Muslim and American? How Religiosity and Mosques Foster Incorporation into American Politics

Date: 

Thursday, February 10, 2011, 4:10pm to 5:30pm

Location: 

124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Cambridge, MA

Dr. Karam Dana, Harvard Kennedy School
Dr. Matt Barreto, University of Washington

About the Seminar
Previous scholars have argued that Islam as a religion and a culture is incompatible with liberal, democratic American values. Not only is Islam inconsistent with the West, but it poses a direct conflict according to some scholars. This viewpoint has been popularized in American and European media and by government officials who declare fundamentalist Muslims as enemies of freedom and democracy. However, there is no evidence that the grounds of conflict are based on religious ideology. Are the most devout Muslims really opposed to political incorporation in the U.S., or are other traditional non-religious factors such as socioeconomic status and acculturation more important in understanding political alienation? To date, nearly every study of Islam and Western values has been qualitative, anecdotal, or philosophical in nature, leaving most questions unanswered, at least empirically. Using a unique national survey of Muslim Americans, we find that more religiously devout Muslims are significantly more likely to support political participation in America – in contrast to prevailing wisdom. We conclude that there is nothing inconsistent with Islam and American democracy, and in fact, religiosity fosters support for American democratic values.

Religious institutions and places of worship have played a pivotal role in American politics. What about the role of the mosque? Does the mosque, as an institution, play any different of a role than that of churches in political participation? Through examining the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS), which has a large sample size (N=1410), the role of the mosque emerges as an important indictor for Muslim political participation. At this event, the principal investigators of the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS) will show that those Muslims who attend the mosque regularly not only are more likely to participate in American politics, but also that mosques create a common identity between American Muslims where differences between Muslims are muted, and political participation in American politics becomes its focus.

About the Speakers
Dr. Karam Dana received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, and was a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Currently, he is a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Dubai Initiative and a faculty member at Tufts University, where he teaches courses on Middle East history and politics. Dr. Dana is the co-principal investigator of the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS), a research project that won the American Political Science Association’s Best Paper Award for 2008. In addition to his research that deals with Muslim Political Behavior in non-Muslim Societies, he also examines the role of economic security in creating an environment of political stability (or instability) in the Arab Middle East in the last two decades, and the role of technology in shaping the societies of the developing world. Dr. Dana has secured multiple research grants over the years including a grant from the Social Science Research Council to engage US policymakers, journalists, and Muslim scholars in a discussion to better understand Islam and Muslims in the United States.

Dr. Matt A. Barreto is an associate professor in political science at the University of Washington, Seattle and currently the director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (WISER). He is also the director of the annual Washington Poll and the co-principal investigator of the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS). He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Irvine in 2005. His research examines the political participation of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States and his work has been published in the American Political Science Review, Political Research Quarterly, Social Science Quarterly, Public Opinion Quarterly, and other peer reviewed journals. He is the author of the book, Ethnic Cues: The role of shared ethnicity in Latino political behavior published by the University of Michigan Press in 2010.

This event is co-sponsored by the Ash Center, the Dubai Initiative of the Belfer Center, and the Middle East Initiative.