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Discovering International Perspectives on Biological Evolution

Across Religions and Cultures


Insights Gained through Developing Methodological Tools for Research in Diverse
Contexts
Anila Asghar, McGill University, Canada
Jason R. Wiles, McGill University, Canada
Brian Alters, McGill University, Canada

Abstract: The lingering educational controversy surrounding evolution and creationism remains one of the most prevalent
issues in science education in North America. Most science education research about this issue, when it concerns religion,
involves Christian understandings of evolution. However, very little is known about the ways in which Muslim communities
approach this issue. While conducting a large study in Canada, Indonesia, and Pakistan exploring Muslim students and
teachers scientific and religious understandings of evolution, we discovered significant cultural and religious concerns
surrounding the development and employment of a simple survey instrument. Herein we share a reflective account of our
initial experiences while engaging in this cross-cultural research in diverse Muslim cultures and communities. This narrative
is a discussion of an inquiry into specific cultural interpretations and nuances; religious sensitivities; and broader socio-
political conditions within these cultures. We discovered highly sensitive issues related to the development and translation
of research instruments into the Bahasa (Indonesia) and Urdu (Pakistan) languages. There were issues related to rapport
and trust during data collection; multiple respondents expressed skepticism regarding the purposes of this research because
of the inclusion of certain terms in the survey which were employed in observance of the religious diversity within these
cultures. Certain statements related to the scientific accuracy of the Quran were interpreted as potentially offensive by
Canadian and Pakistani Muslims and subsequently removed or reworded in the final survey administered in these communities.
Other issues were encountered which will be addressed in this article.

Keywords: Biological Evolution, Science, Religion, Islam, Muslim, International, Science Education, Indonesia, Pakistan,
Canada

Introduction our study in these diverse cultures. Additionally, we


had Indonesian and Pakistani collaborators who

T
HE LINGERING EDUCATIONAL con- helped us in translating the research materials and
troversy surrounding evolution and creation- instruments; collecting data; uncovering various tacit
ism has been one of the most prevalent issues assumptions about our research; navigating across
in science education in North America. Most diverse cultural terrains; and articulating strategies
science education research regarding any perceived to address multiple religious sensitivities related to
conflicts between evolution and religion involves our research.
Christian understandings. However, very little is The purpose of this reflective narrative is to share
known about the ways in which Muslim communities stories of these learning experiences to initiate a
approach this issue. While conducting a large study dialogue across civilizations about the ways in which
in Canada, Indonesia, and Pakistan exploring Muslim religious beliefs and values in various Islamic cul-
students and teachers scientific and religious under- tures interact with peoples understanding of modern
standings of evolution, we discovered significant scientific ideas, biological evolution in particular.
cultural and religious concerns surrounding the de- For example, the often expedient separation of reli-
velopment and employment of a simple survey instru- gious versus scientific ways of knowing in Western
ment. Herein we share a reflective account of our culture, are not so easily separated by many in Islam-
initial experiences while engaging in this cross-cul- ic cultures.
tural research in diverse Muslim cultures. Our re-
search team comprises members from diverse cultur- Context
al and ethnic backgrounds. Through this reflective
inquiry we endeavoured to understand and respond Evolution education is an arena where people's per-
to the prevalent religious sensitivities in relation to ceptions of religion and science are continuously at

INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE DIVERSITY, VOLUME 6, NUMBER 4, 2007


http://www.Diversity-Journal.com, ISSN 1447-9532
Common Ground, Anila Asghar, Jason R. Wiles, Brian Alters, All Rights Reserved, Permissions: cg-support@commongroundpublishing.com
82 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE DIVERSITY, VOLUME 6

