Posts in Category: Research

Research Portfolio Post #9: Qualitative Data Sources for Interpretivist Research

I will be researching the discourse of the Bush Administration on how the administration perceived their role in the world: as freedom fighters, protectors and promoters of democracy. When discussing the war in Iraq, US government officials highlighted the geopolitical scene, the crimes of the Saddam regime, the War on Terror and retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Yet rarely were the Iraqi people factored into war calculations; Iraqi’s were seemingly erased from the war narrative completely. This erasure of identity on behalf of the US government led to a great misunderstanding of Iraqi social and religious dynamics and would ultimately lead to the vast persecution of religious minorities in the country.

Numerous speeches by President Bush highlight this rhetoric. Staples of President Bush’s speeches were mentions of Iraq’s illegal weapons of mass destruction program, Saddam’s link to al Qaeda, and the brutality of the Saddam regime that was oppressing the Iraqi people. In his State of the Union address, President Bush went so far as to describe the torturous methods used by Saddam, ironic given the US’ enhanced interrogation methods at Abu Ghraib. Yet practically no attention was given to the Iraqi people, the religious and social dynamics that shaped Iraq, and the impact a foreign invasion may have on the Iraqi population.

Such discourse by the Bush Administration is indicative of how the US views its own role in the world and such discourse reflected actions taken by the US. In speeches by President Bush, Iraq is seen as a feeble nation that needs the coalition’s help to obtain freedom and democracy. The US is seen as the leader of the free world, leading Iraq out of dictatorship and into a utopia of freedom. Speeches like these can be connected to other speeches within the Bush Administration, to government documents outlining the goals of the invasion, to the discourse of the Iraqi people, to actions taken by the US, and to other writers and scholars of the time.

“Excerpts from the State of the Union Regarding Iraq.” Accessed November 21, 2017.

“President Bush Addresses the Nation.” Accessed November 21, 2017.

“President Bush: ‘World Can Rise to This Moment.’” Accessed November 21, 2017.

RPP #8: Qualitative Data Sources

I will use Iraq as a case study, much like Atzili used the Congo in his research, to answer the question, what explains the rise in religious minority persecution following foreign intervention?[1] I will operationalize the dependent variable, the rise of persecution against religious minorities, by looking at US State Department reports on International Religious Freedom following the US invasion and observing whether there has been a change in Iraqi law that impedes religious freedom.[2] The International Religious Freedom Reports give detailed accounts of the legal policy and framework as well as restrictions on religious freedom that have been reported on within the last year.

In 2005, the State Department reported that the Transitional Administrative Law was protective of religious freedoms and that the government respected this right.[3] Up through 2016, the legal framework of the constitution still protects religious minorities, except those of Bahai Faith and the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam.[4] In reality, though, the ongoing insurgency in 2006 was reported to harm citizen’s ability to practice their faith freely, and the Kurdistan Regional Government was reported to have engaged in discriminatory behavior against Christians.[5] According to US State Department reports, there has been little to no change in the persecution of religious minorities at the governmental level, yet reports also acknowledge that the situation on the ground may be much different.

State Department reports highlight how there has been little to no legal change in the status of religious minorities, yet further research should be done on the grassroots level. An interesting thing to analyze would be the rhetoric of religious minority individuals before and after the invasion, though this may not be feasible for my own project. Operationalizing such rhetoric may also be more difficult than tracking changes in Iraqi domestic law.

[1] Boaz Atzili, “When Good Fences Make Bad Neighbors,” The MIT Press 31, no. 3 (Winter 2006): 139–173.

[2] “International Religious Freedom,” accessed November 8, 2017,

[3] “Iraq,” U.S. Department of State, accessed November 9, 2017,

[4] “International Religious Freedom Report for 2016,” accessed November 9, 2017,

[5] “Iraq,” U.S. Department of State, accessed November 9, 2017,

Research Portfolio Post #7: Quantitative Data Sources

These datasets will help me operationalize my dependent variable, the level of persecution endured by Christians, following foreign intervention and the decentralization of violence. The Minorities at Risk dataset analyzes the persecution of minorities using a number of indicators including the proportion of the group to the country population, how and where the group is distributed, emigration reasons, economic and political discrimination indexes, restrictions on religion, level of grievances, ect. There are limitations to this dataset as it is nominal data and many of the categories contain the number -99, meaning there is no basis for judgement. There are 27 cases on Iraq alone in this dataset.

