The Silence of Narrative Echo Chambers: An Analysis of College Students' Perceptions of Islam's Connection to Terrorism Open Access

Spinks, Virginia (2017)

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A narrative conflating Islam with terrorism remains pervasive in the American public sphere in the twenty-first century. Despite many attempts by scholars and other public figures to dissociate the two, this narrative persists through continual repetition and re-leveraging by power entities such as community leaders, religious figures, and politicians. This study investigates how students at Emory College of Arts and Sciences perceive Islam's connection to terrorism, given this pervasiveness. More specifically, it investigates narrative processes in the particular space of a liberal arts college campus. Through an analysis and synthesis of semi-structured interviews and a qualitative survey, this study seeks to provide a working map of how this issue is understood among college students, as well as how it is discussed in the college environment. This study assumes that students' perceptions will necessarily be influenced by their lived experiences, a contemporary media world of globalized information, and by their existence as agents, capable of complex thinking and speech production.

This research finds that on the whole, these students' perceptions are more nuanced than the more essentialist narratives dominating the public sphere. It also finds that students' perceptions are heavily influenced by the sub-culture of the liberal arts college campus space. Conversations around Islam's connection to terrorism are heavily shaped by national political tensions and by the argument over the place of free speech, political correctness, and identity politics. Moreover, this study finds that in the space of the liberal arts campus, there is a cultural emphasis on the creation of safe spaces to protect the diversity of identity and create an inclusive atmosphere. It appears though, that this language, together with the ability of students to exist within information worlds of their own choosing, has caused people to refrain from discussing politically-contentious topics like this one for fear of offending or seeming ignorant. Despite students' nuanced outlooks about Islam's connection to terrorism, they feel bound by unspoken rules which inhibit discussion about it in public spaces.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction... 1

Chapter One: Situating and Framing... 4

The Role of Narrative/Myth... 7

The Role of Cultural Memory in Narrative Perpetuation... 8

The Role of Media and Individual Perceptions in Narrative Practices... 14

The Narrative Echo Chambers... 16

How Islam is Perceived in the West: Review of the Literature... 17

Chapter Two: Emory as Place... 24

Chapter Three: Methodology... 30

Research Purposes & Questions... 30

Evolution of the Research... 31

Research Methods... 32

The Study Population: Sampling and Demographics... 35

Conducting the Analysis... 37

Researcher Subjectivity... 38

Chapter Four: Disconnecting Islam and Terrorism... 41

Hyper-Liberalism... 45

Liberal Pragmatism... 47

The Learned Perspective... 49

Conservative Skepticism... 51

The Emic Perspective... 53

Chapter Five: Cross-Analysis with Narrative and Cultural Myth Theories... 56

Reflection about a Narrative of Islamic Terror... 56

A Field of Counter-Narratives... 61

A Lapse in the Argument for Complexity... 65

Cultural Narratives at Work and Revelation of Meta-Narrative... 68

Chapter Six: It Gets Political... 71

Chapter Seven: Concluding Statements... 80

Limitations... 80

Implications and Areas for Further Research... 81

References... 84

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