Julia Norton '09 spent much of her senior year researching, writing and rewriting. Inspired by a conversation with an Islamic teacher during an internship in Germany, Norton set out to examine the politics of Islamic instruction in Germany's public schools. Her hard work as an undergraduate at Connecticut College has paid off. Norton, now a Fulbright scholar, made the topic the focus of an independent study, crafting a 55-page research paper that earned her First Place in the 2009 Best Undergraduate Class Paper competition for Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society.
"Julia embarked on her project with enthusiasm and demonstrated a commitment to excellence throughout the semester," Government Professor David Patton, who served as Norton's independent study adviser, said. "I'm very proud of her accomplishments and the national recognition she has received."
Norton's paper, "From Kulturkampf to Kampf der Kulturen: Political Representation and Recognition of Islam in Germany in the Example of Islam Instruction in Germany Public Schools," examines how the teaching of Islam in public schools can aid a political movement to give a voice to Germany's large Muslim population.
"The gradual implementation of Islam instruction in public schools is a step toward Germany recognizing and legitimizing the presence of its large, predominantly Muslim immigrant community," Norton said. "However, this process of introducing Islam into the classroom also exposes the hurdles faced by the Muslim population in Germany, namely the lack of a unified, representative organization to stand behind such initiatives."
Norton said she started with a broad topic and was excited by what she found as she continued her research. "I kept uncovering more and more about the topic through current newspaper articles and a bounty of mostly German sources, and the paper took on a life of its own," she said.
Weekly meetings with Patton helped her shape her sprawling ideas into a targeted analysis, Norton said. Even after she'd completed the paper, Patton gave her feedback that encouraged her to continue to sharpen her arguments before submitting the paper to Pi Sigma Alpha in June. Patton said he also learned a lot during the process.
"Julia is a serious and focused student and always came to our meetings prepared with specific questions," he said.
Norton is now living in Rheinfelden, Germany, where, as a Fulbright scholar, she is teaching English to students in grades five through 13 and working to develop a bilingual education program that uses theater to teach English to students in fifth and sixth grade at the school. Norton says winning the Pi Sigma Alpha award has motivated her to continue to study Muslim immigrants in Germany. She plans to stay in Germany to pursue a master's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and further training in theater pedagogy.