Graduate Student, Department of Sociology
The original impetus for my study centered around a lack of scholarly understanding about how religious and racial (in)tolerance may be related (Aosved et al. 2009), though there is some research—and plenty of anecdotal experience—that suggests the two are related. For example, prior research points to a relationship between conservative evangelical ideological/theological tenets and antiblack ideology (Tranby and Hartmann 2008). If, in addition to espousing antiblack ideology (a form of racial intolerance), conservative evangelicals are intolerant of other religions or other forms of Christianity, we would expect to see a positive correlation between evangelicals’ religious intolerance and racial intolerance. In addition, recent research has pointed to appropriately-mediated, participatory online communities as an effective tool for learning (Veletsianos 2011). Yet the effectiveness of participatory online communities for fostering tolerance—including religious and racial tolerance—has received little, if any attention.
Thus, I proposed to use a Boniuk Institute Small Grant to build a participatory online community that was explicitly oriented around burning questions facing our society today—especially questions regarding race and religion. I envisioned this online community as a space for safe, sustainable dialogue between users that would facilitate positive changes in religious and racial tolerance over time. But how would we know whether the website was furthering this goal? As part of the construction of the website, I proposed that the website be integrated with a platform like Survey Monkey, which would regularly collect information on users’ levels of religious and racial tolerance over time (using rigorously tested measures of tolerance). Because users fill out an initial questionnaire that uses these same measures when they become members of the site, I would be able to track any changes in levels of tolerance over time, and as they used the website.
After receiving the grant, the construction of the website began. While tailoring the website to the specific needs of the project took longer than expected, the website (www.racethat.com) was completed in December 2016. In addition to resembling other websites like Facebook, the website is integrated with Survey Monkey. Importantly, the website is actively curated such that users who engage in bullying—a violation of participation in the website—have their membership in the site suspended. This active curation thus promotes healthy, sustainable dialogue between its members—a ‘safe’ space for sharing experiences in different mediums (e.g. art, poetry, essay) that engage some of our society’s most pressing issues. Because it is an online community, it is not limited by local or national borders and has the potential to generate a global dialogue on how, and why, religion and race intersect, and why this intersection matters. Thus far, I have presented the website to a variety of audiences, including clergy, undergraduate and graduate students, interfaith ministries staff, and other academics.
Both because the website took longer to develop than initially imagined and because growth in site membership has been slower than anticipated, I do not yet have enough data to report on users’ levels of religious and racial tolerance over time. However, I am looking forward to being able to track a growing usership as more and more people discover the website and, in the future, plan to report findings on data collected in an academic paper. I welcome any and all interested in Boniuk’s mission to participate in the site, and thank Boniuk for the opportunity to develop this exciting new online community that has the potential to foster increased religious tolerance in Houston and around the globe.