major themes: The Politics of Identity, Pre- and Post-9/11; Contesting the Boundaries of Identity; Race, Religion and the Muslim "Other"; and Communal Structures and Civic Incorporation. Taking advantage of the project's interdisciplinary approach toward exploring the many complex issues facing Muslims in New York City, participants are expected to address the implications of some of the following findings:

  • The experience of heightened visibility, insecurity and discrimination following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 has caused many Muslims in New York City to attach greater importance to their religious background and less importance to the ethnic, linguistic and sectarian differences that have historically divided them.
  • The differences in the ways that Islamic texts are translated and interpreted across educational settings has led to alternate understandings and practices of Islam among the Muslim communities in New York City.
  • Muslim youth have become increasingly aware of their ethnic and racial identities, with some defiantly proud of their "racialization" while others feel pressured into "passing," or trying to pass for white, black or Hispanic to blend in and avoid racial harassment.
  • A profound lack of awareness of mental health support services exists in the Muslim community of New York City at all levels. Although Muslims turn to the neighborhood mosque in times of emotional distress, Western techniques of psychotherapy are rarely considered. Training in psychological first aid would enhance the pastoral care offered by the city's imams and diminish the cultural stigma often associated with Western mental health services.

A special highlight of the conference will be a keynote address by Richard Bulliet, professor of history at Columbia University, who will speak on the Muslim diaspora in the West in the context of his recently published book, The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. Peter Awn, Lisa Anderson, Columbia University's SIPA dean, and Reeva Simon, co-principal investigator, also will present opening remarks.

Launched in 1998 with funding from the Ford Foundation, the Muslims in New York City Project, housed in SIPA, is the first major interdisciplinary study conducted on Muslims in a single U.S. city. In the several decades preceding the 9/11 attacks, almost no attention was given to New York City's Muslim population, even though it is one of the fastest-growing and most ethnically diverse religious minorities in the city. The purpose of the Muslims in New York City Project has thus been to support the critical study of how Muslims -- foreign-born and indigenous, observant as well as nonobservant -- negotiate religious identity, construct community and engage individually and collectively in the cultural, civic and political life of New York City.

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Published: Sep 30, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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