Armed With Faith: Is Gun Ownership a Religion?

Armed With Faith: Is Gun Ownership a Religion?

Lilah Shapiro talking to two SESP faculty members during a faculty retreatLilah Shapiro talks with colleagues Brian Reiser (left) and Sepehr Vakil during a pre-COVID faculty retreat.

Lilah Shapiro, assistant professor of instruction at the School of Education and Social Policy, received a Provost Grant for Faculty Research in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts to examine the relationship between gun owners and religion.

Shapiro will collect and analyze data to see whether gun owners fall under a category she calls “functional religion,” which typically involves deeply held personal beliefs or “what might even be called faith,” she said. “These deeply held beliefs are bound with a sense of identity.”

Three School of Education and Social Policy undergraduates–Annie Bandler, Faye Berger, and Emi Silverstein–will be working with Shapiro on the project, though they aren’t funded by the grant. Last summer, a fourth, Elise Lamarre contributed to the work.

Anecdotally, social media groups and blogs suggest that gun ownership has deeply familial, tribal, cultural, and even spiritual meanings, and is tied to identity in highly complex and fundamental ways, Shapiro said.

It’s often assumed that providing more and better data is the way to shape public opinion and/or policy. But “facts” don’t always sway people when you’re dealing with emotions and beliefs, Shapiro said. Instead, we have to understand the already-held beliefs, the role and place of those beliefs in people’s lives, and how strongly people or groups are tied to them, she said.

“What is at stake for people with these types of beliefs when facing a decision or challenge is not simply a choice of whether or how to act, but a far more personal and potentially disruptive dilemma,” she wrote in her proposal. “This can make even the best data and analyses insufficient to predict behavior and/or to change people’s minds.”

Twice voted one of Northwestern’s most outstanding instructor, both by SESP students and Associated Student Government, Shapiro is an exemplary mentor and fierce advocate for undergraduate researchers.

She has been the faculty sponsor for more than 20 successful undergraduate research projects – a Northwestern record– and in the last four years alone, she has sponsored five students through the Undergraduate Research Assistant Program, 15 students on independent projects, and eight students on Expo presentations (oral and poster).

 The Office of the Provost supports excellence in faculty scholarly and creative work through the Provost Grants for Research in Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts. Faculty in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts are eligible for grants awards, which provide funding in fields with little external or start-up funding.

By Julie Deardorff, photo by Steve Drey
Last Modified: 2/23/21