Arab Christian Identity in the United States

Randa Kayyali

Advisor: Peter Mandaville, PhD, AbuSulayman Center for Global Islamic Studies

Committee Members: Amal Amireh, Roger Lancaster

Johnson Center, #240A
April 29, 2013, 12:00 PM to 09:00 AM


Arab Christian identity has arguably been eclipsed in the merging of an Arab-Muslim identity in the US and Islamophobic global discourses. In this dissertation, I demonstrate that the historical and contemporary identifications of Arab American Christians are made in localized and globalized conjunctural moments that have configured relationships and created discursive realities. Arabs, and other Middle Easterners, are currently classified as white by race in the US and yet face discrimination based on the intersections of their cultural heritage with US foreign policy. This study finds that the mere fact of religious affiliation does little to buffer Arab-American Christians against anti-Arab/anti-Muslim sentiments due to their origins in the Middle East, particularly in the Washington DC metro area, which is the focus of this study. While community identification labels have transformed multiple times over the last one hundred and twenty years, at this present conjuncture older Arab Americans – regardless of birthplace – are more likely to identify as white and use a language of assimilation than Arab Americans who are 40 and younger. Using ethnographic research methods in combination with interviews, oral histories and archival work, this dissertation demonstrates that Arab-American Christian identity is inextricably caught up in a broader politics surrounding race, ethnicity/nation in a contemporary climate of Arab-Muslim conflation.