Dissertation Abstracts

Twelver Shias of New York: Ethnicity and Religiosity in a Minority Community

Author: Abbas Aghdassi, aghdassi@um.ac.ir
Department: American Studies
University: Tehran, Iran
Supervisor: Prof. Mohammad Marandi
Year of completion: 2017
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Twelver Shia , Ethnicity , Ethnography , New York City
Areas of Research: Religion , Community Research , Migration


Academic literature on Shii minorities in the US is scantly available. Many Shii Muslims are of immigrant backgrounds and follow ethnic groupings. At the same time, identification with Shii Islam expresses a clear religious identity. Of note is to examine how ethnicity and religiosity interact to form a Shii identity in a minority status. The current study, based on ten months of fieldwork observations (Mar-Dec, 2015) focused on Twelver groups of New York City, particularly African American converts and Khoja immigrants. Following Maanen’s confessional ethnography besides informal interviews, this work suggested a model of I-Thous, in which an (immigrant) I otherizes Thous into three categories of Others: a) superior (members of the host community); b) equal (Shias of the same ethnicity); and c) inferior (co-religionists of other ethnicities). The model showed how practicing ethnicity put religiosity in a second position to form an ethnic religiosity. While many immigrant followers of ethnic religiosity tried to protect their identity by assuming their version of Shii Islam as the most orthodox, I argued that cultural linings ultimately out-casted other co-religionists (particularly African Americans). Being out-casted and marginalized in many communal decisions might force non-immigrant Shii members back to their practices of origins.