Fairleigh Dickinson Professor Describes the Racialization of Religion to U.S. and European Policy-Makers at Global Security event in Austria

Teaneck, NJ (March 31, 2009) — Khyati Y. Joshi, an associate professor in the Sammartino School of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University, presented her research on the “racialization of religion” at an international gathering of security and human rights officials in Vienna, Austria, earlier this month.  Joshi, whose work focuses on the experiences of Indian-American Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, was the only American scholar to make a presentation at the event, which was sponsored by the human rights unit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Joshi was invited to speak at the plenary session on “Racism in the OSCE Region: Old Issues, New Challenges.” The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization, with 56 participating nations in Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and North America, including the United States. The Vienna meeting was sponsored by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). It was scheduled to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21 and to mark the 40th anniversary of the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

 “This was a unique opportunity to speak to policy-makers from across the northern hemisphere, including not only nations with well-developed hate crimes policies that recognize religious discrimination as a problem, but also those nations that are still in the process of developing or improving their hate crimes policies,” Joshi said.  “Presenting my research on the ways that racial and religious discrimination can aggravate each other, and explaining the importance of religion to many immigrant communities, was a chance to have an impact across the OSCE region.”

In the United States and other OSCE member countries, growing populations of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are often still not on an equal footing with the majority population. Joshi discussed the range of issues—from violence and discrimination to accessing appropriate services and full participation in society—that immigrant and second-generation minorities face in the region.

In her 2006 book, New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground (Rutgers University Press), and in other books she has co-edited or co-authored, Joshi has described the “racialization of religion,” a process that happens when physical features associated with a group—such as skin color—become associated with a particular religion.

After the 9/11 attacks, for example, “many Americans have tended to assume that people with brown skin are Muslim,” Joshi said. “Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and South Asian American Christians and Jews have become backlash targets because their race connotes an assumed religious identity—a racialized identity in the United States.”

Joshi’s research has turned up examples of such backlash that range from deadly violence against turban-wearing Sikhs to the hazing of South Asian American schoolchildren. She also found that U.S. schools and workplaces often fail to accommodate different religious obligations and holidays, and that these failures could have a negative impact on academic and social outcomes. In the case of schoolchildren who felt their religious identity was ignored or discriminated against, Joshi has written, “Over time, this exclusion caused many students to feel self-conscious and even ashamed of coming from a faith tradition that was not perceived as ‘normal’ by their teachers and classmates.”

“It is important for policy makers to understand that religion is racialized, in order to deal with the real root of bias crimes,” Joshi explained. “When the victim is a racial minority as well as a religious minority, it can sometimes be too easy to classify the attack as racial in nature. This not only results in the under-counting of religious bias crimes, it also may result in inappropriate treatment and services for the victim.”

Policy-makers also need to recognize religion’s role in immigrant communities, Joshi added.  “Most hate crimes policy focuses on the intent of the aggressor. Even if the aggressor’s action was motivated by skin color, it can be received by the victim and his community as an attack on the religious group. I asked my audience in Vienna to acknowledge this impact, and to consider what practices could be developed to address the impact of bias attacks on minority ethnoreligious communities.”

A member of the New Jersey Governor’s Asian American Commission, Joshi said of the Vienna meeting: “I hope our dialogue in Vienna and the resources of the OSCE enable me to help our state can respond most effectively to the needs of its citizens of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. The growth of diverse religious communities in the U.S. and Europe represent a great opportunity to live out the purposes of our pluralistic society. But we have further to go toward embracing and responding to the needs and obligations of all religious groups.”

Joshi earned her Ed.D. in social justice education at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and a master’s and bachelor’s degree from Emory University. She consults and conducts professional development workshops for educational institutions on immigrants in schools, race in education, and religion and public schools. Raised in India and Atlanta, Georgia, she now resides in Wayne, New Jersey.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is one of the world’s principal regional human rights bodies. Based in Warsaw, Poland, it promotes democratic elections, respect for human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and the rule of law.

To learn more about Professor Joshi, visit http://www.khyatijoshi.com

For Immediate Release

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