IRB-Supervised Research

The following human-subjects research study was approved and supervised by the University of Maryland Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Identity Constructs of Self-Identified Jewish Americans

The purpose of this research was to determine how self-identified Jewish Americans use narratives to make sense of their own Jewish identities and construct their heritage as members of the Jewish community. Data collection occurred between September 2013 and March 2014. A pilot study was conducted in April 2013 to test the interview questions and gather preliminary data.

Nineteen oral history interviews were conducted with self-identified Jewish Americans ranging in age from 22 to 74, most of whom have or want children. Participants were recruited using an IRB-approved recruitment letter sent via snowball sampling. While both natural-born and converted Jews were invited to participate, only natural-born Jews participated.

Participants shared stories about how they observed holidays, both now and while growing up; how they define the tenets of their faith; and what information about being Jewish is important to share with their current or future children. Interviews were fully transcribed, then coded and analyzed using thematic analysis.

This project resulted in two research papers.

Narratives Draw on Collective Memory to Construct Intangible Heritage:
Group Identity Formation and Implications for Communication

Intangible heritage is an emerging area of study that would be strengthened by a communication perspective. Narrative serves as a foundational structure and method of creating both individual and group identity and has strong foundations in the field of communication. Theoretical linkages between the two constructs strengthen scholarship on group identity in the field of communication. However, the connection between intangible heritage and narrative is not direct. Instead, narratives draw on collective memory to create intangible heritage. This process is demonstrated both theoretically and practically. An oral history study with 18 self-identified American Jews shows that Jewish community members use oral narratives (storytelling) that draw on memories of traditional holiday celebrations to create Jewish heritage. Future research with additional populations could confirm this process.

Toward Secularization: An Investigation of the Evolving Modern Jewish Identity

A recent study by the Pew Research Center on the state of the American Jewish community highlighted a trend of Jewish Americans becoming less observant over the last decade. This process, known as secularization, is traditionally defined by a linear relationship stating that when a society modernizes it also must secularize, though some scholars argue instead each society’s reasons for secularizing must be examined in their own context. In the American Jewish community, secularization has been caused by immigration and assimilation, intermarriage, and the splintering of the religion into distinct denominations. Religious observance stopped being the defining criteria for being Jewish. An oral history study was conducted to determine what Jewish-identified Americans deem as defining criteria to being group members, or prototypes according to the social identity perspective. Study participants identified that receiving Jewish education, marrying within the faith, having children with strong Jewish identities, having a deeply ingrained Jewish identity, having flexibility in their definition of who is Jewish, and pride in being Jewish as prototypical behaviors of being Jewish and crucial aspects of Jewish identity.

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