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Grant Funds Database of Science and Islam Videos

Professor Salman Hameed was awarded a $199,656 one-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to create a website that collects and evaluates the intellectual content of videos on Islam and science that are available online.

Associate Professor of Integrated Science and Humanities Salman Hameed

Professor Salman Hameed was awarded a $199,656 one-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to create a website that collects and evaluates the intellectual content of videos on Islam and science that are available online.

“By the end of summer 2015, we expect to have a website that serves as a repository of Islam and science videos with the content evaluated,” said Hameed. “And we will keep building it, as every year there will be new videos.”

Hameed, associate professor of integrated science and humanities, said that he was initially approached by the Templeton Foundation to provide a written report on what videos deal with Islam and science. Instead of a report, Hameed proposed an idea “that would perhaps make it a more interesting project.” That idea was a platform in which videos about science and Islam could be collected and ranked depending on their presentations of religion, science, and history.

“What we want to do is look at the content, look at the way it provides information, and then present that to the public in an easy manner,” said Hameed, who was inspired by websites such as snopes.com and rottentomatoes.com.

The Templeton Foundation supported the proposal, and funding began in July 2014. The first semester, Hameed said, will be spent establishing evaluation criteria based on the perceived factuality of each video’s approach to religion, science, and history.

“In an age when it is so easy to make videos, and public consumption is so high, it’s essential to have a way to evaluate the content,” he said. “This site would be useful for professors looking for videos for use in their classrooms as well as for the general public interested in the topic. Apart from the categorization of hundreds of online videos related to Islam and science, the site will also highlight those videos that present quality academic content. It is an exciting challenge, because we’re not just producing a report. This is uncharted territory.”

A team of national and international experts in fields including the history of science, religious studies, biology, and astronomy will be involved. While he looks forward to the collaboration, Hameed realizes that creating video critiques will probably spark some resentment.

“I can imagine some people not being very happy,” said Hameed. “If someone doesn’t believe in evolution and we point out problems with their creationist arguments, they may not like our critique. A lot of myths have also become quite popular. If we point out historical inaccuracies, they may feel unhappy with that. That’s one of the reasons why we will have a multi-tiered system of advisors. What we will try to rely on is academic quality and rigor.”

Research fellow Vika Gardner, a visiting assistant professor in the Mount Holyoke College religion department last year, will lead the efforts at Hampshire, with other advisors likely coming to campus twice over the next year to work on the project. Gardner began working on the project in July, and estimates she has compiled more than 1,000 videos already. Analyzing every related video on the web, she realizes, will be impossible, but she hopes the team will develop a comprehensive tool nonetheless.

“We’re trying to create a language and methodology of how to talk about these videos,” said Gardner. “I’m an Islamic studies scholar, with film studies on the side, so this has been really fun. I’m trying to get a sense of where these discourses are going on.”

The creation of the website will also draw on a number of Five College faculty and students.

“We will work with a team of undergraduates as well to collect and screen the videos,” said Hameed. “I can see Division II students working on this. It could also be a fascinating Division III project on media, science, and religion if a student wants to get involved.”

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for “discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” The foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will, and encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

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