Evidence from India shows how both conflict and economic forces can cause people to realign their ethnic or religious identity

Do people choose their identities, and if so, what determines those choices? David Atkin of MIT looks at the case of India, where there are both different religious groups and ethnic identities that have strong norms relating to food consumption, and asks whether consumption patterns can explain identity choices. In times of conflict, religious groups abstain more from their religion’s taboo goods (alcohol, beef, etc.) and consume more of other groups’ taboo goods, suggesting a move away from a shared ethnic identity towards a religious identity. Economic forces may also cause people to realign their ethnic or religious identity.

Identity Religious identity Ethnic identity Consumption India