Ethnicity, Religion, and Multiethnic Cultures
Saint Leo University
There are many factors that we use to define ourselves. Ethnicity is the most complicated factor that we use to identify who we are because it involves many aspects of our lives that can be common across many other areas including religion, national origin, language, and race. In the academic world, there is a conflict about the theoretical meaning of ethnicity across these specific areas. The American idea of ethnicity involves minorities and their relation to the greater nation-state, while the European tradition leans more toward nationalism with regard to decent and geographic location, yet they both have centralization on race in the more modern contexts (Malesevic, p. 1). A well rounded summation of the various definitions for ethnicity, more specifically an ethnic group, would sound something like: a group of people within a certain cultural or geographic region who identify themselves by common aspects of culture that are different from others that they come into contact with and that are identifiable through observation, such as race, religion, and language, or are discoverable, such as descent or national origin, with the purpose of group cohesion and social recognition (Zelinsky, pp. 1-5). While examining the factors that define ethnicity, we can identify two distinct factors that can cross ethnic boundaries, yet are used as specific identifiers when ethnic groups define themselves; religion and geographic origin. The idea of religion as an identifier can become confusing because people from different ethnic groups can share a common religion, but not a common ancestry, language, or geographic location and are therefore, ethnically different. The same can be said for people of a common geographic location. For example, in Iraq, the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds share a common geographic location, language, and nationality, but have different religious beliefs and are segregated into different ethnic groupings. The general idea seems to stem from the preferences of the specific group as to which factors they wish to use to identify themselves. Americans generally categorize by race, Europeans by ancestry, and Arabic peoples by geographic location; however, they all include an aspect of religious identification. This seems to be a major factor for multiethnic cohesion and for ethnic conflict. If we can understand why the factor of religion plays such an instrumental role in ethnic identification, we can get a better understanding about how multiethnic societies work and how through tolerance and understanding they can thrive. This can be understood by examining the conflicts that occur and how they are remedied. Ethnic Identity and Religion: Individual Identity
Think about what it would be like to move to a distant land. You can only bring a few things with you, so you must learn to live off of the resources available in the new location which are distinct to that culture and environment. You assimilate to many of the social mores, conform to the customs, and participate in the daily routines of your new life. But what is the one thing that you can bring with you that requires little assimilation, holds a significant bearing on your traditions, and will allow for you to find a common ground to stand on with a segment of the new population that you have just joined? Religion is the basis of most societies around the world. Even in a society such as America where freedom of religion is protected by not only allowing for free practice, but by guaranteeing that the national government does not define a national religion, our morals, customs and laws are all based on a Judeo-Christian set of values. Though many countries around the world do not allow for free practice of many religions, it is the one thing you will always carry with you, that cannot be taken from you, that defines you as an individual, and allows for you to...
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