Framing Islam: Non-Muslim Americans' Narratives of Muslim and Islamic Identity

Fitzgibbon, Kara, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Vickerman, Milton, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

Anti-Muslim sentiments continue to rise in the United States, as do harassment of and hate-crimes against Muslims. To combat this trend, it is critical to better understand the lenses through which non-Muslim Americans view Muslims and Islam. Using frame analysis, this study examines in detail the sentiments and narratives that motivate Islamophobia. As an analytical tool, frames refer to the schemas that assign identity and meaning to social actors and actions in specific social contexts. The primary objectives of this study are to (1) identify the frames through which Americans perceive Muslims and Islam, (2) determine the predictors across demographic backgrounds, affiliations, and practices that align with each frame and (3) examine how these frames impact opinions on policy and social inclusion regarding Muslims and Islam. To address these objectives, this project uses a mixed methods approach. Specifically, quantitative data are collected through a survey measuring the attitudes, behaviors, and demographics of a sample of non-Muslim Americans. In addition, a discourse analysis of the 2016 presidential candidates’ campaign rhetoric is presented.

A combined total of six frames and counter-frames are developed and analyzed in this study. In the context of this project, frames present critical views of Muslims and Islam; whereas counter-frames reflect perspectives amenable to Muslims and Islam within the United States. In predicting expression of frames and counter-frames, the multivariate regression analysis of survey results shows political measures largely drive expression, followed by media consumption behaviors. The discourse analysis also shows the persistent partisan relationship between politics and sentiments toward Muslims and Islam. Counter to existing literature, this study finds that religion has relatively less impact on expression of frames/counter-frames when other factors are controlled via multivariate analysis. In assessing the influence of frames and counter-frames on opinions regarding policy and social inclusion, this study finds that frames/counter-frames maintain significant effects even when analyzed alongside other known covariates (such as political ideology, religiosity, Evangelicalism, education). This study concludes that frame analysis is an effective method for studying sentiments toward Muslims and Islam and advancing our understanding of Islamophobia.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Islamophobia, American Islamic identity, Frame analysis
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