Third Place ($250): Asma Baban - God & Books: A Study of Iraqi Refugees in Greater Detroit and their Relationship with Religion and Education

Format:  Honors Thesis

The U-M Library Undergraduate Library Research Award Committee is delighted to award Third Prize in the Blue Award category for Multi-Term Projects to Asma Baban for the honors thesis in Sociology titled “God & Books: A Study of Iraqi Refugees in Greater Detroit and their Relationship with Religion and Education”.  With an acute awareness of the lack of agency afforded persons identified as refugees, the researcher had resisted leading interviewees through a series of prompts.  Rather, Baban listened openly to their stories -- a challenging approach for an early-career researcher.

Baban began this research expecting to write about refugees through history, in medicine, and public policy, but the interviewees voiced other themes. The first interview struck a deep chord: history, medicine and policy were layered on something more fundamental. There was something more essential to investigate.

"I was drawn to the stories they had to share about their childhoods, their journeys over to the U.S., their construction of self, and their internal conflicts with how their religious beliefs fit within the new culture. It was the same story. Almost always. It was a story about God and Books. And when it was not about God and Books, it was about how it ought to be about God and Books."

This was a highly personal project for Baban, grounded in her family's lived experiences as refugees in Dearborn, Michigan. The resulting thesis is a personal, theoretically grounded exploration of the fundamental ways religion and education contribute to the restructuring of refugee lives.

After several conversations with her instructor, Asma began to explore literature on refugees and displacement on her own, following leads in one resource that led to another.  Asma developed a strong working relationship with the subject librarian, and together they refined search strategies and mined interlibrary loan for more obscure resources. According to the instructor, "Asma very quickly shifted from all-purpose literature to those that best suited her material.... It was exactly what enthnographers do best: Baban let her interlocutors lead her toward the literature and theory that was most apt for her analysis."

The committee was particularly impressed with the maturity that Baban demonstrated in cultivating a rich ethnographic methodology without venturing into sentimentality. The committee agrees enthusiastically with the assessment of Baban’s advisor, “The project, based on in-depth interviews with four Iraqi refugees, is a creative blend of life experience, scholarly research, and analytical insight.” The committee was privileged to provide an early audience for such an accomplished undergraduate researcher.

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