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The Formation of Ethnic and National Identities

Liah Greenfeld and Nicolas Prevelakis


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Comment on this article   Ethnic and national identities are the dominant types of identity in the modern world. But this was not so for the most part of human history. To explain their formation, one first needs to investigate how ethnicity and nationalism emerged as types of human identity. Everyone, and in all societies, has an identity. For humans, identity is a central mental process. It is a mental image of the social structure and one's specific place in it. People are usually not conscious of having it and seldom express it, but it orients their actions. One can distinguish between general and specific identities. General identities are shared by most members of a society and are the internalization of the dominant worldview . This worldview provides the cultural foundation of any society. It gives one an image of the world, both external to society and social. For instance, in a Christian worldview, one's primary identity is that of a Christian. This means that core beliefs (the divinity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the belief in an afterlife) and values (Christian morality) form the basis of one's mental structure and guide one's actions. Within this general identity, a person can have specific identities, such as an occupational identity (clergyman), an estate identity (peasant or nobleman), and in addition a political identity (member of the Roman Empire or subject ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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