A team of researchers led by Hampshire College professor Salman Hameed hopes to contribute to greater understanding of how the Muslim world views evolution by collecting and analyzing data on the perspectives of physicians and medical students. The three-year study is funded by a $372,500 National Science Foundation grant.
"The issue of evolution is sometimes perceived as controversial. We're trying to use how physicians and medical students think about evolution as a way to understand how Muslims see the interaction between Islam and modern science, and how Islam's interaction with the modern world is taking place," said Hameed.
In the study, titled "Evolution and Islam: Acceptance of Biological Evolution and Perspectives on Science and Religion Among Muslim Physicians and Medical Students," researchers will interview at least 500 doctors and medical students in five Muslim countries (Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey) and three diasporas (Germany, Great Britain, and the United States).
"It will give us a particularly broad snapshot because there are so many countries involved," said Hameed. He also thinks the study can shed light on the evolution and creationism debate in the United States. "Through a sample of reactions to evolution, we will be able to see the factors that are common to the Muslim world and the U.S., as well as the differences."
Hameed thinks his team's NSF grant application was successful in part because of the researchers' diverse academic backgrounds. "This is truly interdisciplinary work," he said. "Our proposal had science educators, a sociologist, a scientist, and a philosopher, providing multiple ways to approach at the same problem."
Johns Hopkins University education professor Anila Asghar is co-leader of the study with Hameed. A former Hampshire College professor and Northeastern University sociology and international affairs professor Berna Turam, Hampshire philosophy professor Laura Sizer and cognition and education professor Laura Wenk, and recent Hampshire graduate Don Everhart 05F make up the rest of the team.
Everhart looks forward to participating in a major study less than a year after completing his Division III project (senior thesis), titled "Coherence in Science and Religion." Professors Hameed and Sizer chaired his Div III committee. As part of that work, Everhart analyzed perceptions about evolution among Pakistani doctors who practice medicine in the United States. He is helping to develop the survey instrument for the far larger NSF-funded study.
Hameed said the study offers potential for many more students to get involved over the next three years, and possibly to provide Div III projects ranging in topics from Islam and Middle Eastern studies to sociology and science education.
Hampshire and Hameed recently hosted an international conference on Darwin and Evolution in the Muslim World.
Conference website >>
New York Times coverage of the conference >>