Colorado Research in Linguistics -- ISSN 1937-7029
Displaced Islamic Identities: Language, Time and Space in a Post 9/11 America
Thesis Dr. Kira Hall, advisor
This dissertation examines how women in the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the University of Colorado at Boulder respond to the negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims that have proliferated since 9/11. The media’s positioning of Muslim women as “backwards” and “un-American” compels MSA women to construct an extensive discourse of da’wah (outreach to non-Muslims) that repositions Islamic doctrine within the terms of American modernity. While this discourse shows respect for Islamic ritual practices, such as praying five times daily and wearing the hijab, the women construct their use of these practices as an agentive choice informed by study, self-discipline, and conscious reflection. The seven chapters that constitute this dissertation examine the discursive strategies that facilitate this construction of a contemporary Islamic self across multiple discourse domains, including interviews, personal narratives, rehearsed performance, and everyday conversational interaction.
The dissertation is centrally concerned with uncovering the spatial and temporal dimensions that underlie the discursive production of identity. As a sociocultural linguist, I incorporate a range of theoretical perspectives to illuminate the interplay of time, space, and identity, engaging directly with Bakhtin’s (1981) understanding of chronotopes, Benjamin’s (1986) distinction between historical time and messianic time, and Keane’s (2007) exposition of the moral narrative of modernity. I similarly incorporate a range of methods in my analysis of the discourse data that I collected over the course of two and a half years of ethnographic fieldwork. Chapter 2 employs Membership Categorization Analysis to examine how MSA women negotiate a mediatized Muslim-American binary. Chapter 3 focuses on the women’s use of spatial and temporal deixis to illuminate how they situate themselves in response to a media that portrays them as both foreign and anti-modern. Chapter 4 incorporates narrative analysis to shed light on the women’s faith development narratives, which articulate their journey with Islam as evolving from ritualistic obligation to intellectual choice. This methodology is also the basis of Chapter 5, which analyzes the narratives of American women who converted to Islam after 9/11. In contrast to other kinds of religious conversion narratives discussed in the literature, these narratives, which I identify as “reversion” narratives, do not demonstrate a clear break with the past but rather rewrite the past as Muslim, thus aligning with other faith development narratives in emphasizing learning as instrumental to self-progression. Finally, Chapter 6 incorporates linguistic anthropological work on the subject of language ideology to illuminate the social meaning behind the women’s alternating uses of Qur’anic Arabic, contemporary heritage languages, and English. Taken together, these chapters provide on-the-ground examples of how sociocultural linguistics, with its emphasis on interdisciplinary theories and methods, contributes to the larger endeavor of analyzing the place of Islam in contemporary US society.