loggerheads in North America (Pigliucci, 2002). is situated. It illustrates the ways in which specific
Additionally, significant misunderstanding of evolu- cultural interpretations; religious sensitivities; explicit
tion occurs at all levels of education1. Evolution is and tacit apprehensions; and broader socio-political
defined as the descent, with modification, of differ- conditions within these cultures unfolded in our re-
ent lineages from common ancestors. All forms search.
of life, from viruses to redwoods to humans, are re-
lated by unbroken chains of descent (Futuyma,
Methods
2000, p. 3). Creationism, on the other hand, refers
to the idea that a supernatural force created. To Data Collection and Analysis
Christians, Jews, and Muslims this supernatural force
unusually refers to God; to people of other religions The data for this study are derived from various
it is other deities. To many people creationism sources that informed our thinking about the diverse
connotes that God created directly (Scott, 2004, sensitive issues involved when conducting research
p. 51). Public schools in North America have become focusing on religion and biological evolution in
a battleground where antievolutionists struggle for various Islamic cultures3. We documented the exper-
various goals which include: (a) eliminating evolu- iences that were encountered while developing,
tionary science, (b) presenting so-called evidence translating, and administering the survey in Indonesia
against evolution, and (c) including the creationist and Pakistan, and conducting interviews with parti-
view in the science curriculum (Alters & Alters, cipants from different Islamic communities. These
2001; Pennock, 2002; Rutledge & Warden, 1999; included observation notes from our meetings fo-
Trani, 2004). cused on developing, translating, and discussing the
Although the Islamic world has largely adopted data collection instruments, field notes, and focus
modern science education, very little is known about group meetings to reflect on data collection experi-
the ways in which Muslim scholars and general ences in the field. The different perspectives of re-
public respond to evolutionary science. Currently, search team members and the recorded notes
we are conducting a large scale study2 to examine provided a rich array of ideas, strategies, and reflec-
how evolution is understood by Muslim university tions about the research process. These sources of
faculty, high school biology teachers, secondary information provided us with multiple perspectives
students, and their families. in identifying and addressing the important method-
We found that in the Islamic world, the contro- ological issues that surfaced at discrete moments in
versy around biological evolution revolves around the study. Additionally, these experiences and con-
multiple and conflicting interpretations of the Quran- versations assisted us in responding to the religious
ic view of creation vis--vis the scientific model of concerns and cultural sensitivities of various com-
evolution. Muslim intellectuals have responded to munities about our research focus.
evolution in divergent ways. They have tended to Data analysis strategies included coding for im-
refute, accept, or adapt the idea of evolution portant concepts and themes, organizing them into
(Mohammad, 2000; Remtulla, 1993; Ziadat, 1986). matrices, and creating narrative summaries (Coffey
Some warned against the uncritical acceptance of & Atkinson, 1996; Maxwell, 2004). Field notes, in-
Darwins idea; while some, in an attempt to recon- cluding theoretical notes were recorded and analyzed.
cile evolution with religion, garnered verses in Patterns across categories (e.g., access and entry is-
the Quran that spoke about evolution and con- sues) were explored by creating concept maps and
cluded that evolution is not an anti-religious teach- displays (Miles & Huberman, 1994) and then ana-
ing (Ziadat, 1986, p. 125, 126). lyzed over time. Additionally, we discussed our notes
Our large-scale study examines how this contro- and interpretations to incorporate alternative explan-
versy plays out in science education in various Islam- ations
ic societies. In what ways are university and high
school teachers addressing this issue in their teach- Findings
ing? How does it influence the scientific understand-
ing of Muslim students? So far, we have gathered In analyzing data from our field notes, team meet-
data from diverse Islamic cultures including Indone- ings, and observations the following themes emerged:
sia and Pakistan. Additionally, the study explores (1) problems related to survey construction and
the views of Muslim immigrant families and high translation, (2) sensitive issues encountered while
school students in Canada. The following narrative negotiating access to the research sites and building
reflects the multiple discourses in which this study trust with participants, and (3) participants response