The Forcibly Displaced Populations dataset has information on 44 cases in Iraq and tracks the number of internally displaced persons and refugees. This dataset gives me the ability to track the rise and fall of refugees and displaced persons within Iraq across time, but does not necessarily attribute such movements to minority or religious persecution. This dataset could be used in congruence with another dataset for my own project.

The International Religious Freedom Reports analyzes the State Department’s reports on 198 countries around the world and how many countries fall into yes or no categories. It has data on indicators such as whether people were abused or displaced in a country due to religion, whether religious considerations affected out migration, whether there has been an improvement in respect for religious freedom, ect. This data can be useful to my research as it investigates Iraq and also allows me to compare the data to other countries in the region.

Both the Forcibly Displaced Populations dataset and the International Religious Freedom Reports use interval ratio data which can be particularly useful for my own research and gives me the opportunity to find the average across the many cases.


Minorities at Risk Project. (2009) “Minorities at Risk Dataset.” College Park, MD: Center for International Development and Conflict Management. Retrieved from on: 24 October 2017.

Forcibly Displaced Populations, 1964-2008. (2017) “Armed Conflict and Intervention (ACI) Datasets.” Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace. Retrieved from on: 24 October 2017.

International Religious Freedom Reports (2006) “International Religious Freedom Data.” University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from on: 24 October 2017.

Research Portfolio Post #5: Research Topic

I am proposing to research the persecution of Christians in Iraq following the US invasion because I want to find out how dictators ensure the safety of religious minorities/how dictators ensure social stability in order to help my reader understand how social dynamics function under oppressive regimes so the US can make better decisions when it comes to confronting authoritarian regimes.

Johnathan Fox, in his article, ““Religious Discrimination against Religious Minorities in Middle Eastern Muslim States,” investigates religious discrimination of religious minorities in Muslim Majority states throughout the MENA region.[1] Using large N, neo-positivist research,[2] Fox concludes that Muslim minority groups suffer the least, with Christians being persecuted a fair amount, and other religious minorities groups suffering the most.[3] He also argues that there has been a sharp drop in religious discrimination that “is almost totally due to the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.”[4] Fox focus is on governmental regulations and laws that persecute religious minorities and does not consider the impact of non-state actors, and it is only near the end of his article that he notes that while there may be little official discrimination that does not mean there are not other “constant and deadly intercommunal attacks.”[5] In addition, this article focuses only on data through 2008, [6] before the rise of the Islamic State and the group’s takeover of Mosul. He concludes that when a government is replaced, it is the Islamic parties with overt agendas who have increased influence.[7] I then wonder, what role do dictators, like Saddam, play in protecting minorities? At what price does this protection come at? Is discrimination of religious minorities worse under the state or under non-state actors?

A Christianity Today article written in 2011[8], shows why many Christians support the Assad regime. Syrian Christians had witnessed the effect of Saddam’s fall on the Iraqi Christian population, including 500,000 Christian refugees who had fled to Syria.[9] Though the Assad family ruled Syria with an “iron grip,” Christians have enjoyed significant protection, thus Christians were hesitant to support an uprising that could overthrow the regime that protects them and usher in an Islamic fundamentalist governance.[10] Despite numerous abuses on behalf of the regime, for Christians, their own security became paramount, and the regime seemed to be able to be the only one to provide that.[11] This directly relates to my own puzzle, why would people support a regime that tortures, kills, and restricts its own people? Does there always have to be a persecuted group in society? The situation in Iraq is mirrored years later in the events in Syria, as highlighted by this article. But it shows me, for my research, that this is not a one-time phenomenon.

A Human Rights Watch report from 2014, details the actions of the Islamic State against minority groups in Iraq.[12] The report writes of the killing, kidnapping, and threatening against Turkmen, Shabaks, Yazidis, and Christians around Mosul.[13] Living near the Islamic State as a minority could “cost you your livelihood, your liberty, or even your life.”[14] Human Rights Watch, in this 2014 report, details the numerous abuses of the Islamic State in numerous instances and against numerous sects. What distinction is there between these abuses and those under Saddam? How have anti-minority sentiments grown since Saddam? Has ISIS changed public sentiments towards minorities?

