A Study of Empathy in the Context of Religious Identity in the United States

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Bilinda Straight

Second Advisor

Dr. Michelle Machicek

Third Advisor

Dr. Amy Naugle


Empathy, United States, religious identity, Islamophobia, violence

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Abstract Only

Restricted to Campus until



This thesis considers representations of Muslims in the United States and the impact of Muslim extremism on those representations and on American attitudes towards Muslims. After a careful review of representations of Islam and Muslims in the United States, the thesis reports on the results of an experiment performed to consider the effects of representations on empathy. This was accomplished through a comparison of the empathy self-ratings of 40 international Arab Muslim college students studying in the U.S. to 39 non-Muslim college students from the same public university, in response to hearing narrative vignettes featuring the hypothetical suffering of three characters. The three characters were: one Muslim terrorist soldier and two European soldiers in combat against Islamic extremists, one of whom is identified as Muslim the other one as non-Muslim. The study’s experimental design addressed three domains of empathy: affective (emotional/somatic), cognitive/appraising, and perspectival. Quantitative methods are employed to test for statistical significance. The results showed statistically significant differences in empathy self-ratings based on whether research participants identified as Muslim or non-Muslim and consistently lower empathy towards the Muslim terrorist character.

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