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Mastering Dual Identity

By Paul Chaffee


In Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans’ Shifting Religious Identities (2014), Darren Sherkat writes the following:

Immigrant religion is not merely a sideline. “Real America” is not western European sectarian Protestantism. Real America is defined, produced, and reproduced by waves of diverse immigrant groups assimilating into or accommodating with a dominant Anglo-dominated culture.

Along the way, these waves of immigrants have all confronted the stern requirement, at a personal level, of somehow integrating the cultural home the family came from with life in America. Dual identity, particularly for followers of non-Christian traditions, has always been a difficult task for newcomers here, one that often includes suffering prejudice and violence along the way.

The stories in TIO this month all concern that journey. Certain patterns emerge. Immigrants arriving here invariably find small communities of people who came from the same place, speak the same language, eat familiar food, worship in their own way – in short, a place where they can feel free to be themselves. Out in public newcomers tend to assimilate. Their children and grandchildren, though, tend to be more American, less connected with the country they came from.

Today, an unparalleled racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, ignited by immigration policy reform in the 1960s and empowered by the globe-shrinking influence of high tech, is making ‘dual identity’ something new and vital. Myriad possibilities emerge. Rather than repeating the predictable patterns of new immigrants, young second and third-gens can draw from a variety of ‘identities,’ values, shared traditions, and interfaith relationships. Interfaith marriages, still rare to be sure, increase year after year and are case studies of what shared identities can mean, however difficult to create.

Rather than being a social, cultural problem, integrating dual, even multiple identities has the potential to generate an abundance of blessings for individuals who succeed at it and for those around them. They have come through a cultural furnace, learning how to live well in the midst of conflicting cultural norms, expectations, and habits, a skill-set the whole human family needs to learn if we’re to last.

Don’t miss this month’s interfaith news stories, especially the ‘best’ ones, meaning compelling and engaging, which start the roundup.

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This is the month we’ll be sending you an invitation to contribute to TIO to keep it strong and able. Thank you for making a donation and what that means about your own commitment to a healthy interfaith culture for us all. You can do it right here!