Deafness and Religious Experience: A cross-cultural examination in the United States and Ireland

Author: Chelsea Schafer
Major: Sociology
Approved: Fall 2016
Status: Completed

Religion and minority groups, such as the deaf population, are both relevant topics in sociological study, but little research has been done on the intersection of these two topics. I would like to focus my Distinction Project on exploring the religious experience of deaf individuals. In order to gain a broader sample and hopefully more widely applicable results, I wish to make the study cross cultural with elements of the research being conducted both in the United States and in Ireland. After preparation at home, the first part of my project begins with studying abroad in Cork, Ireland, in Spring 2017, where I will begin interviewing and sending out an online survey that I designed and will carry out myself. My research will continue with interviews and survey distribution in the United States, specifically in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the region of Roanoke, Virginia. Through surveys and supplemental interviews, I hope to create a mixed methods research project that will address the question: How can churches help deaf individuals feel connected to religious communities? The following questions might also be considered, if found relevant, to help fully answer this overarching question: Does the deaf community experience unique obstacles to engaging in religious practices, particularly Christian practices? Do deaf individuals prefer deaf churches and programs to hearing churches and programs? Are such programs often available and what are the advantages and disadvantages of such programs? According to the deaf community, which programs are the most effective? What impact do these factors have on the faith of deaf individuals? Do deaf individuals that are involved in a religious community consider religion to be more important to them compared to deaf individuals that are not involved in a religious community? Do sign language or other deaf specific characteristics have advantages to practices of faith? Does the hearing ability of their religious community impact their perceived level of religiosity? The data collected from this research, along with a background and theory document, will culminate in an Honors defense length paper.