Karam Dana explores American Muslim identity

Karam Dana

As a researcher, UW Bothell Assistant Professor Karam Dana doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics. His work focuses on issues of religious and political identity among Muslims in the United States and in the Middle East. “Due to the sensitivity of the topics I research, write about and work with, I have to utilize authoritative evidence in terms of the arguments that I make,” he says. “I have to be very careful.”

In 2007, Dr. Dana, who was then teaching at Harvard University, teamed up with University of Washington Associate Professor Matt Barreto on a research project called the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey, which focused on patterns of social, civic, and political participation among Muslim Americans. The project spanned more than 22 metropolitan cities in the United States and it won the 2009 Best Paper Award in the Race, Ethnicity and Politics category of the American Political Science Association.

To continue this work, Dr. Dana has created a research initiative at UW Bothell called the the American Muslim Research Institute (AMRI), which has received generous support from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and the Purple Crayon Foundation. The goal is to understand the experiences of other religious communities throughout history in the U.S. to better understand the challenges that currently face American Muslims.

He is also working toward a series of in-depth interviews of two or three dozen Muslim leaders in the Pacific Northwest and is also planning to do another national survey of Muslim Americans, with data starting from this region.

His other main focus is in the Middle East, where he studies people’s political attitudes. “One of my ongoing projects in the Middle East is called MEPOP, Middle East Public Opinion Project,” he says. “This project has just started over the summer in the Palestinian territories to measure what people think in relation to the Oslo Accords that were signed by the Palestinians and the Israelis, 20 years later.”

He is also exploring the favorability of western societies to Palestinians, distinguishing between the people of those countries and their governments. While the results are still preliminary, Dr. Dana says that there is a clear distinction between less positive notions about the U.S. government and more friendly feelings about the people of the United States. “To me that’s very significant,” he says.

Dr. Dana brings his ongoing research into his classes and asks students to discuss the results. “Students engage in these types of questions because it is real research that is happening right now.” He says his students’ observations help move his research along, effectively making their participation part of the research itself.

Another important aspect in his classes is a sense of safety so that students feel comfortable exploring these topics. Unless a student needs to record a class for learning purposes, he prefers that people do not tape classes so students can speak more freely.

“Whatever happens, we have a very civil conversation,” he says. “This is the job of an educator.”