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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore how young Arab Muslim women attending college, in the United States and France, negotiate their identity vis-à-vis multiple contexts of citizenship in secular state, gender, religion, culture, and race. Sixteen interviews were conducted, eight in Paris and eight in Chicago. Using the theoretical frameworks of social identity, cultural studies, and critical race feminism, this study approached identity negotiation in terms of integration and differentiation from others; influence of dominant culture and attempt to redefine identity; gender and specificity of the experience of women of color as well as interrelation of multiple identities.

The following themes were identified: hijab is central to the experience of being a young Arab Muslim woman in college; being Muslim is a way of life; there are strong similarities in college experience across sample; there are contextual differences in college experience between French and American samples. Based on these findings, this study supports a moderate secularism that takes religion into account as a minority identity with specific rights and protection. It objects to French bans on the veil, which single out veiling women and penalize them by politicizing an intention to be modest. This study also supports alternative approaches to Western dominant discourse on women's rights, as such values are not necessarily compatible with young Arab Muslim women's self-perception and personal context. Finally, this study finds that, as imperfect as it may be, the American model of multiculturalism initiatives offers young Arab Muslim women in college better opportunities in terms of identity negotiation, than the French model of assimilation does.

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