Home > PUBLICATIONS & RESOURCES > PAPERS >

Elastic Orthodoxy: the Tactics of Young Muslim Identity in the East End of London
September 29,2016   By:chinahumanrights.org
Elastic Orthodoxy: the Tactics of Young Muslim Identity in the East End of  London
 
Dr Daniel Nilsson DeHanas
 
King’s College London
 
Introduction
 
Few places in the United Kingdom have received as much unbidden attention as the East End of London.  Central to all of these portrayals of East London are hard fought struggles of culture and religion in the forging of British Bengali post-migration identities.
 
This chapter investigates issues of religion and culture as aspects of identity formation with particular reference to second-generation young people.  The chapter is based on qualitative research with 36 second-generation British Bengali young adults in the East End, all aged 18-25 at the time they were interviewed. 
 
Four tactical styles of self-identification
 
i. Continuity
Several researchers have shown strong links between the second generation and first-generation migrant parents.  These researchers argue that there is a substantial amount of continuity between generations. 
 
ii. Between Cultures
Social scientists studying second-generation youth often recognize adolescence and early adulthood as unsettled years in which family, religious, and ethnic self-identification are all open to be questioned (e.g. Lewis 2007).  Youth may experience an identity crisis as they are riven between strong parental, community, and religious norms and the usually more ‘Western’ and liberal perspectives of peers, schooling, and media.  
 
iii. Hybridity
The hybridity perspective usually emphasises the influence of peers in the social construction of identity.  
 
iv. Deculturation
Jessica Jacobson found certain consistencies in the identities of her young Pakistani informants that belie what she considers to be an overemphasis on hybridity. Many of Jacobson’s informants appear to be attracted to the comprehensive answers of a (putatively) culturally purified Islam, and have taken this all-encompassing, ‘universal’ Islam as their seemingly immutable core identity marker. 
 
Olivier Roy provides perhaps the most influential statement of this position in his work on the globalization of Islam (2004).  Roy argues that the forms of Islam that have gained most ground among second-generation youth are ‘deculturated.’  The deculturation perspective differs from a ‘between cultures’ perspective because it locates the greater share of identity conflict as occurring between generations rather than between the culture of origin and the ‘host’ society. 
 
Conclusion: elastic orthodoxy
 
This chapter has demonstrated that institutions matter in the formation and development of tactical religion, and that the tactics of religion are typically formed within a complex web of religious strategies and counter-strategies. 
 
Young second-generation Bengalis in the East End, in most cases, take an approach to self-identification that can best be termed elastic orthodoxy.  By this I mean that they accept the local social consensus on what it is to be a Muslim (‘orthodoxy’)  and then work tactically within this framework, stretching it to apply to new contexts and situations (‘elastic’).  The elastic orthodoxy I have in mind is a skill young British Bengalis have developed for perpetually recontexualising their revivalist Islam as new circumstances arise.
 
Elastic orthodoxy is a potent mix of some parts deculturation, some parts hybridity.  It begins with strict deculturation but then applies the results in myriad situational and hybrid ways.  This peculiar combination of versatility and dogmatic certainty helps account for its lasting power.