1
California Teachers Association: Policy statement on the teaching of evolution adopted December 2002.
2
The study is supported through a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
3
August 2005 to February 2006.
ANILA ASGHAR, JASON R. WILES, BRIAN ALTERS 83

to the survey and interviews. In the following narrat- trained in science, clarified that nenek moyang is
ive we will elaborate on these key themes. generally used in scientific reference to common
ancestry among living things. Leluhur can also mean
Survey Construction and Translation ancestor, but it is also used to refer to spiritual
A survey was developed to examine participants ancestors worshiped by some Indonesians; this would
scientific and religious understandings of evolution. be potentially confusing to some participants. Nenek
The survey measures participants extent of agree- moyang is literally translated as grandmother ancest-
ment or disagreement to a set of statements on a five- or. Nenek means grandmother, but when asked if
point Likert scale. Using and adapting statements one could use just moyang to mean ancestor, the In-
from previous studies would help in comparing donesian collaborators had to consider the idea for
populations across multiple cultures and communit- a while. They concluded that, while Moyang does
ies. Generating a survey for use across multiple lan- mean ancestor, it is so commonly used with nenek
guages, religions, and cultures added myriad chal- that it would be more clearly understood if we used
lenges in terms of addressing distinctive sensitive the terms together. For the Urdu translation it was
issues arising in these contexts. The survey was used also difficult to translate the English word ancest-
in Indonesia and Pakistan. We followed a standard or. The Urdu word for ancestor has many mean-
protocol for the translating the English survey into ings (cultural/historical or religious ancestors, such
Bahasa (Indonesia) and Urdu (Pakistan). For ex- as Abraham or Arabians, without a necessary tie to
ample, three Bahasa translations of the survey were biology). One Urdu translation used the word
obtained from different Bahasa experts including an muras mutahid for biological ancestor, but the
expert in science education. Later, a fourth Indone- translators agreed that this word is uncommon and
sian expert examined the three translations to expose might not be readily understood by students. There-
multiple differences in the translations and helped fore, we used the Urdu word for ancestor (aaba-
the research team to develop the final survey. The o-ajdad) carrying several connotations, but clarified
same process was followed for translating the survey its meaning by using the English word ancestor in
into Urdu. We observed that translators who were parentheses each time it was used. The translators
also science educators most accurately captured the agreed that most participants would understand the
essence of the original English survey in both cases. English word, which would be a sufficient clarifier
In this section we will discuss specific challenges since this word is used in English biology textbooks
that we encountered while attempting to accurately to refer to biological ancestors. We treated the word
translate and clarify different scientific terms in Ba- evolution in a similar way with the Urdu word
hasa and Urdu, and address distinct religious sensit- followed by its English counterpart in parentheses4.
ivities within Indonesian and Pakistani contexts. Our Moreover, we used the term hayatiati irtaqa (bio-
dialogues with our Indonesian and Pakistani collab- logical evolution) to clarify it further. The word
orators created a shared space for mutual explorations related, which was used to denote the genealogical
of controversial religious issues, political conflicts, ties between various types of organisms, was also
cultural specificities vis--vis our study, and devel- problematic since all three initial translators used
oping ways to appropriately deal with such issues. different Urdu terms for the word related. We used
Translation of scientific and technical terms: We the word hayatiati nisbut (biologically related)
found several differences between the ways Indone- connoting biological relationship since the other two
sians and Pakistanis interpret certain concepts we words (taaluq and munsalik) suggested by the
wished to probe compared to dominant Western in- other two translators connote broad cultural relation-
terpretations. For example, when discussing evolu- ship and do not carry any specific tie to biology.
tion, it is common for scientists and science educators There were some specific technical phrases that
in the West to refer to organisms common ancestors added complications in translation. For instance, we
or ancestry. However, there are multiple words in might try to avoid the phrase the theory of evolu-
Bahasa that mean ancestor and these words carry tion because it may further misconceptions we
important connotations that we needed to consider. endlessly fight in science education. As such, we
The three Bahasa translations had several important tend to use the phrase evolutionary theory which
differences. For example, in reference to the English connotes that there are several scientific theories re-
word ancestor two of the translators used nenek garding the mode and tempo of evolutionary change
moyang and one used leluhur. In our discussion which is itself observably factual. However, in Ba-
with the fourth translator, we had to decide which hasa, both phrases translate to teori evolusi, and
word to use. Both would be translated into English no semantic distinction can be made. Similarly, the
as ancestor, but our Indonesian collaborators, also Urdu translation hayatiati irtaqai nazriya also does
not connote any such distinctions.
4
The Urdu word for evolve/evolution also carries several different connotations.
84 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE DIVERSITY, VOLUME 6

