Hampshire College’s Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS) received a grant to catalogue and evaluate for accuracy videos about the natural sciences and Islam available on the Internet. During the 2014-15 school year, students from the Five College Consortium (Hampshire College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and University of Massachusetts Amherst) working under the direction of the center’s fellow for the 2014-15 school year, Dr. Vika Gardner, compiled and catalogued videos in English. The team gathered information on more than 2500 videos about topics such as Islam and evolution, Islam and astronomy, Islam and medicine, Qurʾānic descriptions of scientific discoveries, and so on. These videos present ideas that are often quite popular among Muslims, but are rarely evaluated for their conformity with accepted scholarly theories in the various disciplines.
The evaluation stage examines approximately two hundred of these videos and the material presented for accuracy across three topic areas--science, religion, and history--scoring the examined videos on a three-point scale (accurate, inaccurate, mixed) for each of the three topic areas. Throughout the process, the team was assisted by faculty from various scientific and Islamic disciplines, within the Five College system and outside it. The evaluation criteria was developed in consultation with a steering committee consisting of experts from the various scientific and religious fields.
The attempt at a comprehensive survey of videos seems to be unique, as no indication that something like this has been done has been found in the scholarly literature. The team focused on collecting videos from as wide a range of viewpoints and as wide a range of styles and subject matter as possible.
The information gathered will be presented on a website, including the evaluation criteria, starting in the fall of 2015. The purpose of this website is to allow the public to select and view videos from a variety of perspectives, as well as provide a hub for scholars wanting to look at videos selected across topics or perspectives. Secondary or post-secondary level instructors might quickly find accurate videos to use in classes. Once the extensive research has been done, regular maintenance will ensure that the catalog remains up to date.
The center is well positioned to do this work. Its 2009 conference on Islam and Evolution, itself the result of a successful grant, drew together scholars representing differing viewpoints on the topic. The director of the center, Salman Hameed, has been active in writing about science and Islam, including regular updates on his blog, Irtiqa.
The collaboration includes, in addition to Dr. Hameed, Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Vika Gardner, student workers from the Five Colleges, two local faculty advisors, and three external faculty advisors.
Dr. George Saliba, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, Columbia University
Dr. Ehab Abouheif, professor of biology, McGill University
Dr. Asad Q. Ahmed, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, University of California, Berkeley
Dr. Charles Ross, associate professor of evolutionary biology, Hampshire College
Dr. Suleiman Mourad, professor of religion, Smith College
See a brief article on the grant.
Salman Hameed and Vika Gardner gave a presentation on the research at the February 4, 2015 Cognitive Science lunch talk, entitled "Explorations of Web 2.0: What’s Video Got to Do with the Study of Science and Muslims?"