Penny Green and Tony Ward, in their article, “The Transformation of Violence in Iraq,”[15]explore types of violence in post-invasion Iraq, focusing especially on the decentralization of violence.[16] They argue that the state no longer hold the monopoly of violence and there is thus no distinction between violence serving the goals of the organization or for individual gratification.[17] Rather than being ruled by one dictator, Iraqis feel themselves as being ruled by multiple forces of evil, the democratization of violence.[18] ‘Leyla A.’ even goes as far as to say that things are worse now than they were under Saddam.[19] Although this article focuses on the persecution of women and the gay community in post-Saddam Iraq, this article can be applied to my own research in how Iraqis feel the violence has only been perpetuated in non-state actors. Was there really less violence under Saddam? How was Saddam able to maintain order? This article highlights how more groups and individuals have access to violence rather than one man controlling the whole country.Researchers should care about this because as a global power, the US often feels a need to intervene in situations it deems counter to our own values and safety. But how these impact minority groups

Researchers should care about this because as a global power, the US often feels a need to intervene in situations it deems counter to our own values and safety. But how these impact minority groups is of great significance. How can we counter authoritarian regimes without costing minority groups their lives/livelihood? How can we counter regimes without instigating more violence, especially against minority groups? Understanding the dynamics of social and religious stability under authoritarian regimes can help the US create better US foreign policy.

How do dictators ensure safety and protection of minority groups? How did the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq lead to greater persecution of the Christian minority?


[1] Jonathan Fox, “Religious Discrimination against Religious Minorities in Middle Eastern Muslim States,” Civil wars 15, no. 4 (December 2013): 454.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 466.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 467.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Dale Gavlak in Amman Morgan Jordan, and Beirut, Lebanon, and Timothy C., “Syria’s Christians Back Assad,” ChristianityToday.Com, accessed September 30, 2017,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Human Rights Watch | 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor | New York, and NY 10118-3299 USA | t, “Iraq: ISIS Abducting, Killing, Expelling Minorities,” Human Rights Watch, last modified July 19, 2014, accessed September 30, 2017,

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] P. Green, “The Transformation of Violence in Iraq,” British journal of criminology 49, no. 5 (September 2009): 609–627.

[16] Ibid., 609.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 621.

[19] Ibid.


Avenue, Human Rights Watch | 350 Fifth, 34th Floor | New York, and NY 10118-3299 USA | t “Iraq: ISIS Abducting, Killing, Expelling Minorities.” Human Rights Watch. Last modified July 19, 2014. Accessed September 30, 2017.

Fox, Jonathan. “Religious Discrimination against Religious Minorities in Middle Eastern Muslim States.” Civil wars 15, no. 4 (December 2013): 454–470.

Green, P. “The Transformation of Violence in Iraq.” British journal of criminology 49, no. 5 (September 2009): 609–627.

Morgan, Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan, and Beirut, Lebanon, and Timothy C. “Syria’s Christians Back Assad.” ChristianityToday.Com. Accessed September 30, 2017.

Article Summary

In the article, “Islamophobia and Threat Perceptions: Explaining Anti-Muslims Sentiments in the West,” Sabri Ciftci investigates the sources of rising Islamophobic sentiments in the West.[1] Using a case/comparative approach of western attitudes towards Islam, three theories are investigated including perceived threat, social identity, and cognitive capabilities.[2] Ciftci uses surveys, which are then ranked by anti-Islamic sentiments, investigating five hypotheses to explore anti-Muslim sentiments in five countries due to a number of factors including social group membership, cultural and social values, and education level.[3] Ciftci is then able to observe what variables are statistically significant.[4] Ciftci finds that Westerners often perceive Muslims are fanatical, violent, and supportive of terrorism if they feel their culture or physical well-being are threatened, while the effects of religion are small.[5] Although this article investigates Western perceptions of Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments, I can use some of this research for my own project such as ideas of the “in-group” and “out-group” and feelings of having one’s physical or cultural existence threatened. Sentiments that are felt by Westerns towards Muslims can be the same sorts of sentiments Iraqi Muslims feel towards Christians.



Ciftci, S. “Islamophobia and Threat Perceptions: Explaining Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 32, no. 3 (2012): 293–309.