Diverse Cultural Interpretations: Another question fensive by Canadian and Pakistani Muslims. They
in our survey asked about the nature or limitations reported that even including on the survey an option
of science. The question asked if the participant of disagreement with the scientific accuracy of the
agrees or disagrees that accurate science should in- Quran on a Likert scale might cause tension among
clude supernatural explanations for natural phenom- Pakistani participants. These statements were sub-
ena. In the West, we generally would assume that sequently removed or reworked in the final survey
deities, spiritual entities, or other religious forces are administered in these communities. All translators
supernatural, or outside of nature, and therefore used Allah where our survey had said God. We
outside of the realm of scientific inquiry. However, chose to use the Urdu word Khuda, which any
in discussions with our Indonesian collaborators, we Pakistani Muslim would take to mean Allah, but
discovered that the term supernatural is mostly students of other faiths could also understand
used when speaking of magic or mystic healers, Khuda to mean their God.
and that it carries a negative connotation, much like
unnatural in English. They explained that many Negotiating Access and Building Trust
participants, especially Muslims in Indonesia, would
answer that accurate science should not include su- Herein we share how various perspectives and con-
pernatural explanations simply based on the negative cerns voiced by the members of the communities we
connotations that the word has, even if they would approached (a) informed our understanding of the
agree that accurate science should include religious existing socio-political and religious issues within
explanations. They would likely not see Islam, as their larger contexts, (b) the diverse ways in which
having a supernatural component, and would fur- those issues unfolded in our research and (c) various
thermore possibly be offended if we used the words strategies we developed to address the emerging
supernatural and religious in the same question. sensitive issues vis--vis negotiating access and de-
We settled upon asking if accurate science should veloping rapport and trust with different communit-
include religious explanations without using the word ies.
supernatural in the survey. The experience of other Pakistani education re-
Sensitive Religious Issues: It may not be surprising searchers with survey and interview research in
that technically specific terminology can get lost in similar contexts informed us about some critical is-
translation, but some non-technical issues proved to sues related to informed consent; due to specific
be of extraordinary importance. Several questions cultural notions and norms there is a general appre-
from previous North American surveys that we hension among people that documents with their
wished to use in our international instrument referred signature could be used against them by those who
directly to the Bible and its account of creation. It are in positions of power. Written informed consent
would be inappropriate to keep the word Bible in was obtained from the participants in Canada, but in
our survey, especially as our study is focused on Indonesian and Pakistani communities we relied on
Muslim perspectives. Also, Christians do not consti- their verbal consent. They were given information
tute the majority in either Pakistan or Indonesia. sheets explaining the purpose of the study and the
Therefore, we initially changed the word Bible to confidentiality procedures with the permission of the
Quran in all survey questions dealing with scripture, ethics board at our institution. Since religion could
but this too proved problematic. Although we expec- be a sensitive issue in these countries, there was a
ted a majority of participants in Indonesia to be strong possibility that a written consent form could
Muslims, there were likely to be Christian parti- have undermined trust between the researchers and
cipants as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and others participants; either we would have lost participation
represented in our survey there. We included the or people might not have felt comfortable in sharing
phrase the Holy Book of your religion in reference their ideas freely. The participants were always in-
to scripture for the Indonesian survey. Similarly, our formed that their participation was strictly voluntary
conversations with Pakistani Muslims suggested that and that their personal and institutional privacy
some people might suspect a tacit western agenda would be protected.
against Islam if the survey only focuses on the Quran. Access and Entry: In this section we will share
In order to address this issue and to include other specific stories from different research settings to il-
religious minorities in Pakistan, we used the same luminate the intricate manner in which culture,
phrase in the Urdu survey also. politics, religion, and education were intertwined
Certain statements related to the scientific accur- and how they surfaced in our fieldwork across differ-
acy of the Quran were interpreted as potentially of- ent contexts.
ANILA ASGHAR, JASON R. WILES, BRIAN ALTERS 85

