Sociology Research Discovers San Antonians' Perceptions Of Islam
The Mellon Initiative defines Humanities broadly and funds projects that fall in what we call the "humanistic social sciences." This 2016 Mellon Institute project is an excellent example.
By Allyson Mackender – for the Trinity Undergraduate Research Blog
Discussions regarding Islam and the perception of Muslims in the United States have been some of the most contentious topics of the current election. With Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country and the recent speech by Khzir Khan at the Democratic National Convention, discussions of Islam have been central to both major parties’ rhetoric. Trinity students, Hanna Niner ‘17, Savannah Wagner ‘17, Iris Baughman ‘17, and Matthew Long ‘19, are exploring this dialogue in the San Antonio community. Under the supervision of sociology professor Sarah Beth Kaufman, communication professor William G. Christ, and religion professor Habiba Noor, the students are completing research titled, “How San Antonians are Thinking about Islam During the 2016 Presidential Election.”
The group interviewed people from all over the city by using a purposeful sample research methodology. They began by listing all the major religious groups in San Antonio, including Muslims, Pagans, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, and others, and reached out to organizations from each denomination. Once interviews were conducted within these organizations, they proceeded with a snowball sample, which asks interviewees to contact their friends or acquaintances to also be interviewed. Together, the faculty and students interviewed over 150 San Antonians over the course of the summer.
While the students hope to collectively profile how Islam is being talked about in San Antonio, each of the four students will be producing their own paper with a unique perspective. Niner’s research is focused on race and anti-Muslim sentiment while Baughman is more interested in gender and perceptions of how women are treated in Islam. Furthermore, Long is interested in the ways in which Islam is held to a different standard than other religions; he hopes to uncover perceptions on the degree of Islamic religiosity and its pertinence to violence. Finally, Wagner is focused on how conservative evangelicals understand Islam and how they use religion as a way to deal with heightened fears of Islam. The diversity in the areas of focus captures the complexity of the subject, which at times can be hard to articulate.
The students have completed more than 150 interviews.
Baughman explained that while many people seem to have an opinion on Islam, their interviews have proven that not everyone is comfortable sitting down and talking about it. Therefore, at times interviews have been difficult for the students. “I’ve actually gotten emotional in interviews,” Niner said, “People will say very hurtful and hateful things to me.” This sentiment was felt among the entire group, as they all nodded their heads in agreement. Long added, “It’s hard to form intimate connections with people during an interview and then remember your place as a researcher.”
While the interviews have proven to be challenging, the students agreed that they are equally rewarding. Baughman said she was most surprised when an interviewee actually thanked her for completing this research, something that the other students had also experienced. Wagner added that while the interviews can be difficult and push both her and the interviewee out of their comfort zones, it is fascinating to see how people live their lives.