Distinguished research award to Dr. Karam Dana


Dr. Karam Dana, an associate professor in the University of Washington Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, has pursued an academic career both to advance knowledge and to advocate for change. As a Palestinian, an Arab, a Muslim, an immigrant and a refugee, he says he knows all too well the damage that ignorance can cause to marginalized and racialized communities. 

“At the heart of it, knowledge comes with a sense of responsibility, and there is an inherent duty to share knowledge for the greater benefit of all,” Dana said. “I believe academic success is limited if not shared outside academic circles. Reaching wider audiences is key in propelling change, especially to those who study different kinds of social, economic and political injustice.” 

In recognition of the significant contributions he has made in his field, Dana has been named the 2023 recipient of UW Bothell’s Distinguished Research, Scholarship & Creative Activity Award. This honor is presented each year to a faculty member in recognition of scholarly or creative achievement exemplifying the standards of excellence required by the research-intensive education environment of the University.  

“Dr. Dana is a highly esteemed member of our faculty at UW Bothell,” said Dr. Kristin G. Esterberg, UW Bothell chancellor. “His significant contributions in research, public scholarship and teaching are recognized and appreciated by many across our campus, in our community and around the world.” 

Dana will receive an honorarium and be recognized at the Commencement ceremony and the UW Bothell Faculty Recognition Reception.

Filling research gaps

Dana currently holds the five-year Alyson McGregor Distinguished Professorship of Transformative Research, the first-ever named professorship at UW Bothell. Over the years, he also has received multiple grants to further his research on how race and ethnic politics relate to Muslim Americans and on how religious identity and religiosity affect political behavior and policy formulations.

“When I started studying American Muslims, it was perceived as novel and extremely outside of the box,” Dana said. “I am proud to have been one of the earliest scholars to pave the way into this area within the study of race and ethnic politics. Now, the study of American Muslims is expanding and has yielded significant knowledge produced by newer generations of scholars.”

Another key focus of Dana’s research is related to Palestine. “My work on Palestine is centered around shedding light on the practices of Israeli occupation and its impact on Palestinian society.”

He regularly conducts surveys, interviews and focus groups in the occupied territories to highlight the practices of settler colonialism and its impact on the everyday life of Palestinians. Dana also studies the ways in which Palestine is discussed transnationally and debated in the U.S. and has recently finalized a book manuscript for Columbia University Press.

Paving a better way forward

One of the most pivotal moments in his career, Dana recalled, happened one morning in March 2011 when he found himself facing multiple live cameras and answering phone calls from journalists after Peter King, a Republican lawmaker from New York, held congressional hearings on the role of mosques in radicalization.

“Peter King had no data or evidence to support his claims, but these claims were widely accepted as truth unfortunately,” Dana said. “King relied on a couple of anecdotes, but I along with Matt Barreto had finished the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey, the largest study of American Muslims in the U.S. two years earlier.”

Contrary to arguments popularized by King, Dana and Barreto — his co-principal investigator on the research — found that mosques play a role similar to other religious institutions, which is to increase civic engagement and political participation. Empirical evidence also showed they help facilitate the integration of immigrant communities into the broader American society.

“These research findings were groundbreaking as they pushed against longstanding false notions that being Muslim is inherently incompatible with living in democratic society and the West,” Dana said. “These claims were — and are still — dangerous, especially in the years after 9/11, when Arab and American Muslims were targeted by the government and American society.”

Over the past 15 years, Dana has worked with multiple stakeholders in Washington, D.C., including the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and the New American Foundation, to develop policy briefs that provide data and historical facts specifically designed for non-academic audiences.

Building engagement and community

Dana said he believes that the media plays a significant role in disseminating facts and has worked with journalists from a variety of backgrounds to advance a more accurate understanding of Muslims in the U.S. He also co-authored sections of a guide for journalists on how to cover issues related to Muslims in the West.

In 2014, Dana also founded the American Muslim Research Institute at UW Bothell with a mission to further study race and ethnic politics in the U.S. His goal, he noted, is also to support the University’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion while fostering a greater sense of community on and off campus.

“AMRI is one of the very few research centers that are specifically focused on the study of American Muslims,” Dana said. “It embraces a community-based approach as a mechanism of partnership and outreach to spread accurate knowledge on American Muslims. Since its establishment, AMRI has produced a great deal of research and held large public events with lectures delivered by leading experts, academics and public officials.”

Through AMRI, Dana hosts an annual lecture series centered around American Muslims in academia and public life. Featured speakers include Dalia Mogahed, adviser to former President Barack Obama on the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; John Zogby, pollster, author and thought leader; Noah Purcell, the Washington state solicitor general; Varisha Khan, the first Muslim American councilmember of the city Redmond and one of the first Muslim American women to be elected for public office in Washington state; and Rami Al-Kabra, the city of Bothell’s deputy mayor and councilmember.

The next event on May 16 is titled The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom and will feature Dr. Sahar Aziz, a professor from Rutgers Law School.

Working with schools, clubs and government

Sharing research findings with wider audiences is at the heart of Dana’s intellectual endeavors — and UW Bothell’s mission to be an educational resource.

Dana is a frequent guest lecturer and has presented to more than 200 audiences ranging from national and international academic conferences to local public and private K-12 schools, Rotary Clubs and the Washington Supreme Court. Topics include Islam and Politics; Islam in the West; race and ethnic politics; Palestine and Israel; and the Middle East.

“Even though studying issues of contention can be daunting and sometimes depressing,” he said, “I remind myself that what I do matters, and that science, truth and justice will eventually prevail.”

Last year, Dana also was asked to serve as an adviser on the implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order on equity around the functions of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the service delivery system to different racial, ethnic and religious minorities. “Our efforts were centered around devising innovative mechanisms to ensure that all religious communities receive services.”

He also participated in the first federal government-sponsored national convention aimed at building an inclusive human services delivery system, held in the D.C. area last month.

Creating great impact in society

In its letter nominating Dana for the DRSCA, the awards selection committee wrote that “Dr. Dana knows all too well that impact in the classroom leads to a greater impact in larger society and encourages his students to think of how their education will affect their surroundings, not only with regards to knowledge about a specific region, or a particular concept, but about the transferrable skills they can use in the workplace, in their relationships, and in their towns and communities.”

A testament to his accomplishments as a teacher as well as researcher, Dana is the first faculty member at UW Bothell to receive both the DRSCA award and the Distinguished Teaching Award. The DTA is the highest honor bestowed upon faculty members, honoring their exemplary teaching practice and their embodiment of the UW’s commitment to teaching excellence.

“I am thankful to be selected to receive this DRSCA award and to be the first educator at UW Bothell to be awarded for both teaching and research,” Dana said. “These recognitions drive me forward, especially knowing that I am making a difference.”

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