Data was collected from three urban cities, Padang that humans and monkeys share a common ancest-
Panjang5, Singkawang6, and Yogyakarta7 in Indone- or was considered problematic. When it was pointed
sia; urban and rural settings in the Punjab and Sindh out to them that the high school biology textbooks,
provinces in Pakistan; and different Islamic com- produced by the Punjab textbook board, included the
munities in Ontario. The survey was administered topic of biological evolution as well as the Quranic
to high school students in Indonesia8 and Pakistan. verses related to the origin of life, their response was
The Bahasa translation was used in Indonesia and that politically motivated emotional reactions against
both Urdu and English versions were used in the government often tend to fragment issues to suit
Pakistani schools depending on their language of their agendas. They also talked about important
instruction9. High school teachers and students from politico-religious issues that the government had
selected schools in Pakistan and Canada were inter- been grappling with in relation to curriculum revi-
viewed. Additionally, interviews were conducted sions. The current government has been accused of
with scientists and various community members in- secularizing the curriculum by some religious
cluding religious scholars, parents, and community political parties because of some revisions in the Is-
leaders in Pakistan. lamic studies and science curriculum; for example,
Approaching school administrators, education a chapter on the method of Islamic prayer followed
ministry officials and community members through by a particular sect was taken out of the Islamic
trusted and well-known community members includ- studies syllabus, which generated an intense politic-
ing personal contacts and local colleagues helped in al reaction against the government. These issues were
establishing initial contact, negotiating access, and raised in the National Assembly also to seek an ex-
developing trust across all contexts. The heads and planation from the minister. Consequently, data was
administrators of most of the schools cooperated not collected from that city.
generously in helping the researchers to collect data In Canada, an administrator at an Islamic center
from their students. The survey was examined by suspected that we might have an association with
the education administrators and the school heads media and would report our findings in the press.
before granting their permission for the study. The Although we had clearly explained our institutional
religion and cultural affiliations of the Indonesian affiliation in the permission letter and in our initial
collaborators and Pakistan team member were valu- conversations with the administrators, he was worried
able in building trust with the educational institutions about any negative publicity of his institution about
and community at large. Although the ministry and sensitive religious issues. We explained the confid-
school officials cooperated mostly, one Islamic entiality arrangements about protecting the institu-
school in Indonesia did not allow data collection tions identity and participants privacy in accordance
because the president of the school council, a student, with the rules of our universitys ethics board. Only
had strong antievolution views. As he put it, We when he was satisfied with our explanation and de-
reject Darwins theory; [therefore] dont give the veloped a certain level of trust in our work did he
survey here. How can you believe that we came allow us to conduct this research at his institution.
from apes, he further added. While our affiliation with a western institution was
In Pakistan also we encountered access issues in a matter of concern for several Indonesian and
a city where the education officials were apprehens- Pakistani participants, it helped in terms of credibility
ive of the political backlash and reaction from some in some Canadian settings.
religious political elements against the study because Global political context: The study was being
of its focus on science and religion. The survey conducted amidst multiple controversies existing in
statements that explicitly mentioned religion, such the larger scenario. In Pakistan, the controversy over
as the ones focusing on the perceived contradiction the infamous caricatures published in Denmark was
or compatibility between biological evolution and at its peak. Pakistani Muslims were deeply offended
the religious idea of creation were considered poten- and protesting against the cartoons of their Prophet
tially controversial and volatile. Additionally, a in the newspapers of some western countries. Some
statement that asked students to indicate their extent protest rallies turned into violent clashes. The rage
of agreement or disagreement to the scientific idea generated by the cartoons apparently transformed

