RIC sociology professor co-authors book on minority integration

Pamela Irving Jackson, professor of sociology and director of the Justice Studies Program at Rhode Island College, has completed “Benchmarking Muslim Well-being in Europe: Reducing Disparities and Polarization,” to be released in 2012.

Pamela Irving Jackson
The book discusses minority issues in justice systems throughout France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Peter Doerschler, assistant professor of political science at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, is co-author.

“This highly topical book aims to undermine unsubstantiated myths by examining Muslim integration in … states which dominate the debate on minority integration and the practice of Muslim religious traditions,” states The Policy Press at the University of Bristol, which will publish “Benchmarking Muslim Well-being.”

Minority integration is not only an interest of Jackson’s, but a current worldly issue as well. In 2005, “Migration Information Source” labeled “the integration of Muslims in Europe” as the number one concern on its list of the “Top 10 Migration Issues of 2005.”

“This is one of several indicators of the importance of creating a comfortable place for Muslims in their European homes,” said Jackson.

Jackson’s research has focused on issues of minority social status, and relates to her activities as a professor at RIC. She was awarded the Mary Tucker Thorp Professorship for Distinguished Research in Arts and Sciences in 2003, and the Maixner Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000.

Her first book, “Minority Group Threat, Crime and Policing: Social Context and Social Control,” was included by “Choice” on the list of “Outstanding Academic Books” in 1989.

Jackson’s ideas for “Benchmarking Muslim Well-being” have grown significantly during the last decade. When she would present papers on minority treatment in the justice systems, numerous European scholars would comment on the lack of integration of Muslim minorities in Europe, involving those of Turkish, North African and Pakistani descent, who were living in Germany, France and the U.K., respectively.

“This blurring of ethnic, religious and national identities threatens to stymie the effort to benchmark minority integration in the European Union,” stated Jackson and Doerschler in the first chapter of “Benchmarking Muslim Well-being.”

Her ideas continued to develop when she and Doerschler were independently selected to participate in a Fulbright funded study period – “The Integration of Muslims in Germany and France,” in May of 2006 – which allowed a group of 20 U.S. scholars to travel together throughout Europe and meet with political leaders, government officials and minority groups to further investigate the perceived lack of Muslim integration.

The team was also able to work closely with foreign scholars through the travel study period, referred to as the Fulbright German Studies Seminar, where members discussed the social and structural barriers keeping minorities from fully participating in the dominant European societies.

Upon returning to the United States, more than a dozen members from the Fulbright group further investigated the topics they had researched in Europe to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Social and Ecological Boundaries (fall/winter, 2007-08), which Jackson co-edited.

Jackson and Doerschler soon began another research project to examine the relationship to minority integration of host nation language acquisition.

“We found that language skills did not predict the likelihood of unemployment or fear of anti-foreigner hostility on the part of migrants,” said Jackson, concluding that Civic Integration Contracts implemented by European states were not effective in reducing the “outsider status of immigrants.”

“Efforts by European minority protection agencies seemed unlikely to help Muslims toward greater equality in Europe,” said Jackson. “Most European states did not define Muslims as a minority group in need of protection.”

Jackson speaking with Intissar Kherigi (second from left) of the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations at a conference in Germany in 2010.
Jackson and Doerschler concluded that in order to improve minorities’ life chances in Europe, attitudes of the majority would need to change. The authors’ cite the effort to benchmark minority integration in Europe, promoted by the European Parliament, as a step towards that end.

“If Europe is to benefit fully from the intellectual and creative potential of its minorities, including its Muslims, the assumption that they fail to integrate must give way to efforts to reduce the ‘disparities’ and ‘polarizations’ between them and the non-minority population,” write Jackson and Doerschler in Chapter One of “Benchmarking Muslim Well-being.”

As the pair combined their unique research methods inspired by different educational backgrounds to begin their book, they began to test many hypotheses with a wide array of data sources.

“Two heads really are better than one,” said Jackson. “We both worked on all sections of the book, each learning from the other, as we passed the drafts back and forth, combining our ideas, understandings and expertise.”

As a sociologist, Jackson first approached the sections of the book dealing with minorities in the justice system, and discrimination they faced in public institutions. Doerschler, as a political scientist, focused initially on minorities’ support for democracy and their trust in political systems.

“I hope that the book will open discussion of topics that have been avoided due to prevailing assumptions about the incompatibility between Muslims and other Europeans,” Jackson said.

“I don't see the book's publication as the end of the project, but rather as a catalyst to an important discussion,” she said. Jackson hopes that readers of “Benchmarking Muslim Well-being” will move beyond the contentiousness of issues she and Doerschler raise, and instead consider their suggestions for social policy, which often suggest change, she said.

In addition to their soon-to-be-released book, Jackson and Doerschler have co-authored several articles, including “Host Nation Language Ability and Immigrant Integration in Germany: Use of GSOEP to Examine Language as an Integration Criterion,” and “Do Muslims in Germany Really Fail to Integrate? Muslim Integration and Trust in Public Institutions,” which was published this year.