Posts in Category: Research

Research Portfolio Post 3: Grappling with Ethical Naturalism (and Positivism)

Gorski argues that the social sciences can shape our values and morality. They can show us what we, as human beings, ought to be doing. There exists, independent of the human mind, moral truths of which humans have no genuine knowledge, but of which social sciences can enlighten us.[1] And these values and moral truths shape human existence and the facts we hold, and vice versa. He argues that human well-being can be determined by the type of social order in which we live; that the social sciences provide a lens into genuine human well-being.[2] He claims the distinction between sciences and morality is fluid, if existing at all.

Though I think it is a noble endeavor to show how science can offer insights into human well-being, I am not fully persuaded by Gorski’s argument. Although I agree that there certainly exists a relationship between values and facts I do not think that we necessarily look to science to inform our values or vice versa. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that morality and science exist on completely separate planes, and I do think that social sciences do offer some insight into the human condition, but I think that people ultimately look elsewhere for their moral truths.

Comte claims there is no real knowledge beyond that based on observable facts and that positive philosophy dominates over the scholastic systems. He would probably disagree with Gorski’s claim that there exist moral truths beyond human knowledge. Comte claims that religion has no purpose in the pursuit of true knowledge and that science holds the key to obtaining facts, though he does admit there can be no facts without some guiding theory and foundation in social science.[3]

Harris claims that science could be used to map the moral landscape, and that perhaps, one day, science could be the key to determining moral truths. He makes many good points throughout his talk: why do we view morality as less factual than other sciences, when nearly all sciences are open for revision? Why are there not allowed to be moral experts when there are experts in nearly every other field? Though his cultural and religious insensitivity undermines much of his argument, he makes some interesting points about how science could hold the key to determining the ethical truths humans have grappled with for centuries.[4]

My own research has numerous normative assumptions, including believing human rights should be protected, that cultures should be respected regardless of how the west might view them, and that the laws and norms that govern our international society are good. Such normative beliefs are implicit throughout my research and will be backed up with much more explicit factual claims, yet these are precisely the sorts of norms that pure science does not uphold. Science is inherently descriptive while morality is prescriptive. Thus, facts obtained from science can help inform moral decision, but cannot be a source of sound values. While social sciences are very important for informing moral decisions, the basic values one holds comes from a higher authority. My research though will not be intended for the use of legislators, which Gorski would appreciate.

[1] Philip S. Gorski, “Beyond the Fact/Value Distinction: Ethical Naturalism and the Social Sciences,” Symposium: Facts, Values, and Social Science (n.d.), 549. Philip S. Gorski, “Beyond the Fact/Value Distinction: Ethical Naturalism and the Social Sciences,” Symposium: Facts, Values, and Social Science (n.d.).

[2] Ibid., 543.

[3] Auguste Comte, Course of Positive Philosophy, n.d.

[4] Sam Harris, Science Can Answer Moral Questions, n.d., accessed February 14, 2018,

RPP 2: Culture, Politics, and Science

Plato and Tocqueville, in their writings on democracy and freedom of thought under such government, argue that democratic citizens rarely, if ever, question the underpinnings of their own values and morals. Plato argues that people tend to live their lives in accordance with the structure that has been established; thus, if we are born in democratic societies we will hold the same values of them without question, as that is what is held by the multitude. The very foundation of democracy, equality, applies to more than humans themselves, but the values and ideals they hold as well. All values are honored on equal footing with one another.[1]

Tocqueville’s argument follows a similar line of thought. In the democracy, there is no permanent leader or class for the majority to follow and believe, rather there is freedom of thought among people. But such freedom inclines us to submit ourselves to the will of the majority. For how could most people believe in something and it be wrong? Tocqueville acknowledges that we cannot justify every truth in which we believe. Even the best philosophers have neither the time nor the mental capability to justify every truth. Thus, it is only natural to hold some truths as true merely because that is what the majority of the people around one says. Tocqueville specifically highlights the importance of religion, Christianity being the foundation of American society, as the basis of what we believe. Religious values are rarely, if ever, questioned, held to such high moral standard that triumphs over society.[2]

Both Plato and Tocqueville highlight that democracy, rather than expanding human thought and breaking the chains that aristocratic or authoritarian rule may have imposed on it, limit the ability of people to make normative or ethical arguments. Each philosopher’s thoughts are very similar to those of Dr. Johnson. Using “lazy relativism” we are able to discuss values and morals without ever really doing so; values are values because that is what democratic society tells us and if we disagree, it is still a democracy and we can agree to disagree.[3]

Most people in America understand that they hold a certain set of values, but they do not necessarily understand why and thus, are at a loss to defend the things in which they believe. I think Christians are particularly guilty of this. Arguments tend to stop at the “word of God,” regardless of how outdated or unethical they may seem. Christians often fall into the trap of plucking a verse from the old testament or simply following the rules of the church without critically understanding those values or their real origins. Christians simply absorb values from their group, much like Americans in the democratic society of which Tocqueville speaks. Questioning normative assumptions of the church can lead to great backlash, much like questioning the assumptions of the democratic, American society. Much like the multitude, or popular opinion, trap that Tocqueville mentions, many Christians blindly follow the church without understanding the normative implications of their beliefs.