5
Province: West Sumatra
6
Province: West Kalimantan
7
Province: Yogyakarta
8
The survey (Bahasa translation) was administered to high school students (grades 9 through 12) at various public and Islamic religious
schools in Indonesia.
9
The Urdu translation of the survey was administered in Pakistani government schools and the English version was used in private schools.
The language of instruction in the private schools, where the survey was administered, is English. The government schools, on the other
hand, use Urdu for instruction mainly.
86 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE DIVERSITY, VOLUME 6

into an anti-government emergence interlaced with they do not know; they are concerned that this inform-
a host of socio-economic, anti-establishment, and ation could be misused against them.
anti-western conflicts. Another area of concern seems to be stemming
The following excerpt from a speech by the head out of the broader political controversies, religious
of a leading Islamic political party, Jamaat-i-Islami conflicts, and cultural sensitivities prevalent in the
(JI), who also heads the coalition of Islamic parties10, post 9/11 world. We were informed that the Muslim
reported in a Pakistani newspaper reflects the myriad community is very careful about these issues and it
and entwined conflicts surfacing on the Pakistani is not appropriate to engage them in any sensitive
political scene. While demanding the removal of conversations around Islam. This experience was
the current government11, he said that: incredibly valuable for us in terms of leaning about
the concerns of the general community in relation to
General Pervez Musharraf was a representative participating in our study and thinking of ways to
of the west and was fighting against Islamic negotiating access and building trust with various
values in the on-going clash of civilizations. He Muslim communities in Ontario13. Ontario has a vi-
said Musharraf was getting his people killed by brant and well established Islamic community com-
his own army to please Washington and was prising Muslims from various Islamic countries. The
advancing US agenda by expelling foreign stu- community leaders, heads of Islamic centres, and
dents from madrassas, removing verses of the school administrators, whom we contacted through
Holy Quran from the national curriculum....The trusted and respected community members, respon-
JI leader said an American exploitative system ded positively to our study. The credibility of our
prevailed in Pakistan and people were getting academic institutions in Canada was also helpful in
poorer (Daily Times, February 20, 2006)12. gaining access. Similarly, a number of Muslim fam-
ilies, when contacted through trusted community
Clearly, a study initiated at a western academic insti- members, allowed us to conduct interviews with their
tution about Islam at this time triggered some children.
peoples suspicions about its agenda and implica-
tions.
The larger politico-religious issues unfolded in a Participants Response
different manner in the Canadian context where we In this section we discuss examples of the ways in
encountered distinct access and trust issues arising which participants from Canadian, Indonesian and
out of the particular socio-political circumstances of Pakistani communities responded to the survey and
various Canadian Islamic communities. We focused interview experiences.
mainly on Ontario for data collection in the first Certain terms in the survey and the permission
phase of the study. Initially we had contacted Islamic letters, in Bahasa, for the participants and institution-
community members in Montreal to seek their parti- al administrators posed unique issues for us. For ex-
cipation and to request them to identify other poten- ample, the permission letter included a general
tial participants in the community. However, after greeting "Selamat Sejahtera to welcome all religious
discovering that a focus of the study is on religion, communities in Indonesia. However, some Muslim
they did not seem interested in participating in the administrators explicitly shared their concerns about
study. On further probing, some of them highlighted including this particular greeting instead of Assal-
several perceived apprehensions which informed us amu'alaikum (Islamic greeting). The Indonesian
about their larger, and peculiar, political conditions collaborators, therefore, replaced Salam Sejahtera
and trepidations. Montreal has a growing immigrant with Assalamu'alaikum in the letters sent to Islamic
Muslim community; a section of which comprises schools.
asylum seekers on grounds of political or religious One of the survey questions asks participants to
persecution and/or discrimination in their home identify their religious affiliation14. The following
countries. Many of them have been granted asylum choices were included in the original survey which
or refugee status, while others are pursuing their was translated into Bahasa (Muslim, Christian
asylum cases. These community members generally Catholic, Christian Protestant, Hindu, Jewish,
do not feel comfortable about sharing their religious Buddhist, and Other). Upon noticing the term
ideas or any other personal information with people Yahudi (Bahasa translation of the term Jewish),
several participants asked the researchers as to why

