Islamophobia: Identifying the Problem, Exploring Solutions

A workshop for K-12 and post-secondary educators
Saturday, February 17, 2018
9:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Saieh Hall for Economics, Room 021
1160 E. 58th Street, Chicago IL 60637

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago held a special professional development workshop  for local educators that addressed anti-Islamic sentiment in our current social and political climate. This workshop’s featured speaker was Nour Kteily, Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  His research uses the tools of social psychology to investigate how and why social hierarchy and power disparities between groups emerge, and how this influences intergroup relations and prospects for conflict resolution. In our workshop, Professor Kteily discussed a quantitative approach to identifying the nature and scope of the problem of Islamophobia. As a group, we examined Islamophobia’s global ramifications and explored novel solutions that can be taught in the classroom.

In addition to Professor Kteily, this workshop featured a panel discussion on developing questions and planning inquiries on Islam and Islamic civilization for the social studies, global history/world studies, or world religions classroom. The panelists were professionally trained educators who completed the Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP) curriculum at the Institute for Ismaili Studies, and they are members of Ismaili congregations of the greater Chicago area. Members of these local congregations discussed with teachers some alternative ways for exploring Islamic cultures in the classroom: 1) through ethical concepts shared across the monotheistic religions; and 2) through recurring themes in Persian and Arabic literature and poetry.

Registration was free and open to all K-12 and post-secondary educators. Illinois public school teachers earned 6 ISBE professional development hours for attending the entire program.

Workshop Agenda

9:00 - 9:30 AM: Sign-in and light breakfast
9:30 - 9:45 AM: Welcome
9:45 - 10:45 AM: Islamophobia - identifying the problem (Nour Kteily)
10:45 - 10:55 AM: Break
10:55 - 11:45 AM: Islamophobia - exploring solutions (Nour Kteily)
11:45 - 12:15 PM: Open discussion
12:15 - 1:00 PM: Lunch & conversations
1:00 - 2:00 PM: Overview of teaching strategies and resources (Alexander Barna)
2:00 - 2:15 PM: Break
2:15 - 3:45 PM: STEP panel discussion - "Developing questions and planning inquiries on Islam and Islamic civilization" & open forum
3:45 - 4:00 PM: Evaluations

Workshop Resources

Journal Articles

  • Darker Demons of our Nature: The need to (Re)Focus Attention on Blatant Forms of Dehumanitzation (Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2017)
    Abstract: Although dehumanization research first emerged following the overt and conscious denials of humanity present during war and genocide, modern dehumanization research largely examines more subtle and implicit forms of dehumanization in more everyday settings. We argue for the need to reorient the research agenda toward understanding when and why individuals blatantly dehumanize others. We review recent research in a range of contexts suggesting that blatant dehumanization is surprisingly prevalent and potent, uniquely predicting aggressive intergroup attitudes and behavior beyond subtle forms of dehumanization and outgroup dislike, and promoting vicious cycles of conflict.
  • Backlash: The Politics and Real-World Consequences of Minority Group Dehumanization (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2017)
    Abstract: Research suggests that members of advantaged groups who feel dehumanized by other groups respond aggressively. But little is known about how meta-dehumanization affects disadvantaged minority group members, historically the primary targets of dehumanization. We examine this important question in the context of the 2016 U.S. Republican Primaries, which have witnessed the widespread derogation and dehumanization of Mexican immigrants and Muslims. Two initial studies document that Americans blatantly dehumanize Mexican immigrants and Muslims; this dehumanization uniquely predicts support for aggressive policies proposed by Republican nominees, and dehumanization is highly associated with supporting Republican candidates (especially Donald Trump). Two further studies show that, in this climate, Latinos and Muslims in the United States feel heavily dehumanized, which predicts hostile responses including support for violent versus non-violent collective action and unwillingness to assist counterterrorism efforts. Our results extend theorizing on dehumanization, and suggest that it may have cyclical and self-fulfilling consequences.
  • The Fringe Effect: Civil Society Organizations and the Evolution of Media Discourse about Islam since the September 11th Attacks (American Sociological Review, 2013)
    Abstract: Numerous studies indicate that civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream messages that resonate with prevailing discursive themes. Yet these case studies of highly influential organizations obscure the much larger population that have little or no impact. It is therefore unclear whether civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream discourses or if they become part of the mainstream because of their success. [The author] presents an evolutionary theory of how discursive fields settle after major historical ruptures that highlights framing, social networks, and emotional energy. To illustrate this theory, [the author] uses plagiarism detection software to compare 1,084 press releases about Muslims produced by 120 civil society organizations to 50,407 newspaper articles and television transcripts produced between 2001 and 2008. Although most organizations deployed pro-Muslim discourses after the September 11th attacks, [the author] shows that anti-Muslim fringe organizations dominated the mass media via displays of fear and anger. Institutional amplification of this emotional energy, [the author] argues, created a gravitational pull or “fringe effect” that realigned inter-organizational networks and altered the contours of mainstream discourse itself.

