February Research Meeting: Survey Data on Religious and Secular Sentiment in Turkey

After a winter break hiatus, CMACers are back to the grindstone. We had our first research meeting of 2019 on Wednesday, February 20, and heard from guest presenter and BU Psychology Masters student Khushboo Patel about her work with CMAC Board Member Catherine Caldwell-Harris. Khushboo and Dr. Caldwell-Harris, along with other undergrad and grad students, are exploring secular and religious sentiment in Turkey after President Erdogan’s ban of the theory of evolution from the national curriculum. Erdogan claims that evolution is too complicated for schoolchildren to understand, and should be taught only at the university level. Turkey has had a secular government since Mustafa Kamal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey and made a set of reforms after the fall of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Recently, however, there has been a backlash against this surge of secularism, resulting in the rise in popularity of President Erdogan and his pro-Islam political party, the AK Party.

Khushboo Patel

Khushboo and Dr. Caldwell-Harris surveyed Turkish citizens to ask about their personal religious beliefs and thoughts about science and evolution. After receiving responses (in Turkish) from 145 people, they spent the next couple months meticulously translating the data into English. It was important to accurately convey the nuance in the language in the translation, Khushboo says, because qualitative data analysis depended on clear categorizations. Khushboo and her colleagues found that respondents in late adolescence and older were less religious and more skeptical of Erdogan’s ban. Most respondents thought that the ban on teaching evolution was a misguided idea that would set Turkey back in scientific advancements, compared to other countries. The research team detected strong belief in the importance of science and evolution equally in religious and non-religious people.

Khushboo and Dr. Caldwell-Harris’ research, if expanded to more respondents, could be the first modern qualitative dataset collected studying Turkish sentiment towards the current debate in the government about secularism and Islam. The narratives they procure from Turkish citizens could educate the rest of the world about the political climate in Turkey and how it relates to the rich history of Islam in the country.

See Khushboo’s slides below.

Seth Villegas, a second-year PhD student under the mentorship of CMAC Executive Director and BU Professor of Philosophy Dr. Wesley Wildman, shared his progress in studying the atheism and religiosity of discussion-based science Meetup.com groups around Boston. He has been attending one of these groups for a few months, and noted how self-proclaimed atheist scientists in the group asserted that there is no God and that the universe is merely mathematics and physics, but also displayed a kind of awed reverence when discussing quantum mechanics, similar to the awe religious people feel about God. Seth will continue to work with Dr. Wildman, exploring the beliefs of these groups.

The rest of the group shared progress and pitfalls of their individual research projects, as is the routine for CMAC’s monthly research meetings. We will see everyone next month!