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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Pious Disadvantaged: An ethnographic study of African American Muslims in South Central Los Angeles

  • Author(s): Prickett, Pamela Jean
  • Advisor(s): Timmermans, Stefan
  • et al.
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This study examines the everyday “doing” of religion in a setting marked by poverty, violence, and racial segregation. Drawing on more than five years of ethnographic and historical research in an African American-led mosque in South Central Los Angeles, the study offers an on the ground perspective of how a marginalized population constructs and maintains a religious community, especially in light of ongoing urban change. Bringing together insights from the sociology of religion and urban sociology, the study also analyzes how members constructed systems of religious social support to combat inequality, investigating the ways hierarchies of place, race, gender, and class come to impact the forms and effectiveness of organized religious support. The study proposes two key theoretical interventions to understandings of religion and place. First, it extends research on urban religion by advancing the concept of pious disadvantage, an idea that captures how members struggled to balance their religious ideals with the structural realities of urban poverty. Their struggles created a distinct type of lived religious experience in which individual hardship was woven into congregational life. The study makes a second intervention by arguing that we need to think of Islam not as a global religious tradition with more than two billion believers worldwide, but as a source of identity lived within the contours of daily life. This requires that we give closer attention to how structural locations frame religious experience, as well as how believers respond to these framings. Seeing religion as something that is done by people rather than to them helps us move away from essentializing notions of religious identity and towards a deeper understanding of how marginalized populations engage religious frameworks in the organization of daily life.

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This item is under embargo until May 28, 2022.