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Summer Research Project for the Religious Studies

Kathryn R. Eckler in Zurich

Every research project begins with a sense of curiosity and care. As the European refugee crisis was unfolding during my sophomore year at William & Mary, I wanted to understand the tumultuous circumstances that forced people to abandon their homes, to leave behind their beloved ones, and to endure life-threatening challenges for many years to come. As a Religious Studies major, I was particularly interested in the role that religion played in the considerations of the refugees and of the people in whose countries they arrived and settled.

Two years after I first began to delve into the topic, I realized that I could only properly understand such a complex subject by traveling to Europe. With the encouragement and support of my advisor, Prof. Alexander Angelov, I applied to the Charles Center for a summer honors thesis research fellowship. I was delighted and grateful to receive the necessary financial support, and I left for Vienna where I scheduled a series of interviews with refugees from the Middle East and beyond.

I spent three months in Austria where I worked with refugees from countries such as Iran and Afghanistan. My findings will make the basis of my senior honors thesis project, entitled "Christianity during Times of Crisis: The European Refugee Movement (2015-2017)." Although I have collected a large comparative data, I have decided to focus on Iranian Christian refugees living in Vienna, Austria. In addition to making known the specific travels and turmoils of those refugees, I will show how they have come to view Christianity, while facing the throes of a political and social crisis that Europe has not experienced since the Second World War. I have already presented aspects of my work at the European Baptist Federation's Mission Commission Meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria. I also presented my paper, "Responding to the Refugee Crisis with a Mission Mindset," at the Baptist World Alliance's annual conference in Zürich, Switzerland.

As my parents and Prof. Angelov would be quick to say, my research has been nothing short of an adventure. My research began in the classrooms of the Wren and led me to Austria, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and then into the lives of the many men and women with whom I spoke; my curiosity and drive to discover sent me around the world and back to Virginia again. As I set out to write my thesis, I am eager to make known what I have learned and hope that my work brings clarity to issues whose consequences are bound to redefine the world that we all share.