Reluctant Pluralists: European Muslims and Essentialist Identities




Gest, Justin

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An emerging consensus amongst scholars of Muslim political and social identity suggests that Western Muslims live out an anti-essentialist critique of identity construction. Considering this view, this paper examines a cross-national comparison of British Bangladeshis in London and Spanish Moroccans in Madrid that solicits the perceptions of working class Muslim men. While the results indeed re-affirm respondents’ concomitant relationships to a variety of identity paradigms, interview content demonstrates that subjects’ multiplicity is complicated by their desire to meet—not reject—the essentialist standards of belonging to the identity paradigms discursively available to them. Rather than defiantly cherry-picking preferred characteristics of religion, ethnicity and nationality, individuals’ responses suggest that they are trying to fulfill perceived standards of authenticity. Such a contention helps explain the prevalence of Western Muslims’ expressed and well-documented “identity crisis,” suggests the enduring relevance of identity essentialisms, and more broadly, complicates post-modern conceptions of identity formation.


The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2014.


Muslims, Islam, United Kingdom, Spain, Identity, Nationality


Justin Gest (2014): Reluctant pluralists: European Muslims and essentialist identities, Ethnic and Racial Studies, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2014.920092