Relationship between religion and identity development: A study of second generation American Muslim adolescents

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Ernest E. Wallwork


Identity development, Muslim, Religion, Adolescents

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Psychology | Race and Ethnicity | Religion | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Psychology | Sociology


This dissertation examines the relationship between religion and identity formation of second-generation Muslim adolescents in the context of American culture. It assesses the effect that religious socialization has on adolescent identity formation. The investigator assumed that religiosity is an essential factor influencing second-generation Muslim adolescents' identity development and their integration into American society. In order to test this assumption, two separate studies were designed: a quantitative assessment (using self-report questionnaires) and a qualitative in-depth interview.

One hundred nineteen adolescents (65 Arabs, 54 Turks) participated in the first study. Participants completed three questionnaires in addition to answering demographic questions. (1) The Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status-2 (Adams and Bennion, & Huh, 1989; Benninon and Adams, 1986) ("EOMEIS-2), (2) The Religiousness Measure (Seith and Seligman, 1993), and (3) Religious Fundamentalism Scale (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992). Finally, six subjects who participated in the first study were selected for the second study. Participants were interviewed in depth about their identity as Muslims in the United States.

Of the 119 adolescent analyzed, all subjects were moderately religious. Yet, adolescents with Arabic backgrounds were found to be significantly more religious than their Turkish counterparts. Highly religious subjects from both Turkish and Arabic backgrounds were found to be less Diffused and also surprisingly, less Foreclosed. The majority of subjects from both ethnic backgrounds belong to the Moratorium identity status. However, Turkish subjects were slightly more Diffused than their Arabic counterparts. In-depth interviews revealed two distinct emerging identity patterns: Islamists who exclusively identify themselves with Islam and reject integration into American society; and American Muslims who loosely identify with Islam and try to be part of the American society without abandoning traditional values.

The study findings suggest that most American Muslim adolescents are not ready psychologically to make a binding life-long commitment. On the spectrum of identity formation, this signals that they have many unresolved questions that require ongoing personal exploration. These adolescents lack the calm conviction of those who have achieved a secure sense of themselves and their place in the social world. They are struggling between two conflicting worldviews to find their own niche in life.


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