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Place attachment, sense of belonging and identity in life history narratives of Iranian Baha'i refugees

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Abstract:

Refugees commonly experience physical and emotional displacement. Such experiences reflect Tuan's theories relating to the anxiety of separation from home and sense of estrangement or alienation in a new land. Despite this adversity, many refugees ultimately form hybrid or trans-national identities, which allow them to operate and be accepted in two (or more) cultures. This facilitates a sense of belonging and the adaptation process to a new country and culture.

The Baha'i Faith is considered to be the second most globally widespread religion after Christianity. Thus, refugees can potentially join a community anywhere in the world and be provided with a sense of familiarity, which the commonality of values and administrative structure provides. In addition, newcomers arriving in a new land are automatically affiliated to a collective identity to which they already belong.

This paper draws on case study and secondary source evidence to argue that the refugee participants in this study have used the Baha'i writings, international administrative structure and global community, to construct and maintain a notion of home and sense of belonging, and thus ultimately reflect a hybrid or trans-national identity in a new land. Preliminary findings indicate that religion plays a vital role in the lives of these refugees as the central tenets of the Baha'i Faith appear to actively inform the resettlement process in a new country. Life history narratives were used as a tool for analysis in seven in-depth case study interviews with Iranian Baha'i refugees residing in and around the city of Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, Australia.

The participants in this study indicated that social space gave them the strongest sense of belonging, rather than place attachment. Religious identity is explored through the affiliation to a collective membership, as it is within this context that religious identity can be strengthened via official and legitimate recognition or undermined via persecution.

Collective identity on a macro scale can be associated with nationalism and trans-nationalism. The Baha'i attitude to nationalism is to afford a country its rightful respect, but discourage extreme nationalism as it is characteristically exclusionary by nature. However, the Iranian Baha'i refugees in this study identify primarily as Baha'i rather than Iranian or Australian; that is, the values under-pinning their religion outweighed the importance of place or national identity. The participants in this study embraced the notion of a global home and considered themselves citizens of the world, consequently adopting trans-national and hybrid identities. This attitude ultimately impacts on the adaptation of refugees to a new country, as they do not see themselves as moving from one home to another, but merely relocating to a different part of the one global home.

Keywords: Baha'i; Iranian; belonging; identity; narratives; place; refugees

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/bsr.15.3_1

Affiliations: University of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia.

Publication date: May 1, 2009

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  • Baha'i Studies Review is an academic journal dealing with all aspects of the study of the Baha'i Faith. All papers submitted are subject to a peer review process.
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