10
Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) - United Action Forum.
11
General Pervez Musharraf is the current President of Pakistan and also the Chief of Army Staff.
12
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006\02\20\story_20-2-2006_pg7_12.
13
Building upon these experiences we will approach different Islamic schools and centers in Quebec in the second phase of this study.
14
It is important to note that it is common in surveys regarding evolutionary theory conducted in North America for researchers to include
questions regarding religious affiliations or beliefs of the participants.
ANILA ASGHAR, JASON R. WILES, BRIAN ALTERS 87

the term [Jewish] was included as an option in the also wanted to know about the beliefs of the Indone-
survey? Some of these students were described as sian collaborators. Several participants asked an In-
having exhibited considerable discomfort upon donesian collaborator if he understood the theory of
reading the item. Possible religious and political evolution and believed in it. Interestingly, some
tensions aside, it may have been surprising for them Pakistani students asked the researcher if she was a
to see this option since the Indonesian constitution Christian because of the inclusive language of the
recognizes only five religions15 (Islam, Christian survey and the information about the study.
Catholic, Christian Protestant, Hinduism, and However, most Pakistani, Canadian, and Indone-
Buddhism), which are generally included in official sian participants, including teachers and students,
documents and data collection instruments, according were generally very cooperative and did not have
to our Indonesian collaborators. Several Indonesian any problems with the scientific and religious content
participants specifically asked questions about the of the survey statements and interview questions.
intentions of this research and a number of these Most of them were interested to learn about the
students did not participate in the study. Earlier, findings of our study.
while translating the survey our Indonesian collabor-
ators had informed us although there are almost no
Summary and Implications
Jewish citizens, a very small Jewish community
(mostly comprising foreign visitors) does exist in This research process has unraveled important in-
Indonesia. Therefore, the option to identify oneself sights about distinct religious sensitivities and cultur-
as a Jew was retained in the Bahasa survey. al perspectives vis--vis biological evolution in rela-
According to our collaborators, we may well have tion to Islam. Highly sensitive issues surfaced while
lost data due to participants refusal to answer the developing and translating the survey into the Bahasa
survey because of including special religious options and Urdu languages. Certain statements related to
unique to the Indonesian context. Due to the lack of the scientific accuracy of the Quran were removed
such religious diversity in Pakistan; Muslims are in or reworded as some Muslims suggested that they
majority (95%) and Christians being a significant might offend the participants. Translating certain
minority16 only three options were included in the technical terms was difficult because of the divergent
Pakistani survey (Muslim, Christian Catholic, cultural connotations attached to them. Issues related
Christian Protestant) along with the option other to negotiating access and developing trust involved
to include any other minorities. Additionally, several addressing varied concerns of the Islamic communit-
Indonesian and Pakistani students, teachers, and ad- ies grounded in their religious sensitivities, broader
ministrators had questions and concerns about the political conditions, and in some situations their
institutional and religious affiliations of the research- legal status, particularly in the Canadian context.
ers. They were concerned about the larger goals and They were skeptical about the study agenda, as well
uses of the study since the research team was based as religious, ethnic, and institutional affiliations of
at a western institution conducting research on the researchers. We learned and developed diverse
sensitive topics fundamental to their belief system strategies to respond to these concerns, such as ap-
about biological evolution vis--vis modern scientific proaching various communities through trusted local
ideas. Some of the Indonesian students candidly ex- contacts, explicitly sharing the study purposes and
pressed their skepticism about the studys agenda. confidentiality arrangements to protect participants'
As a few even asked, "Will this study discredit Is- privacy, and respectfully listening to their ideas in
lam?" They may have felt uncomfortable sharing our conversations. This experience has expanded
their religious beliefs and ideologies with a research our understandings meaningfully and we hope to
team whose intentions they did not seem to under- build on these insights while conducting further re-
stand clearly; they did not trust completely. Some search in Islamic societies.

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About the Authors


Anila Asghar
McGill University, Canada

Jason R. Wiles
McGill University, Canada

Brian Alters
Tomlinson Chair in Science Education; Director, Evolution Education Research Center; McGill University.

The author has requested enhancement of the downloaded file. All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate.