Sophomore Seminars

Psychology of Xenophobia


What causes xenophobia? Only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the worldwide “epidemic” of xenophobia, or fear of strangers and foreigners, makes it even more crucial than ever before to study this phenomenon, its characteristics, manifestations across history, and theories of its causes. Researchers have hypothesized that xenophobic attitudes and behaviors are often triggered by a fear that foreigners are a threat to one’s community or national identity. Decades of research on minority communities has also documented how stress associated with stigma, intimidation, and discrimination is detrimental to physical and mental well-being. In this seminar, we question hypotheses about xenophobic attitudes, and will explore the extent to which communities experience different psychological impacts from xenophobia. We will begin by taking a closer look at Executive Order 13769, dubbed the “Muslim Ban,” which suspended the entry of citizens from multiple Muslim-majority countries and banned the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. The “Muslim Ban” coincided with the highest level of hate crimes against Muslims in America. While the topic of Islamophobia will take center stage in this class, students will also lead discussions on other forms of xenophobia in order to better grasp the psychology of xenophobia and its societal ramifications. A combination of group discussions, talks by guest speakers, and virtual field trips to community partners will provide students with different perspectives and a deeper understanding of these topics.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Rania Awaad, MD

"I am a practicing psychiatrist in the School of Medicine and the director of the Stanford Muslims Mental Health Lab and Program where I oversee research focused on Muslim mental health. I am passionate about community mental health and I lecture widely both nationally and internationally, particularly in communities where mental health is highly stigmatized. I'm also really passionate about teaching and mentoring—particularly on the intersection between spirituality and mental health. I'm excited that our new book, Islamophobia and Psychiatry,has recently been published so that we can dive into it together this year. Clinically, I serve as the co-Chair of the Diversity Section within the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford. Through a Stanford community partnership, I also direct the Khalil Center—a wellness center pioneering the application of traditional Islamic spiritual healing methods to modern clinical psychology. I have an interest in refugee mental health and have traveled to Amman, Jordan multiple times with the Care Program for Refugees (CPR). I completed my psychiatric residency training at Stanford Hospital and Clinics where I also pursued a postdoctoral clinical research fellowship with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). I have been the recipient of several awards and grants for my work. Prior to studying medicine, I pursued classical Islamic Studies in Damascus, Syria and hold a certification (Ijaza) in Qur’an, Islamic Law and other branches of the Islamic Sciences."