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Religious Conversion, Covert Defiance and Social Identity: A Comparative View

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This article examines the special contribution of forced conversion to the formation of a new social identity. Groups that were forced to convert while struggling to maintain a former-covert religious identity, such as the Moriscos of Spain, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, and the Huguenots of France, shaped social identities with common traits, despite differences in social, political and religious environments. These groups stressed memory practices, strengthened familistic values, and regendered social roles. Each of these practices set them apart from both of the faith communities they belonged to: the old and the new, the open and the secret. The Mashhadis of Iran are offered as a control group to test this argument, as their community is the farthest in time and space while conforming to the same pattern of social mechanisms. The evolution of the new social-cultural and even ethnic identity was a process whereby religious motifs generated cultural cohesion, and communal ties facilitated both. Thus, even when danger was over a new community was born, more self-conscious, and stronger than before.


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