Project timeline

June 2022 — Dr. Gray and a team of four students return to Topeka for additional fieldwork.

February 2022 — After taking a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic to focus on the Preaching Goes Viral campaign, Dr. Gray and a team of research associates reboot the Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” project.

March 2020 — The Preaching Goes Viral campaign is launched. While this project is not a direct product of the Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” project, it engages with many of the same broader themes and questions. Get involved with the Preaching Goes Viral campaign here.

January 2020 — A group of Miami students and alums travel to Topeka with Dr. Gray for six days of conversations with members of the Westboro Baptist Church and members of the greater Topeka community.

October 28, 2019 — Student panelists discuss their summer fieldwork and the project, with Q&A and pizza.

August 27, 2019 — Start of a new college course, REL 402, Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” as a workshop for qualitative data analysis (QDA) of NK and WBC data, interview skills, and public scholarship on the project.

August 2019 trip overview — Interviews with Shirley Phelps-Roper; Jael Holroyd (8-16); Margie; Sam & Jen (with Isaac, et alia); Fred Jr.; Jonathan and Paulette; and Abigail Phelps (8-17); Charles, Rachel, and Hockenbarger family; Jacob Z. and Katherine (née Hockenbarger) Phelps (8-18). Conversation between the Miami team and younger gen Westboro Baptists; Steve Drain (8-18). Conversations during daily street preaching. Hymn singing, Sunday worship, and dinner (courtesy of the Drains) and Bible reading (led by Steve Drain with Jonathan Phelps).

August 19 — Student team meets with a Topeka attorney and an LGBTQ political activist.

August 15 — Student team and Dr. Gray arrive in Topeka, meet with local residents familiar with WBC. Warm-up interviews!

June 2019 — Dr. Gray and Nellie Given do field work with Neturei Karta activists, former NK participants, and other anti-Zionists.

Summer — The student team does CITI training in human ethics research, agrees to ground rules, and posts reflections about going to Topeka.

Spring 2019 — Meeting with Miami students about summer field work with WBC.

(A January 2019 trip to WBC was planned but not completed due to scheduling difficulties.)

Fall 2018 — Student presentation(s)

August 27 — Debriefing reflections (deadline)

August 13 — Arrive in Topeka!

June 29 — Students complete training in ethics of human subjects research (deadline)

June 15 — Students comment on the team’s basic ground rules (deadline)

June 1, 2018 — First student reflection

May 2018 — Dr. Gray visits Neturei Karta and other NY area anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews. A Miami student assists with some interviews.

May 9, 2018 — WBC Team meeting

Spring recruitment!

January 2018 — Canvas site for project

Dec. 7, 2017 — 3 students present research on WBC in an honors course

Sept. 26, 2017 — Students present to packed hall, see flier:

July 18-21, 2017 — Five students and Dr. Gray visit Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.

  • Interviewees included Steve Drain, Rachel Hockenbarger (e.g., childhood ostracism), Jonathan Phelps (e.g., juvenile defense), Margie Phelps (e.g., arguing before the Supreme Court; 9/11), Sam and Jen Phelps, Shirley Phelps-Roper (e.g., sister Katherine’s return to the church), Tim, LeeAnn, & Benaiah Phelps (e.g., workplace ethics), Ben Phelps.
  • Daily pickets. Singing hymns at the church, too.

2017 Student presentations