Jones, Catto, Kaden, and Elsdon-Baker (2019) sought to investigate Islam’s positioning in relation to Western ideals related to science. The researchers sought to fill a gap in the image of Western modernity by including a concept central to externalising Islam and portraying it as a tradition that is synonymous with everything the west stands against. The findings of the study revealed that Islam traditions were singled out more often than Christianity as being incompatible with scientific inquiry (Jones, et al., 2019). Regarding minority religions, the participants were willing to admit a lack of knowledge but insisted on Islam’s inflexibility to embrace change was well-known. Christianity traditions were perceived differently as having variations in interpretation that allowed scientific inquiry, unlike Islam.
An even number of the participants perceived Islam and Muslims positively and negatively. Those who perceived Islam and Muslims positively acknowledged systematic racism against Muslims. However, it was rare for the participants to express positive comments regarding the content of the Islamic tradition despite some of the participants arguing in support of diversity within the tradition (Jones, et al., 2019). Meanwhile, negative perceptions regarding Islam and Muslims focused mainly on the nature of Islamic belief. In addition, the negative perceptions regarding Islam and Muslims were mainly expressed by the members of the public rather than scientists. Therefore, there was no evidence to suggest that scientific knowledge encourages anti-Islamic views. Instead, the study’s findings were consistent with US-based scholarship literature on science and religion that negative perceptions about Islam and Muslims are more attributable to moral positioning and identity than familiarity with scientific concepts.
The study also revealed limited differences regarding moral positioning and identity in Canada and Britain as Islam-related moral panics are prevalent in both nation-states. However, the study found significant differences between non-religious and religious participants. Non-religious participants expressed negative accounts of Islam’s traditions almost three times as likely in focus groups and interviews as compared to religious non-Muslim participants (Jones, et al., 2019). Surprisingly, religious non-Muslim participants expressed twice as many positive accounts of Islam and Muslims in focus groups and interviews in comparison to non-religious participants. This finding ties to the overall conclusion that a notable minority of non-religious participants perceived Islam as uniformly and uniquely hostile to rational thought and science.
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The above findings were obtained through a qualitative research methodology utilizing interviews and focus groups as tools of data collection. A total of 117 interviews and 13 focus groups comprising of non-Muslim participants, purposively selected from members of the public and the scientific community in Canada and the UK, aided the data collection process (Jones, et al., 2019). The objective was to evaluate how scriptural and philosophical interpretations interact with and are influenced by social processes and conflicts. Data collected using focus groups and interviews were transcribed and analysed using the qualitative data analysis package QSR NVivo. The analysis tool was essential in excluding comments from Muslim and ex-Muslim interviewers and participants resulting in 904 references of Muslims and Islam across 106 interviews and focus groups.
The study was situated within theories of cultural racism and racialization to investigate the positioning of science in the fabric of Western modernity to highlight perceived Islam’s hostility towards scientific inquiry. Hostility owing to the “fixed principles” of Islam that hinder scientific discoveries. This helps to answer the question of how science is articulated into the cultural identity of western societies to influences negative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam in general.
The research methodology utilised by Jones et al. (2019) was appropriate to the context of the study because the objective was to understand perceptions and values that underlie and influence behaviour in a social context. According to Busch et al. (2016), a qualitative research design is appropriate when investigating underlying prejudices and perceptions that influence behaviour and relationships in a social context. Racialization of Islam and persistent negative perceptions of Muslims owing to Islamophobia necessitates understanding how Western modernity employs science as a tool to externalize Islam as being analogous to the concepts of rationality, reason, and enlightenment.
Utilising focus groups and interviews was appropriate for the study to access unfiltered responses from the scientific community and members of the public in the UK and Canada regarding their perception of Islam’s incompatibility with scientific discovery. According to Decher (2017), primary data is vital when evaluating social trends and perceptions that influence behaviour and relationships in society. This approach helps to highlight implicit moral values and principles related to social identity creation in Western societies. Inherent prejudices often influence perceptions that inform behavioural responses that have implications on relationships in culturally diverse social contexts. Busch et al. (2016) concur with Decher (2017) by adding that interviews are essential data collection tools in qualitative research study to collect information about people’s behaviour, attributes, feelings, preferences, perceptions, attitudes, knowledge, and opinions. In addition, interviews help the researcher to better understand and evaluate research participants’ behaviour, views, and experiences. Therefore, Jones et al. (2019) use of open-ended questions when interviewing the participants facilitated the collection of in-depth information.
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Utilising a semi-structured framework for both the focus groups and interviews was appropriate based on the context of the research study. Flick (2018) advocates for the use of semi-structured focus groups and interviews to allow the participants to elaborate on key issues of interest to the study. It allows the participants an opportunity to express personal views and opinions that provide additional information on the subject matter. The result is in-depth information that supports a strong critical analysis to highlight key themes and patterns in the data. Utilizing focus groups was also well-informed because sociological research studies delve deep into issues that necessitate explanations from the perspective of subjects in contact with the issues (Harmsen, et al., 2013). It helps to generate a discussion with the right audience about a particular issue to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives expressed by different demographic groups. In the context, Jones et al. (2019) needed to understand the perspectives of religious and non-religious people in the UK and Canada towards Islam and science.
