Arab Christian Identity in the United States




Kayyali, Randa A.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Christians from the Middle East and North Africa occupy a particular racial-ethnic-religious nexus in the US post-9/11: classified as white by race, sometimes Arab or Middle Eastern or North African by ethnicity and Eastern Christians by religion, but often conflated with Islamic culture and assumed to be Muslim. This study finds that Arab American Christians are deeply divided over the white racial category - some lay a claim to whiteness, some consider themselves persons of color and yet others are ambivalent. The contours of race and ethnicity change over time but the U.S. state remains hegemonic in its racial classification of Arab Americans, reclassifying those who answer Arab or Middle Eastern or country ancestries such as Lebanese or Palestinian on the Census form to the white population statistics. Secular and sectarian differences combine with national origins and political positions to create microspaces that fuel alternative self-identifications. Arab Christians in the Washington DC metro area, the focus of this study, reported high levels of mis-attributed religious affiliations as Muslims, which reflects conceptual conflations of Arab and Muslim in state policies, federal agencies and in the media. Using ethnographic research methods, interviews, oral histories and archival work, this dissertation demonstrates that Arab American Christian identity is inextricably caught up in a broader politics and ideologies surrounding race, ethnicity/nation in a contemporary moment.



Arab American, Christianity, Ethnicity, Identity, Islam, Race