Magellan Scholar Examines History of Tolerance and Inclusion in Spain

Created: October 10, 2016
Last Updated: January 15, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (Oct. 10, 2016) – On Nov. 13, 2015, the terror attacks in Paris, France, shocked the world; days later another attack followed in Beirut, Lebanon, and more continued to devastate cities across the globe. As the crises were broadcast across the news, Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) sophomore Jordan Hosfelt watched these threats polarize the United States socially and politically.

He couldn’t help but wonder: if the attacks could stir up such strong sentiments among Americans, so geographically removed from these terror attacks, how must Europeans feel?

Spurred by his interests in Spanish history and language, Hosfelt traveled to Spain to tackle the important issue of Islamophobia amid the current terroristic threats unfolding across the world.

Taking his study back to the Moorish Invasion of Spain in the year 711 AD, Hosfelt investigated whether Spaniards had a different outlook due to their interactions with Muslims throughout history. He spent 10 days each in Barcelona and Valencia conducting interviews with locals and international travelers.

As most Magellan students can attest, things don’t always go according to plan when it comes to traveling abroad. For Hosfelt, two of his main contacts – a civil rights lawyer and the president of an Islamic advocacy board – became unavailable after his arrival. Undeterred, he was still able to meet and have deep discussions with people from Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Australia, Argentina, Slovenia, and Pakistan.

Gauging their sentiments towards Muslims before, during, and after the attacks, their perceptions of how justified those feelings were, and the influence their culture and interaction with Islam has had in their homeland allowed Hosfelt to encounter many different viewpoints and perspectives.

Some expressed Islamophobic sentiments, while others were a “bit more aware of the fact that radical Islamic terror groups like ISIS are just that: radical. They are not representative of all Muslims,” Hosfelt said. “People like this were more sympathetic toward refugees and Muslims facing prejudice.”

Most of his interviewees expressed fear over the attacks but added that a majority of Europeans did not let that affect the way they lived their daily lives. He noted that Spaniards did tend to be more accepting of Muslims, which Hosfelt attributes to a less politically charged atmosphere inherent in Spanish culture as well as the significant historical relationship between Spain and the Moors.

Hosfelt’s Magellan project greatly opened his worldview. “Sometimes, when confined to a small area of the world for a long time, it starts to seem like nothing else exists outside of that space. However, this research project assured me that there was so much more than southwestern Pennsylvania….The ideological debates, opportunities to learn, and good times that were shared are experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime,” he said.

His project also better prepared him to reach his future goals of practicing medicine in an area of the U.S. with a strong Hispanic presence. His own experiences overcoming language barriers and confronting issues of discrimination based on race and creed will help him as he goes on to face these very same issues in modern medicine after W&J.

About the Magellan Project

Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.

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