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Visiting scholar from Pakistan studies religion, technology and lifestyle

December 02, 2013

The blue walls of the corner office in West Hall are offset by the beaming man sitting in the office chair. Muhammad Shoaib’s excitement radiates as he explains the relationship between religion, modern technology and family lifestyle, as well as when he talks about his adventures on the East Coast during his time visiting the United States.

“I like everything,” Shoaib says, “especially the people ... People here have a high level of civic sense. When I come out of my hotel here, even when I cross the road, people stop their vehicles. They let people cross the road and then go. That is very interesting to me.”

“People are happy,” Shoaib notes. “But ... people have no time here. They are very busy – going and going and going.”

His observations and the interest he has in human interactions are not just qualities of an international traveler, but notes made by a visiting sociologist. Shoaib is a visiting research scholar from the University of Gujrat in Pakistan, where he is a lecturer in sociology.

Shoaib is in residence at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict this semester, conducting research alongside Arizona State University faculty, under a program sponsored by the American Institute for Pakistan Studies and supported by the U.S. State Department. The institute selected Shoaib after he was nominated by his university.

“The program is designed to enhance the research and teaching skills of visiting scholars,” says Carolyn Forbes, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. “Visiting scholars carry out a research project, sit in on graduate seminars and lectures, participate in workshops and conferences, utilize the library and other academic resources, and broaden their networking and intercultural experiences while on campus.

“One of the keys to the program is pairing them with great mentors,” Forbes says. 

Shoaib, who holds a master’s degree in sociology from the International Islamic University, Islamabad, has more than eight years of experience in teaching and research. He has published on multiple topics in the World Applied Sciences Journal, including family development and tolerance, concepts of justice, the democratic attitude and child health care practices in Pakistan.

He says the opportunities presented by the program are beneficial to his research. “Compared to Pakistan, it is much easier here when I search on the Internet. Everything is accessible, but in Pakistan most of the articles and research are not," he says.

During his time at ASU, Shoaib is working with two faculty mentors – Victor Agadjanian, a professor of sociology in the T. Denny Sanford School of Family and Social Dynamics and faculty affiliate of the center, and Yasmin Saikia, the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies and a historian of South Asia.

Saikia says she wanted to invite Shoaib to be a part of the program because of the interesting questions his research poses about the future of Pakistan. She also saw the concrete benefits the program would provide for him.

“We had 16 candidates and I decided to offer this opportunity to Shoaib because the university he comes from is an up-and-coming university," Saikia says. "It is not in a main urban area in Pakistan, or in the cities, where academics have reasonable access to outside scholars and allow a lot of internal intellectual discussion.

“I looked for an affinity with our interests here. I thought that his work – because it talks of changing values, religious values in Pakistan and the connection between modernity and Islam – was the kind of subject that spoke to the intellectual questions of where Pakistan is heading.

"I also knew that we had a scholar here, Victor Agadjanian, who would make a good mentor because he studies these issues of religion and people and values from the same sociological perspective that Shoaib does.”

Key questions Shoaib is pursuing in his research concern the impact of modern lifestyle on religious attitudes during his time at ASU.

“I am working with professor Agadjanian on family well-being and health in Pakistan and the role of modern technology on religious values,” Shoaib says.

According to Agadjanian, their goal is to produce a sound paper that can be presented at conferences and submitted for publication. Agadjanian's hope for their time working together is that Shoaib will perfect his ability to create publishable work out of his interesting research ideas.

“I look forward to Shoaib building a rigorous theoretical and empirical skill set and an ability to convert ideas into publishable scholarly products,” says Agadjanian.

Shoaib’s time as a scholar at ASU is his first experience in the United States, but he says his sociology background of studying Western culture has helped him easily adjust to living in a different country.

“I am a sociologist. I have studied Western lifestyle, Western culture and many areas related to European and American life, especially. People ask me if I feel culture shock here and I say no because I have studied these things,” says Shoaib.

But one of the things that interests Shoaib most is the work environment at ASU.

“The working environment is very conducive, especially for teachers or scholars, as well as for students,” Shoaib observes. “The most important thing is the use of facilities here. All of the facilities compared to my country are more conducive for the work environment.”

Shoaib says he values this aspect of the work environment that he has observed during his time working at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

Shoaib says, “In Pakistan, mostly the individuals are bound to sit in their offices from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If they have work to do or not they have to be present there. I think the working environment is totally different from the U.S. to Pakistan.

“Here faculty, students and staff are not forced to sit in office during working hours,” Shoaib continues, “Even if there is no work in the office they can go to their homes where they can work freely. ... I think due to this environment, professors here write different kinds of books because they can spend maximum time doing scholarly writings in their area of interest.”

After he finishes his time as a visiting scholar, Shoaib says he has set his sights on continuing his education, hopefully at ASU. “My hope is to get a PhD. I will apply here at ASU,” Shoaib says.

The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is a research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Tempe campus.

Story by Katie Mykleseth