[1] Plato, Republic: On the Character of Democracy and Democrats, n.d.

[2] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1st ed., vol. 2 (Mansfield and Winthrop, 2000).

[3] “Lazy Relativism,” n.d., accessed February 7, 2018,

Mentor Meeting 1/31

I met with my mentor, Professor Hardig, on January 31st for about fifteen minutes. He read over my introduction draft and was especially impressed with the organization of it. For the most part, he thought I was making a solid start with my research. He did, though, have a suggestion regarding my case studies. Originally, I had planned to do a case comparison between Iraq before the US invasion and then Iraq after the US invasion, researching the change in the level of persecution directed at religious minorities as a result of this invasion. Professor Hardig suggested that rather than having Iraq as my case studies, I research other instances of foreign intervention that may or may not have led to increased persecution levels. Thus, instances of foreign intervention would become my cases. He suggested looking at a minimum of three cases, perhaps after the Cold War, and using the presence (or absence) of some of my intervening variables to assist in my case selection. This would change my research somewhat, but I agree with professor Hardig that such research would be more meaningful than simply researching the cases in Iraq. I hope that by our next meeting I will have expanded on my literature review and selected my cases.

RPP 1: Exploring Motivations and Assumptions

I have chosen to research the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq, particularly the persecution directed at the minority Christian groups, for a number of reasons. My interest in Iraq stems from my great interest in the Arab World, and my desire to understand this a complicated region. With my language focus being Arabic and my regional focus being the Middle East, I wanted to direct my research project at understanding at least one of the complexities present in the region. Iraq proves to be an interesting case for me as much of my research revolves around the role my own home country played in the increased persecution levels. The case of Iraq also proves particularly important as the US continues to intervene, or in some cases, refrains from intervening, in foreign affairs. I was particularly interested in the persecution directed at Christians in the country as I am Christian myself and have a great interest in studying the plight of Christians abroad, but I also think it would be valuable to research the persecution directed at all religious minorities. Researching various minority groups will allow me to broaden my research while still focusing on Iraq and give me a greater understanding of persecution levels across the country as a whole as levels may vary from group to group. Such interests and beliefs have led to my desire to research this puzzle.

In order to really understand the two cases, levels of persecution in Iraq before the US invasion and levels after the invasion, I have chosen to do a small n case study comparison. Although there are certain tradeoffs associated with this choice such as my inability to generalize the findings of my research and being unable to look at the discourse of certain actors, the small n case study comparison is the best tool for me to deeply understand these two cases and show the causal mechanisms that led to this specific outcome. Using a typology is especially important to my research as these two cases present an array of variables that have led to increased persecution levels. A typology will allow me to analyze each of them.

My research does contain certain normative assumptions, and is directed at some “good” that may not be universally held.[1] My research assumes that peace is a good thing and that minority rights should be protected. It assumes that the persecution occurring in Iraq is in violation of certain human rights. Though the assumption of the goodness of peace and human rights could be disputed in a world with no moral truths, I hope my research will recognize the normative assumptions I make in my research and highlight the real “truth” that exists in these assumptions.[2]

[1] Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, n.d.).

[2] Ibid.; Justin P. McBrayer, “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts,” The New York Times, March 2, 2015.

Research Design Presentation

Research Portfolio Post #10: Mentor Meeting

I met with Professor Hardig this morning, December 8, for 25 minutes from 10:05 to 10:30. I discussed with him my decision to select the interpretivist methodology for my research project. Originally, I thought I would research discourse on how the Bush Administration constructed their role of morality and security on the Iraq War before it began. I was specifically interested in the years between 9/11 and the start of the war, focusing on government discourses and how the Bush Administration perceived their role in the world.

Professor Hardig suggested I research discourse of the Bush Administration after the war on the reconstruction and rebuilding process, and how the US government constructed the identities of Iraqis and defined sectarian dynamics in Iraq. He mentioned how identity politics are formed, as they are not a naturally occurring phenomenon, and compared this to his own work in Lebanon. Dictators, like Saddam, are often seen as the lid over which sectarian violence is boiling, yet Professor Hardig argues such sectarian divisions are created, not naturally formed. Thus, I could research the discourse of the Bush Administration on sectarian divisions and violence of Iraqis.

Looking ahead, I need to more clearly define what discourses I will analyzing within the Bush Administration. There is the puzzle of why sectarian violence happens after an intervention and the removal and powerful dictator, but what explains this and how can the discourse of the US government shed light on how such identities are formed? I will need to read quite a bit more, although the discourse of the Iraqis themselves may be hard to research as I would be unable to understand the subtleties in the language. Though it may not be required to read over winter break, it would probably be a good idea to continue reading and cementing my methodology.

As I look ahead to SISU-306 I am concerned about formatting my methodology correctly and researching enough discourse while remaining reflexive to my own position.

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.