Humanities, Then and Now
Volume XXIX Number 1
The economic face of Islam
How does Islam affect the economics of Muslim countries? In a study based on public opinion survey data from seven predominantly Muslim nations, Robert V. Robinson, professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington, and DePauw University colleague Nancy Davis argue that when it comes to economic justice, Islamic orthodoxy has "an egalitarian face." Although culturally authoritarian regarding women, abortion, sexuality, and family, the co-authors say orthodox Muslims are inclined toward economic communitarianism, meaning society provides for others, reducing inequality and intervening in the economy to meet community needs. In all seven nations (including Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia), they found that orthodoxy--measured as support for Islamic law (shari'a) as the sole legal foundation of the state--is associated with support for broad economic reforms including greater government responsibility to provide for everyone, equalization of incomes, and increased government ownership of business. Davis and Robinson attribute this economic progressivism to theological communitarianism on the part of Muslims, who see themselves and others as "subsumed by a larger community of believers and as subject to the timeless laws and greater plan of God." Their findings were published as a lead article in the American Sociological Review.
A children's door
Divorce ends marriages, not parenting. Or that's the ideal, anyway. Following a family breakup, it's most often in the best interests of children to have as much contact with both parents as possible (barring serious cases such as abuse). But what about divorced parents who are bitter, angry, and confrontational? According to Robert Billingham, a family development expert in the Indiana University Bloomington Department of Applied Health Science, research clearly shows that parents' behavior after divorce can affect children dramatically, with long-term consequences such as increased risks for dropping out of school, substance abuse, and divorce later in life. That's why Billingham and IU graduate student Karen Ellis created The Children's Door, a monitored program that allows parents to exchange children under neutral supervision in a safe environment. Fee-for-service exchange programs exist, but Billingham and Ellis are aiming to serve low-income parents with The Children's Door, which is a free service supported primarily by the Department of Applied Health Science, IU, the South Central Community Action Program Head Start, and the Children's Rights Council. Eventually, Billingham hopes to pursue research about cooperative co-parenting. For now, though, the program is focused on "turning down the volume," he says. "This is for any parents who are going through a stressful time. So instead of exchanging kids in the driveway with parents screaming at each other, they can say ‘Let's use The Children's Door.'" For more, see www.indiana.edu/~childoor/.
Not so easy to just say no
Unwanted sex occurs often among adolescent girls and puts them at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancies. That's the conclusion of a recent study by Indiana University medical researchers published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. The study's principal author, Professor of Pediatrics Margaret Blythe, and IU School of Medicine colleagues J. Dennis Fortenberry, M. Temkit, Wanzhu Tu, and Donald Orr conducted a 27-month study of 279 teenage girls between ages 14 and 17. Nearly 41 percent of the girls reported unwanted sex, responding to interview questions such as, "Would he break up with you unless you would have sex?" and, "Does he ever make you have any kind of sex when you don't want to?" The most common reason the girls gave for complying was fear that their partners would get angry if denied sex. About 10 percent reported being forced to have sex. The researchers point out that unwanted sex is associated with poorer relationship quality, less condom use, having a baby with the partner, and partner substance use before sex, which blurs the lines between consensual and nonconsensual sex. To reduce the number of unwanted sexual encounters among teens, Blythe and her colleagues say male and female teens need help understanding the meaning of pressure and better guidance on how to be more effective communicators. "There is limited understanding of the negotiation strategies that facilitate or diminish sexually coercive behaviors," they write. "Consent to sex has to be viewed in the context of the communication and perception of consent. Women may not clearly say no in response to unwanted sexual activity but may try to communicate their unwillingness in nonverbal and nonassertive ways."
Shadows and echoes
Tall prairie grasses, boulders glistening with water, and the metallic outlines of abstract sculptures combine in Indiana University Northwest's new Shadows and Echoes Sculpture Garden. Created by sculptor and IUN Professor of Fine Arts Neil Goodman and landscape architect Cynthia Owens-Bergland, the garden mirrors the industrial landscape and prairie ecology of northwest Indiana. "I've often marveled at the fantastic and uniquely sculptural shapes of the many mills, bridges, barges, and cranes indigenous to the area," Goodman says. "My work is both a reflection of my environment as well as a visual link to it." The garden's grasses and flowers are meant to capture the spirit of the disappearing prairie, according to Owens-Bergland, and the fountain with boulders refers to the glacier's retreat to Lake Michigan, leaving boulders in its wake. One of the largest permanent public art projects in the region, the Shadows and Echoes garden is the newest of several IUN locations enhanced by sculpture or art. "More than just courses," Goodman says, "a university should offer students examples of the culture and art of their own time, a challenging artistic language to encounter as they walk through campus."
It's hard not to love the very proper C-3PO, droid of Star Wars fame, with all his gold-plated parts. But according to Karl MacDorman, an associate professor of informatics at IU's School of Informatics in Indianapolis, we'd love the British bot even more if he looked like us. Very humanlike androids--with silicone skin, detailed features, stylish haircuts, and real clothes--attract us. "Recent evidence indicates that androids are better able to elicit human norms of interaction than less humanlike robots or animated characters," says MacDorman. But research also shows that when an android seems too human, the creep factor sets in. The "uncanny valley" theory, suggested by robotics pioneer Masahiro Mori in 1970, says that when an android's resemblance gets too realistic, humans react with a sense of repulsion. "There is a heightened sensitivity to defects in near humanlike forms, an uncanny valley in what is otherwise a positive relationship," MacDorman explains. He believes there is more than one reason for the eeriness we feel when we encounter a too-human robot. In a recent study with collaborator Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, MacDorman showed participants video clips of different robotic devices, from mechanical arms to full-bodied androids, engaged in various activities. Then he asked the viewers to rate the clips on humanness, strangeness, and eeriness. The results, says MacDorman, suggest that factors other than human likeness--such as bodily proportions, fluidity of movements, and appropriate timing of gestures and responses--influence our perceptions of androids and could be manipulated to bridge the uncanny valley. Overcoming the uncanny factor is important, according to MacDorman, because the nascent field of android science has the potential to yield insights into human behavior and communication that are unobtainable any other way. If scientists can refine androids to the point where they no longer strike us as strange, the androids could serve as powerful tools to explore human brains andbodies, MacDorman says. "We might be using androids, but what we're really studying is ourselves--what motivates us and how we interact with one another as humans." For more, see www.macdorman.com.