A Review of the Literature on “Ethnicity” and “National Identity” and Related Missiological Studies

Topics: Nation, Nationalism, Ethnic group Pages: 64 (20056 words) Published: May 12, 2013
A review of the literature on “ethnicity” and “national identity” and related missiological studies

Enoch Wan and Mark Vanderwerf

Published in www.GlobalMissiology.org  “Featured Articles” April, 2009

I. Introduction

In this study, the review the literature will focus on publications on the theoretical background of “ethnicity” and “national identity” and related missiological studies.

II. A Review of the Literature on “ethnicity” and “national identity”

Professor Adrian Hastings' comments are especially relevant for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ethnicity, nation, nationalism and religion are four distinct and determinative elements within European and world history. Not one of these can be safely marginalized by either the historian or the politician concerned to understand the shaping of modern society. These four are, moreover, so intimately linked that it is impossible, I would maintain, to write the history of any of them at all adequately without at least a fair amount of discussion of the other three.[1]

A clear definition of the key-terms is important because authors use them in different ways. In this section we shall review the literature on these background concepts and then examine the literature on related topics.


The most common approach in the literature is to begin with ethnic groups and see ethnicity as emerging from one's relationship to a particular ethnic group. The respected Canadian scholar Wsevolod Isajiw argues for this approach, First of all, the meaning of the concept of ethnicity depends on the meaning of several other concepts, particularly those of ethnic group and ethnic identity. The concept of ethnic group is the most basic, from which the others are derivative.[2]

We find this approach problematic, since beginning with the ethnic group itself opens the door to reifying that ethnic group and turning an abstract concept into an objective entity with the power to act collectively. This pushes the researcher, often unconsciously, toward a primordialist understanding of ethnicity. It is more helpful, we believe, to begin with ethnicity itself, viewing it as a sense of solidarity shared between people (usually related through real or fictive kinship) who see themselves as distinct and different from others.[3] The plan is to begin with “ethnicity,” then onto “ethnic identity,” then to “ethnic community.” In adopting this approach and seeing "ethnicity is essentially an aspect of a relationship, not the property of a group,"[4] yet recognizing the foundational role of kinship, we are following what John Comaroff has described as a new consensus that seems to be emerging in the study of ethnicity -- a position that "tempers primordialism with a careful measure of constructionism."[5]

A. Defining ethnicity

In our review of the literature, the best overview of the history and meaning of the concept of “ethnicity” and the related term “race” was in Cornell and Hartmann's book Ethnicity and Race.[6] The term “ethnicity” itself is relatively recent.[7] Prior to the 1970s there was little mention of it in anthropological literature and textbooks contained no definitions of the term.[8] Before World War II, the term "tribe" was the term of choice for "pre-modern" societies and "race" for modern societies.[9] Due to the close link between the term "race" and Nazi ideology, the term "ethnicity" gradually replaced "race" within both the Anglo-American tradition and the European tradition.[10] Discussion of ethnicity is complicated by the variety of related terms used to designate similar phenomena, such as race, tribe, nation and minority group.[11] Some scholars use these terms interchangeably while others treat them as unrelated concepts. The term “ethnicity” is used in many ways. Siniša Malešević comments on the "slippery nature of ethnic relations and the inherent...
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