View Full Version : Insularity and group identity.
12-19-2004, 10:18 PM
In this thread about Jew-hating (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=290672) the subject of "insularity" came up, and up again, and again. The statement was made that Jews are relatively more insular than other ethnic groups and offense was taken since it seemed like that was code for the antisemites' "clannishness" canard. I do not intend to repeat that conversation here. Here the intent is to debate how different cultural groups assimilate and aculturate into more general society and the relative importance of being a religious minority or "in Diaspora" to the process.
Does a group identity that includes a minority religious status make one more insular than a group identity that does not?
How is this process different in a society like America which is currently moving toward the Christian right but is nevertheless explicitly liberterian in its religious freedoms, than in a militantly secular society like France. Or in a society which veers closer to theocracy?
Stereotypes based on anecdotes are welcome so long as they are understood as such; actual hard data preferred.
12-20-2004, 06:02 PM
The Jewish experience was in some respects, a paradox. In the process of finding ways to assimilate, and be accepted, they had to become exceptional, remarkable, or extraordinary. In other words in order to fit in they had to stand out. This resulted in a stronger, and more personal, private focus on their Jewish identity. Maybe that looks like insularity.
...never did the fact of Jewish birth play such a decisive role in private life and everyday existence as among the assimilated Jews. The Jewish reformer who changed a national religion into a religious denomination with the understanding that religious is a private affair, the Jewish revolutionary who pretended to be a world citizen in order to rid himself of Jewish nationality, the educated Jew, "a man in the street and a Jew at home" - each one of these succeded in in converting a national quality into a private affair. The result was that their private lives, their decisions and sentiments, became the center of their "Jewishness". And the more the fact of Jewishness lost its religious, national, and social significance, the more obsessive Jewishness became.
The Origins of Totalitarianism Arendt
Is it possible that in trying to assimilate, Jews became even more cognizant of their Jewishness and that this was perceived by others as being insular?
12-20-2004, 06:50 PM
How does this compare to the experience of other "ethnic" minorities whose identity includes being a religious minority?
What effect does the role played by the majority religion have on the processs of aculturation ... in either insular or assimilative ways?
Jews were alone in this niche of "other" in the midst for many years; now this space is shared in many cases by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, etc. Does the Jewish experience inform them in either way, eitheer as a model of what to do, or what not to do?
There was this recent Sikh protest (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/west_midlands/4112105.stm) in England, for example, to a play deemed offensive by some.
Members of religious minorities are invited to comment here, especially if they have second or third generation experiences to share.
12-20-2004, 09:16 PM
Does a group identity that includes a minority religious status make one more insular than a group identity that does not? Well, you've still got the bugaboo that we may not have nailed down exactly what we mean by insular. ;)
Taking insular to mean that the group chooses to separate itself from the rest of society, I would guess that religious groups are more likely to be insular than are ethnic groups. The U.S. has now watched enough ethnic immigrations that some observations are nearly cliches: the second or third generation wants to "Americanize" themselves and casts off as many cultural features as they can stand, then the next generation attempts to reclaim their "lost" identity, generally failing because the intermediate generation was so successful in cutting the ties. (Howzzat for stereotypes?)
Religious groups are less likely to go through an "Americanization" process, except as their faith and culture are intertwined. Successive waves of European Catholic immigrants aculturated as quickly as they could, but until the world changed in the 1960s, Catholics still found themselves outside many American institutions. Amish, by contrast, are deliberately insular.
On the other hand, my perception of post-Vietnam War Hmong and Montagnard groups has been that they have simply not yet made it to the second or third generation "Americanization" phase. There may be religious issues that separate them from their established neighbors, but I am not aware of any.
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