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American researcher aims to understand Western women living in Saudi

A sociology master’s student is currently in Jeddah looking for participants to interview for her thesis

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An American woman is hoping to lift the lid on the experiences of Western women living in the Kingdom and who have converted to Islam.

Laura Bruster, a 25-year-old full-time sociology master’s student at the University of Mississippi, is currently in Jeddah looking for participants to interview for her thesis, which aims to understand how women from the West were able to adapt and change their religious and gender identities while living in Saudi Arabia.

She told Saudi Gazette: “Saudi Arabia is often viewed as an Islamic safe haven that many converts only dream of living in, yet they do not understand the social and cultural norms that may not be based on Islamic ideals.

“So what happens to women born and raised in the land of choice and how are they affected when they arrive in Saudi and may feel that it was not an Islamic safe haven they once thought it was and much of their choices are limited, especially with regard to their dress outside the home?”

Bruster believed a lot of current research about Muslim women only focused on how Middle East and south Asian women migrated to Western countries and viewed Islam as an ethnic identity, rather than a religious one.

She said she did not intend to disparage Saudi Arabia in any way. “I want people to know that this is not a study to bash Saudi or its beautiful culture.

“It’s only to understand a perspective from a small minority residing in Saudi, but it’s important to understand to help take current religious research about Islam being an ethnic identity back to being a religious identity.”

Bruster herself reverted to Islam almost five years ago and met her husband, who works in the Kingdom, a year after embracing the religion.

“After a very emotional draining spring semester at college I began to look into many different religions and when I found Islam, it was very much feeling like a missing puzzle piece, finally finding the puzzle I belong to.”

Bruster said she has faced some challenges in conducting her research in Saudi Arabia, mainly with regard to finding participants and also getting to interviews due to transport challenges.

Interviews can be conducted through Skype, over the phone, or face to face, she said.

Bruster said she plans to release the results of her study in April 2015. If you are a woman from a Western country who lives in Saudi Arabia, converted to Islam and interested in participating in Bruster’s research, please contact her on lrbruste@go.olemiss.edu or call her on 056 602 5817.

(This article was originally published on Saudi Gazette on June 11, 2014)