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Anthropology student sheds light on Islam

Senior Elliot Paulson researches the growing availability of halal food products in Corvallis

Sam Dunaway | News Editor

At Bazaar International Market in Corvallis, a variety of food products from across the Middle East line the shelves, cuts of fresh halal meat are available daily and a collection of teas invite curious customers. This is where anthropology major Elliot Paulson spends a good portion of his time gathering research and information for his senior thesis titled “Mainstreaming Halal: A Growing Niche Market in an Oregon University Town.”

Paulson became fascinated with Islam while taking a Middle Eastern religions class and a Middle Eastern history class at Western. It was while he was enrolled in the Anthropology of Islam class that he was considering a topic centered around Islam for his senior thesis.

“Americans have one view of what a Muslim is,” Paulson explained. He claimed that many individuals think of Islam as solely a Middle Eastern religion and tend to stereotype the individuals that follow the faith. “What Anthropology of Islam taught me is that’s not the case.”

After much consideration, Paulson decided on the topic for his senior thesis: halal food availability in Corvallis. Specifically, Paulson aimed to find out why the halal food market is growing in Corvallis and what demographics are purchasing halal food.

Halal is an Arabic word that refers to anything that is permitted or lawful. It describes food that follows the dietary standards stated in the Qur’an and prepared according to Islamic law. Stated by the Islamic Council of Victoria, Islamic law requires the humane treatment of animals before slaughter, prohibits the consumption of pig products and holds several other high standards for halal food.

Paulson interviewed Muslim community members at the mosque in Corvallis and visited family-owned markets and large stores like Safeway to get an idea as to why halal food has been growing in popularity in Corvallis. Paulson speculates that the ethnic diversity of Corvallis may play a part, as well as many non-Muslim individuals seeking out halal products because of the humane slaughter of the animals.

Paulson hopes that his research can help inform people about the religion.

“There’s an element of fear that surrounds Islam,” said Paulson. “I think that a lot of it comes from just not being familiar. And something like food, especially something like halal, can be normalized.”

He also believes that visiting a mosque or talking to Muslim individuals can benefit many individuals; “I think everyone needs to step out of their comfort zone and just interact with people that you might not normally interact with. You’ll probably meet some fascinating people that way.”

Paulson added that the skills he gained working with diverse individuals at Western helped with his research, explaining that “the more that you can respectfully work with people that are not from your own circle, the better you’re going to do.”

Whether it’s trying halal food, visiting a mosque or taking a class about Islam, Paulson encourages everyone to learn more about the faith and explore Islam.

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Photo by: Paul F. Davis