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Scholar who has chronicled emergence of anti-Muslim groups to speak at IU

Apr 6, 2017
Pastor Terry Jones marches with two other men during a protest in Washington, D.C., in 2011.
Florida pastor Terry Jones, right, who threatened to burn 200 copies of the Quran in 2010, helped stoke anti-Muslim fervor in the United States. He is seen here participating in a march in Washington, D.C., in March 2011.Mark Taylor via Wikimedia Commons

Christopher Bail, a Duke University professor whose research has chronicled the emergence of anti-Muslim organizations and their role in mainstream American culture, will speak April 11 at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies.

Bail is the Douglas and Ellen Lowey Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Duke and author of the award-winning book “Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream” (Princeton University Press).

His lecture, sponsored by the Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics and Society, will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Global and International Studies Building, 355 N. Jordan Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

Bail studies how nonprofit organizations and other political actors shape public discourse by analyzing large groups of texts from newspapers, television, public opinion surveys and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Christopher Bail’s research is particularly relevant today during Trump’s presidency, when many of his closest advisors are drawn from the ranks of the ‘alt-right,’ whose distinguishing feature in many ways is their virulent anti-Muslim stance, recently reflected in the two travel bans against immigrants from exclusively Muslim-majority countries,” said Asma Afsaruddin., professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.

In his book, Bail cites as an example the actions of Terry Jones, pastor of a small fundamentalist church in Florida, who in July 2010 threatened to burn 200 copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Although he did not follow through with his plans, his threats sparked violent protests across the Muslim world that led to at least 20 deaths.

In “Terrified,” Bail writes about how the beliefs of fanatics like Jones are inspired by a rapidly expanding network of anti-Muslim organizations that exert profound influence on American understanding of Islam.

Last year, the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association honored Bail as winner of its Distinguished Book Award. It also won the 2015 Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action Award for Outstanding Book in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research.

In his talk at IU, Bail will discuss how fringe groups have validated the views of extremists who argue that the United States is at war with Islam and marginalized mainstream Muslim-Americans who are positioned to discredit such claims.

“It is no surprise therefore that certain segments of the American population feel emboldened by this trend and interpret it as a license to engage in hate speech and violent attacks directed at Muslims,” Afsaruddin said.

“Bail’s academically rigorous and sophisticated examination of the heated rhetoric of Islamophobic groups since Sept. 11, 2001, helps explain why it has had such an impact on the recent presidential elections and the public credibility that such groups currently enjoy.”

Bail’s talk is part of the “Islam in the American Public Sphere” seminar series this spring, which Afsaruddin co-directs. The lecture and series are also supported by IU’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Department of Political Science, Department of Sociology and Islamic Studies Program.

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