Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

James Cavendish, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Donileen Loseke, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Aranda, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Saher Selod, Ph.D.


conversion, identity, Muslims, narrative analysis, race, racialization


Working within a social identity theory model, which posits that identities gain or lose salience depending on the situation and the actors, this study brings into focus the identity management of Americans who have converted to Islam. More specifically, this study of American Muslim converts seeks to understand how the authenticity of their religious identities is challenged and affirmed by others and themselves. Thirty-nine in-depth interviews were examined and interpreted using the insights of narrative analysis and racialization theory. The first finding is that although converts may tell a variety of different stories about how and why they converted to Islam, these stories can be collapsed into three formulaic conversion narratives. Further, each narrative serves the same overall purpose of framing their conversion into a credible story that expresses the legitimacy of their Muslim identity. The second finding is that American converts find their authenticity troubled by the apparent incongruence of their racial and religious identities. These converts occupy racial identities not commonly associated with Islam and Muslims, and therefore find their legitimacy challenged by heritage Muslims who themselves are predominantly Arab and South Asian and come from historically Muslim countries and families. Though not the only relevant components, these racial and cultural factors converge to bestow a kind of authenticity to heritage Muslims that converts cannot achieve, though some are able to make inroads through the adoption of Arab-centric styles of Islamic practice. The third and final finding is that converts who do embrace this “Arab conformity” face consequences among the non-Muslim majority, such as challenges to their racial and cultural status as Americans.

Included in

Sociology Commons