This essay will argue that identity is largely a product of a person's environment, both physically and spiritually, and that identity is a limited explanation of who we are.
As a preliminary matter, it is useful to first provide a brief description of one's self before proceeding to explore the sources of self-perception. As an American, for instance, it is rather common to describe ourselves as independent, committed in large part to Christian values, dedicated to freedom, and moral. These values are, in to a significant extant, grounded in our religious heritage. Our laws, such as prohibitions against killing and stealing, are grounded in religious doctrine. Our belief that we are a tolerant and an open-minded people derives from our history of attempting to tolerate the practice of different religions and the separation of church and state. In the media, we are satisfied only with happy endings. Bad people are punished, good people are rewarded, and the American way of life is perpetual and righteous. That there may be some hypocrisy inherhant in these perceptions, some self-interest and delusion, does not negate the fact that we do, in fact, tend to perceive ourselves in these ways. The sources of these perceptions of self, and the ways in which we construct meaning, are varied and complex.
As noted by Lowe, the construction of identity is a field with many competing theories and much debate; on the other hand, he also outlines several sources of identity upon which researchers and scholars agree, such as the home, the school, and religion (1989: 4). A root source in America is religious tradition and belief. It is true that America has implemented a separation of church and state, and that a staggering number of religions are practiced in the United States, but one cannot escape the pervasive influence that Christian religions have in shaping people, institutions, and ideas. On a personal level, I am influenced at home, at school, and by the dominant religious values in my life. At home, I was taught moral values. Those moral values were, in hindsight, little more than restatements of dominant social values; and in turn, those dominant social values were fundamentally restatements of general religious principles governing behavior and ethics. At school, those same values were reinforced and there was little comparative analysis. As a student, I was not invited to question the dominant code of ethics. I was not asked whether peoples, other types of identity, were better than my own. On the other hand, other peoples were labeled communists or terrorists. Other peoples were described with sweeping generalizations that offered very little insight into the construction of those separate types of identity and the reasons for such variations. I was, in short, left with a perception of myself that I deemed correct and superior. As I age, however, I am increasingly curious as to whether my view of myself is truly correct and complete. There are, at the end of the day, many other possibilities for shaping one's identity.
I have little doubt that travel and immersion in other cultures would affect my perception of mys