​News Articles

The following three four articles discuss the work of Nour Kteily and his colleagues and the larger social issues to which it connects:

Three articles by social scientists writing for the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog:

Reporting from the The Guardian (UK) on anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States:

  • Sharia threat bandwagon just keeps rolling on [The Guardian] - This article is useful for identifying the five basic premises of the anti-Sharia conspiracy theory in the United States. Some or all of these premises routinely re-appear in public attacks and denunciations of Islam and Muslims, regardless of context.
  • The fight for the right to be a Muslim in Ameica [The Guardian]
  • Anti-sharia laws proliferate as Trump strikes hostile tone toward Muslims [The Guardian]
  • Dearborn, Michiagn [Guardian Documentaries] - "In the last 12 months the city of Dearborn, Michigan, has been thrown into conflict. At its heart, the conflict is about fear, ideology and identity politics – and what it means to be an American. Dearborn, home to the largest mosque in North America, is a place of apparent contradictions: simultaneously a sleepy, affluent suburb and yet also the subject of rumours about Isis terror cells and sharia law." Released on August 17, 2017.

The following two articles were published by The Atlantic. The first article, by Caner K. Dagli, a professor of Islamic studies, is titled "The Phony Islam of ISIS." It is a response to The Atlantic's March 2015 cover story, "What ISIS Really Wants," by Graeme Wood. Educators can read and assign these articles in any order. One approach would be to read Graeme's lengthier article first and then analyze Dagli's response. To save time, educators could also have their students read Dagli's response first and then review only the portions of the Graeme article that Dagli quotes, paraphrases, or references. Reading and analyzing these articles affords students the opportunity to examine, engage, and question the idea that ISIS' -- or other extremists' -- interpretation of Islam stands at the core of Islamic history, experience, and tradition:

Lesson Plan: Using Multiple Sources to Understand Media Representations of Muslims and related readings:

Introductory Resources on Islam and Muslim Communities

Historical Newspaper Articles for Analysis and Decoding

Teaching Frameworks and Guidelines

Modules from Teaching the Middle East: A Resource for Educators

This resource was written by some of the best scholars in the field of Middle Eastern studies and created in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities and three University of Chicago units, the Oriental Institute, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the eCUIP Digital Library Project.

Note: Most of the content on this website has not been updated since its initial launch in 2010. There are a lot of broken links.

  • The Middle East as Net Exporter of Religion
    Investigate the religious ideas of the ancient people of the Middle East, some of which became core elements of four major religions: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • The Golden Age of Islam
    Trace the background and areas of achievement of classical Islamic civilization from 610 to 1258 CE.
  • Writing and Literature - Islamic Period
    Explore the development of the Qur’an and Qasida, the rise of Arabic verbal arts, the renaissance of Persian and Turkic languages, and literary engagement with the challenges of colonialism and modernity.
  • Rulership and Justice - Islamic Period
    Explore the path of political power, authority, and legitimacy from 610 CE, the beginning of the classical period of Islamic civilization, until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the early years of the twentieth century.
  • The Middle East as Seen Through Foreign Eyes - Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
    Learn about America’s continued imagining and stereotyping of the Middle East in the context of the political machinations of the cold war and with advances in telecommunications, which changed the ways people observed and perceived the post-war world.

Teaching Tolerance: PBS Films on Muslims and Islam for the High School and College Classroom 

The role of Islam and Muslims in American society has been at the forefront of public attention for several years. Many teachers are eager to generate informed discussion on this issue, tying it to larger themes such as constitutional freedoms and current events. The core mission of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) is to share stories of different faiths and cultures, particularly Muslims, in a wider societal context. What are the histories and motivations of this diverse group? How have other cultures impacted it and what influence has it had on the world? These are some of the critical questions UPF explores through its films.

UPF is eager to expand its offerings to more teachers at the high school and college level. Having been broadcast on PBS stations nationwide, UPF's aim is to make history and social studies topics accessible, engaging, and entertaining, while consulting with scholars to keep them authentic. For more information and resources on using UPF films in the K-12 or post-secondary classroom -- including lesson plans and discussion guides -- visit:

Additional Reading