[1] S. Ciftci, “Islamophobia and Threat Perceptions: Explaining Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 32, no. 3 (2012): 293.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. 296.

[4] Ibid. 303.

[5] Ibid. 306.

Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

Ontology requires that we come at the subject from a certain position. Objectivists view the world as a place governed by laws, whereas constructivists would view the world as being governed by us, the people who live in it. Ontology is thus a distinction based on how individuals perceive the world to be governed, whether through rules that have a stable and enduring existence beyond time and space, or that social actors are the ones constructing their own reality, that what is “true” in one context is subject to change. This directly relates to the neo-positivist and interpretivist divide, where the former looks for enduring universal assumptions whereas the latter focuses on the particular context.

Methodology is the means by which we logically select our tools for data collection. The methodology that we choose will depend on the ontology of our research. If we approach our research from a strictly neo-positivist perspective, we will be more likely to use a small-N analysis or statistical analysis, compared to the interpretivist perspective which would be much more historical or ethnographical in its methodology. Of course, there can be some overlap and no method is reserved for one school of thought. Research done by both Oren and Owen, although different in their ontologies, both used historical analysis to prove their respected thoughts on the democratic peace theory.

Existing in a world inherently means we cannot be impartial observers of it. Coming at it from the example of my own research project, I have preconceived ideas, notions, and beliefs that impacted my research before I even began the research process. I have a tendency to place more blame on the United States (particularly George W Bush), and being a Christian means I tend to side with my Christian counterparts in Iraq. My research is implicitly tainted by my own beliefs and my own understanding of history.

But perhaps objectivity should not be the goal. As believed by interpretivist research, we are all social actors constructing and interpreting the world around us. And as researchers we cannot simply separate ourselves from the world around us, we are a part of that world. Our own understanding of our world and our own interpretations of meanings and norms may not stand the test of time, but our research could be used by the researchers of the future to highlight how we view the world today. We should not strive for objectivity, we should strive for understanding.

I believe that you can make a valid claim of just about anything if you do it properly. This is where the different methodological approaches come in. Surveys may not be the best method in trying to prove the validity of social structure, but one can make a very good case for that using ethnography or history. If the method of the research is done properly and convincingly, I believe you can make a valid point for just about anything.

Abbott, A. (2004). Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York London: W.W. Norton and Company.

Oren, I. (1995). The Subjectivity of the “Democratic” Peace: Changing U.S. Perceptions of Imperial Germany. International Security, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 147-184, doi: 10.2307/2539232

Owen, J. M. (1994). How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace. International Security, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 87-125, doi:10.2307/2539197


Portfolio Post #1

I will be researching the persecution of Christians in Iraq following the US invasion and subsequent occupation. I am particularly interested in how “Iraqi Freedom” has led to the rise of jihadist groups, in northern cities such as Mosul, which has prompted the persecution of Christian minorities in the region.

In a country that espouses Christian values and morals and often uses such basis as means to promote “American Values” internationally, the irony of the Iraq war lies in the negative impact US foreign policy has had on Christian populations in the Middle East. The US has had a strong Christian element in its own history and Christian evangelical leaders themselves were quite supportive of Bush’s war. Unfortunately, such war brought devastating consequences to the Iraqi population as a whole, as well as Christian minorities. I will be researching the role the US has played in the persecution of Christians in Iraq and how the US invasion impacted the lives of minority Christian groups throughout the country.

Did foreign policy makers consider the impact the US invasion and occupation would have on the Christian minority? Has US foreign policy tried not to appear “pro-Christian” in order to avoid supporting the jihadist narrative that the US was a crusader nation? Has the US trying to be religiously neutral contributed to the persecution of Christians? What role can the US play to promote freedom and democracy while also protecting minority rights?

Although I want to focus on Iraq, there are other instances in which US foreign policy has affected the lives of Christian minorities such as in Egypt following the revolution and the US non-intervention in Syria. How can I use patterns in both instances to highlight the US’ role in Christian persecution and how can these patterns help us to better prevent it in the future?

I plan on continuing this work beyond this class. I have a particular interest in the Middle East and am a Christian myself. I plan on studying abroad in the Arab World in the near future, and hopefully, have a career centered on Middle Eastern politics.