Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Takhyun Cho, Barbara Laymon, Anika Wilson-Brown, Kari A. O'Grady, Ph.D., J. Douglas Orton, Ph.D.

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Perceptions of Local Culture and Its Impact on the Cosmology of Human Terrain Team Members

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As a part of a pastoral counseling doctoral program, our qualitative analysis class interviewed five former members of Human Terrain Teams (HTTs), small teams of military leaders, social scientists, and research directors deployed to work in Afghanistan and Iraq. The mission of the HTT was to embed a social science capability within the military to enable culturally astute decision-making.  The challenges of gathering data on Afghan culture were many, with variability in socio-cultural considerations from village to village. Our subgroup investigated how the interviewees understood the local culture and what impact the local culture had on the cosmology of the interviewees. Cosmology was defined by the Center for Trauma Studies and Resilience Leadership as an overall worldview of the universe, shaped by historical imprinting, cultural geography, spiritual traditions, organizational positions, and personal strategies.

Method - Analysis: We were interested in expanding the research on team resilience and spirituality in extreme environments, specifically as experienced by HTTs.  Our approach was based on a constructivist research ontology and an abductive research epistemology. Semi-structured interview questions were developed by our class including the following topics: Individual /Team Leadership, Culture, Trust, Rewards, Sense-making and Innovation.  Interviews were conducted in December 2014 and analyzed January- March 2015.  Our sub-group utilized NVivo to elucidate the themes around local culture.

Preliminary Findings: Our early analysis suggests the following themes: religion, violence, lifestyle practices, politics, education, cosmology (of the interviewee as related to the culture), strategy (for approaching the culture), and challenges (with the local culture).

Discussion – Conclusion: Both the experience of living in the extreme environment and the very different local culture impacted the cosmology of the interviewees.  Although each interviewee expressed a distinct view of the local culture, they seemed to share a common desire to assist and understand the Afghani/Iraqi people.