[In the reconfigured SOAN curriculum, seniors in the department spend their Fall semester reading somewhat comprehensively on two topics they select from the breadth of sociological and anthropological interests. For many of the seniors, that new foundation in the social scientific literature will inform the independent research projects they will design and then conduct in the Spring semester. I asked students in my thesis seminar to sketch the research projects they are configuring for their last semester at Puget Sound. At this point, these are just plans, but collectively this group of projects look great.]
Freshman year I took a religion class that compared Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Having grown up a Christian my most striking realization during the class was that the three, Islam included, were not so different. All three aimed at providing their followers with good moral character and a way to unite with other people under a banner of purpose that comes with serving a higher power. This led me to question why Islam is so villainized in the United States. The answer came when I took a class entitled “Islam and the Media” where I first learned about Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, or the discourse created and perpetuated by the powerful West to maintain power over the “Orient”. To spark my interest further I recently experienced a study abroad trip to Indonesia where I interacted cordially with Muslims on a daily basis.
The question that formed in my mind freshman year still stands: why are Muslims so villainized in the United States? My senior thesis aims to study this question. My initial hypothesis is that Americans have misperceptions of Islam and Muslims because their only information on the issue comes from the media which is steeped in the Western tradition of Orientalism. These biased news sources construct their pieces around impactful sound-bites usually strung together to fit within a two-to-three minute segment. The history of Orientalism and the short nature of these clips prevent presentation of both sides of the story and combine for slanted representations of Muslims in the news.
To explore the impact of the news on perceptions of Islam and Muslims I will be conducting ethnographic research in the Tacoma area. This research will center on the utilization of Orientalist discourse by common members of society, as well as inquiries into where my subjects get their news. I hope to synthesize this real world data with my personal background and an anthropology of the media so as to demonstrate the effects of media on mis/perceptions of Islam.