Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Dr. Anna J. Secor

Abstract

This thesis examines the religious experiences of American-born converts to Islam. The social nature of religion has been long ignored in research on the lives of religious people. A review of research on Muslim identities reveals an emphasis on immigrants, women, and youth in the British context. However, there is little to no research on the unique constituency of converts to Islam and the importance of social aspects of faith for establishing a sustainable and transformative practice of Islam. This research closes this gap through a case study of the religious experiences of American-born converts to Islam.

Through in-depth interviews with converts and community leaders, and sustained engagement with the Cincinnati Muslim community, I examine the extent to which social interaction (understood as both site and process) shapes convert identities and their understanding of religious belief and practice. My research suggests that religion not only occupies a variety of everyday lived spaces for converts, but that Islam can be understood as a way of being in the world. Since understanding of religious belief and practice is multifaceted and diverse, I explore the influence of social interaction and community on converts’ spiritual modalities. I argue that spaces not deemed officially sacred (e.g. places of worship or pilgrimage sites) are just as influential in shaping the religious identities of converts, and help converts develop a religious way of being that is self-transformative and sustainable in the American context.

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