University of Missouri - Saint Louis

The Graduate School


An oral examination in defense of the dissertation for the degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

Emily A. Hager
M.A. in TESL, May 2006, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
B.A. in English, December 2003, Greenville College

Narrative Identities of American Muslim Women in a Midwestern City



In the years since September 11, 2001, increased racial profiling has changed what it means to be from the “Middle East,” an Arab, and/or Muslim in the United States. While a small but growing number of studies have focused on Arab-American adolescents and identity development (Chadhury, 2008; Sarroub, 2002), few have studied those who were “emerging adults” (Arnett, 2000) at the time of the attacks, or analyzed how they construct their current lifespan narratives (McAdams, 2006) in light of the national discourse linking terrorism and Islam.

To fill this gap in the literature, my study explored the links between community discourse and narrative identity development through these specific questions: 1) How was the Arab-American Muslim population represented in local St. Louis media between 1999 and 2011? 2) How do community leaders, Muslim and non-Muslim, view the Arab-American/Muslim population in St. Louis? 3) How do American Muslim women in their 20s and 30s, who lived in the U.S. during “9/11,” narrate their lives and identities? 4) In comparison of these texts, how do the personal narratives align or dis-align with others’ discourse, and what does this mean for individuals’ emerging adulthood experiences and identity development?

This project included lifespan interviews with four American Muslim women with family origins in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Turkey living in St. Louis; and discourse analysis of nine community interviews and 66 St. Louis Post Dispatch opinion pieces. Using Narrative Inquiry and Critical Discourse Analysis, this study wove together interviews, artifacts, research reflections, newspaper articles and field notes into multi-dimensional narratives. Analyses of community interviews and newspaper articles suggest that there is still a considerable lack of knowledge about Muslims and their beliefs, which continues to generate fear in the St. Louis area. Findings from narrative interviews with the American Muslim women demonstrate that close familial relationships and generative natures that developed around the time of 9-11, along with increased public interest in Islam, all shaped their identity processes; they felt more strongly about their faith and more empowered over time. This indicates that there is a disconnect between what was portrayed in the media, what was understood in the community, and the lives lived and identities formed among these four American Muslim women. Findings have implications for identity processes and educational practices.


Date: October 4, 2012

Time: 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Place: E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center


Defense of Dissertation Committee

  Lisa Dorner, Ph. D. (Advisor) Joel Jennings, Ph.D.
  Rebecca Rogers, Ph.D. Rehana Shafi, MSW
  Alina Slapac, Ph.D.