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Ascription, Choice, and the Construction of Religious Identities in the Contemporary United States

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Within the past 15 years, sociological studies of religion have emphasized the chosen, achieved nature of religious identities and have deemphasized ascription or tribalism as the basis of Americans' construction of religious selves. The accounts many people develop in narrating their religious life experiences, however, often combine notions of ascription and achievement in ways scholars have not clearly conceptualized. This article develops an approach to religious identity that shows how, rather than being treated as a dichotomy, the concepts of ascription and achievement are integrated in nuanced ways in the narratives of religious identity told by first-generation immigrant Thai Buddhists and third-generation Jews, two groups with strong inherited religious identities. The comparison between Jews and Buddhists shows how members of both groups blend the concepts of ascription and achievement in similar and different ways, particularly around practice, regardless of their participation in religious organizations.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Wendy Cadge is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy Research at Harvard University and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bowdoin College. 2: Lynn Davidman is Professor of Judaic Studies, American Civilization, and Gender Studies at Brown University., Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2006


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