Culture and Identity in a Muslim Society

Culture and Identity in a Muslim Society

Culture and Identity in a Muslim Society

Culture and Identity in a Muslim Society

Synopsis

In the last fifteen years, psychologists have rediscovered culture and its influence on emotion, thought, and self. Many researchers have come to the conclusion that the world's cultures can be ranked according to the degree to which they are individualist or collectivist, with Western cultures falling at the individualist end and non-Western cultures at the collectivist end. These scholars argue that while individualist cultures give rise to "independent" selves, leading Westerners to think and act autonomously, collectivist cultures foster "interdependent" selves, leading non-Westerners, embedded in social-relationships, to think and act relationally. Culture and Identity in a Muslim Society presents an alternative to the individualist- collectivist approach to identity. Unlike most psychological and anthropological studies of culture and self, Gary Gregg's work directly investigates individuals, using "study of lives"-style interviews with young adults living in villages and small towns in southern Morocco. Analyzing these young adults' life-narratives, Gregg builds a theory of culture and identity that differs from prevailing psychological and anthropological models in important respects. In contrast to modernist theories of identity as unified, the life-narratives show individuals to articulate a small set of shifting identities. In contrast to post-modern theories that claim people have a kaleidoscopic multiplicity of fluid identities, the narratives show that the identities are integrated by repeated use of culturally-specific self-symbols, metaphors, and story-plots. Most importantly, the life-narratives show these young Moroccans' self-representations to be pervasively shaped by the volatile cultural struggle between Western-style "modernity" and authentic Muslim "tradition." Offering a new approach to the study of identity, the volume will be of interest to cross-cultural psychologists, anthropologists, scholars of Middle-East societies, and researchers specializing in the study of lives.

Excerpt

Men on the Moon; Girls on the Beach

Brahim-n-Ait Ali ou Hamou, an illiterate farmer in the pre-Saharan foothills of Morocco's High Atlas mountains, lectured us often about the traditional life he lived and the modern one he sought. One day we discussed these matters over tea and almonds in the guest room of his rambling and frayed rammed-earth home, as his fellow tribesmen gathered across the dry riverbed at the tomb of the village's patron saint to celebrate the Prophet's birthday. Each region was bringing its contribution: barley and olive oil from the plains, a ram from the mountains, shrubby firewood from what was left of the forest. All morning the men chanted in the mosque, and the women came in small groups to make personal offerings and pleas to the saint.

At midday, the paths and rooftops crowded with spectators, and the ram was led into a cluster of white-robed men and tossed onto its back. Four teen-aged boys grabbed its legs, the men chanted a prayer, the imam slashed its throat, and the race was on: to run the blood-spurting ram through the neighborhood of the saint's lineage to the irrigation canal, where in order to bring bountiful water in the following year, the young men must dunk it before it expires, mingling its blood with the water, both of which are rich with baraka, God's bounty or blessing. Children ran to snatch tufts of baraka-filled wool for their mothers and sisters, who burn it in charcoal braziers and inhale its baraka-rich fumes. Then the ram was butchered, and the saint's descendants prepared couscous to share its baraka-rich meat with the lay villagers surrounding them. A ritual of reciprocity, like those staged in so many traditional societies: the products of the preceding year drawn in to make a sacrifice for the approaching one and then dispersed as a collective meal that celebrates the unity before God of the social segments nested within segments, which formerly—and occasionally today—were set at each . . .

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