Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Journal Entry #17 - 2/21/12

Working on Section B of my research proposal has caused me to think hard about my project this coming summer. It is one thing just to go to class, to participate, to do some minimal research and writing on a regular basis, and then to actually submit a finalized introduction to and justification for my research in London this summer. Drafting a careful, rational argument for the research I will do pushes me into a corner a little bit and forces me to come up with more valid arguments for my research than ever before. "It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input," as William Deresiewicz said in a lecture given at West Point in October, 2009 (see the full speech here). However, preparing for the proposal draft has been very helpful, and I have had a lot of thoughts (mostly scattered, as usual) that I want to keep track of because they will be useful later, so I'll put a few down here:

First of all, I don't have a faculty mentor yet. However, I think I'm going to talk to my PL SC 200 teacher Ray Christensen and see if he could be mine. Dr. Christensen is so passionate and fascinated by social science research, and I think he will really be able to help me create the kind of really effective research design that will make this summer's project incredible. For instance, last week we talked about whether our "x's" in our research could be manipulated or not (i.e. randomized). I think that mine could. Because I have a hypothesis. I believe that although citizens in the United Kingdom have shown themselves to be decreasingly religious and increasingly liberal in their attitudes toward things such as the role of religion in forming public policy (74% agree or tend to a agree that religion shouldn't affect public policy according to a Ipsos MORI survey that was released last week) or whether it is wrong for a woman to have an abortion in the legal time limit (only 20% agree that it is wrong), I think that most British citizens generally feel that the decreasing religiosity of their country is hurting their country and their society. I read about a clever study that was done in the United States that sought to discover how supportive Americans really are of a Mormon President. They placed several unrelated characteristics in a list and asked the survey takers to give the number of negative characteristics on the list (without saying which ones they thought were positive). A control group was given the list without "is a mormon" or something to that effect, on the list, and the results were compared to those who were given a list that had "is a mormon" among the other characteristics. The results showed that there were significant concerns felt by many American about having a Mormon president, because the mean number of negative characteristics on the list increased when "is a Mormon" was added to the list. So, going back to my project, I think I might be able to use the same model to find out how Englanders feel about the decreasing religiosity in their country, and I could do it one of two ways. First, I could create a list of current trends or events occurring in the UK (like devolution, keeping the British pound, involvement in Syria, etc) and ask people to list the number of positive movements in the country from the list. I would have a control group that would take the survey without "decreasing religiosity" on the list, and another group with "decreasing religiosity" included. Then I would compare the results afterward. To do it the other way around, I could ask them to list the number of negative movements or events occurring in the country and perform the same experiment, with a control group and a normal group taking the survey. I think the latter would be more convincing, since if the reported number of negative movements in the country increased among those who had "decreasing religiosity" on the list, the change could be directly attributed to the negative feelings that Britons have toward the decreasing religiosity in the country. I theorize that most British citizens are aware of the positive effects that religious beliefs have in peoples lives, and although they are increasingly irreligious, most do not view the change in a positive light. Through interviews and surveys and talking to people, I hope to evaluate the various attitudes that people have toward the trend of decreasing religiosity in the country. The results of the study could either validate or vilify the actions of government in the United Kingdom in defense of religious liberties and Christian values.

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