“Trajectories of Public Islam: Public Religious Expressions among American Muslim Advocates” forthcoming in Social Problems

*Winner of the 2024 SSSR Student Paper Award

ABSTRACT

In American mainstream cultural discourse, Islam is often constructed as undemocratic, violent, and un-American. How do American Muslim advocates react to these tarnished representations of their religion? This paper examines the ways in which Muslim advocates construct public discourse around Islam by exploring the possibilities for and recognizing the constraints on their public religious expressions in U.S. civic life as advocates navigate cultural templates infused with de-sacralized Christian meanings. Based on participant observation in two Muslim advocacy organizations, the article demonstrates that advocates map Islam differently depending on whether the imagined audience of their public discourse is other Muslims or non-Muslims. When advocates imagine addressing non-Muslims, the public discourse of both groups similarly emphasizes Islamic compatibility of Muslim with American values. Among both groups, there is a process of filtering certain religious expressions for more expansive social maps that uncovers the unequal power dynamics shaping trajectories of public religion in civic life for one of the most stigmatized ethno-religious groups in the U.S. today. This paper contributes to expanding our understanding of how civic culture enables and constrains historically marginalized groups’ attempts at redefining belonging.