The purposeful sampling approach utilised by the researchers infers an aspect of controlling the outcomes of the study. Attempts were made to ensure the same number of religious and non-religious participants in the sample population, although there were variations in terms of class, age, belief, ethnicity, and gender. In addition, ensuring a balanced sample size comprising of scientists and members of the public was essential to ascertain whether knowledge of science influences perceptions of this religion and science. The findings of the study revealed that the negative perceptions regarding Islam and Muslims were mainly expressed by the members of the public rather than scientists (Jones, et al., 2019). It also ensured a comparative analysis of comments regarding Islam and science from both religious and non-religious participants (Busch, et al., 2016). In addition, pre-screening surveys were utilised with members of the public to ensure a homogeneous research sample through targeted selection. Creswell (2014) argues that pre-screening participants in sociological research studies is essential to determine eligibility and interest in the study. Pre-screening can be done in-person, over the phone, or via an online survey. Pre-screening is based on the inclusion/exclusion criteria, which in the case of focused on religious and non-religious participants (Creswell, 2014).
In the study, the pre-screening process ensured an equal number of religious and non-religious participants to ensure comparable outcomes. It was particularly important to avoid skewed outcomes owing to limited data on either the religious or non-religious perspective. In addition, pre-screening was essential in controlling factors such as gender, age, class, belief, and ethnicity to narrow down the scope of the study to the perceptions of religious and non-religious people on Islam and science. Nevertheless, comments shared by the non-religious participants were the focal point of the study to avoid religious prejudices inherent to religious participants (Jones, et al., 2019). For instance, Christian participants are likely to perceive Islam negatively due to differing religious ideologies. The targeted selection criteria had implications on the findings of the study by construing the findings to a comparative analysis of the perceptions of religious and non-religious participants. However, targeted selection limited the diversity and variance of the participants’ comments on the relationship between Islam and science.
Excluding comments shared by Muslim and ex-Muslim participants in the analysis was a prudent move by the researchers to eliminate bias. Goertz and Mahoney (2012) concur by asserting that inherent prejudices lead to bias in views and opinions in a social context. Since the focus of the study was investigating the relationship between Islam and science and racialization of Islam and authoring of cultural narratives, Muslim and ex-Muslim participants would have expressed biased views and opinions as their basic instinct would be to defend their religious ideology. As a result, out of 123 interviews and 16 focus groups with Canadian and British members of the public and scientists, only 117 interviews and 13 focus groups were included in the final analysis. The inclusion criteria had an implication of limiting the fighting to non-Muslim members.
Jones et al. (2019) rightly utilized a thematic approach to analysis to highlight key themes related to the overarching theme of the relationship between religion and science. Thematic analysis is an appropriate approach to understanding people’s opinions, views experiences, knowledge, or values from a subset of qualitative data (Harmsen, et al., 2013). This approach is usually utilised on sets of data derived from interviews or focus group transcripts. Consequently, Jones et al. (2019) were able to expose stereotypes regarding Muslims’ beliefs as an underlying theme that influences perceptions of Islam and science by contrasting Islam and Christianity. It helped to expose the biased perceptions that depict Islam unfavorably in regard to scientific inquiry. Apparently, Christianity traditions were perceived differently as having variations in interpretation that allowed scientific inquiry, unlike Islam. In addition, the philosophical theme of the interviews helped to highlight how belief prejudices are intertwined in the process of racialization (Jones, et al., 2019). It helps to explain how the misinterpretation of Islamic beliefs acts as a respectable way of creating hatred or unease towards Muslims. The findings of the study showed how the participants made generalized comments that depicted Muslims and Islam as posing a social threat, while at the same time denouncing anti-Muslim discrimination. The thematic approach to analysis also helped to highlight the impact of themes of immigration, race, and social cohesion on Islamophobia and racialization of Islam.
The researchers had a deep understanding of the subject area of inquiry as they clearly identified a gap in the construction of Western perspectives of Islam as an antagonist of modernity by exposing negative perceptions towards science. While individuality, human rights, democracy, and freedom are conceptually positioned to externalize Islam as analogous to Western modernity, little attention has been given to the relationship between Islam and science. This is despite science being an important aspect of Western modernization. While it might seem unethical to exclude the comment shared by Muslim and ex-Muslim participants, the context of the research study necessitated the elimination to avoid inherent biases. It helped to give a directional perspective of how non-Muslims perceive Islam in relation to science. Particularly, the Islamic dogma that is perceived to limit scientific inquiry.
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Creswell, J. W., 2014. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. London: SAGE.
Decher, L., 2017. Qualitative Interviews. Conducting interviews as a means of qualitative study. Main types of interviews. Munchen: GRIN Verlag.
Flick, U., 2018. An Introduction to Qualitative Research. New York: SAGE.
Goertz, G. & Mahoney, J., 2012. A tale of two cultures: qualitative and quantitative research in the social sciences. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Harmsen, I. A. et al., 2013. Why parents refuse childhood vaccination: a qualitative study using online focus groups. BMC Public Health, 13(1183).
Jones, S. H., Catto, R., Kaden, T. & Elsdon-Baker, F., 2019. ‘That’s how Muslims are required to view the world’: Race, culture, and belief in non-Muslims’ descriptions of Islam and science. The Sociological Review, 67(1), p. 161–177.