University News

Kindness during COVID-19: Science, Religion, and Uncertainty

Anthropology & Sociology Provost's Office
February 16, 2021

Shiri Noy, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, recently has been awarded a grant for approximately $12,500 to examine how religious and secular Americans view kindness in the context of COVID-19. Noy’s project is funded by the International Research Network for Science and Belief in Society, based at the University of Birmingham, and funded by the Templeton Religion Trust.

The research seeks to examine how science and faith are mobilized as coping mechanisms with uncertainty and how views of kindness, in particular, compassion and helping, are viewed in the context of the pandemic. It will also seek to untangle conceptions of kindness across ingroup and outgroup, and interpersonal kindness as compared with structural, and how these understandings may be related to belief and trust in science.

“This is an exciting new stream of research for me,” says Noy. “It builds on my substantive work on science and religion on one hand, and my methodological expertise in mixed methods, and the really unique and unusual context of COVID-19 to ask how uncertainty shapes the role of science and faith in thinking about kindness, human dignity, and social relationships.”

Noy is currently collecting quantitative survey data and will continue to collect this data alongside in-depth interview data through the semester and summer. The data will provide the basis for an analysis to advance empirical and theoretical understandings of how uncertainty shapes and mobilizes understandings of kindness and kindness behaviors across belief communities.

Related to the project, Noy will likely offer an upper-level course on kindness based on the research, where the course will draw on this exciting new source of data. The course “will allow us to consider how sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and theologians have thought about kindness, though focusing on contemporary understandings and sociological insights,” she says.

Last year, Noy was awarded a Denison University Research Faculty grant that will allow her to make some ethnographic observations about kindness once in-person activities resume. “That project has student research built into it, and I’m looking forward to working with students on that and on continuing this project.”

Denison Provost Kim Coplin notes, “The topic is highly relevant to our daily lives as individuals and communities navigate this complicated new reality, which has challenged how we define and demonstrate kindness to one another.”

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