At Miller-McCune, David Villano reports on a new study that finds that religious adherents in the U.S. are more inclined toward ethnocentric attitudes than agnostics:
[Deborah] Hall, [Wendy] Wood and co-author David Matz of Augsburg College analyzed data from 55 studies on religion and racism in America dating to the early civil rights era. Combined, the studies include more than 22,000 participants, mostly white and Protestant. The researchers looked not only at things like religious affiliation, church attendance and other participation but also at the motives behind their involvement to avoid clumping all religious adherents into a single category. Racial prejudice was measured principally as self-reported attitudes and behaviors, such as preferred levels of social distance toward blacks and other minority groups.
As expected, the authors found a positive correlation between religious affiliation and racism. The link was strongest among people who viewed religion mostly as a mechanism for fulfilling material and social needs such as community status, family security or group acceptance. Religious fundamentalism—the unwavering certainty in basic religious truths—correlated even more strongly with racist attitudes.
The link among people who expressed purely spiritual pursuits as the motivating influence of religion was less clear.
While researchers found no correlation between this so-called “intrinsic religiosity” and racist attitudes, there was no evidence that their behaviors reflected a commitment to racial tolerance. Acts of humanitarianism, such as tolerance, appeared to be directed only toward members of their own group. Only agnosticism, defined as an active, questioning orientation, correlated positively with all measures of racial tolerance. (Not surprisingly, the authors note in support of their argument, social conformity and respect for tradition—the life values closely linked to religious adherence and racism—don’t statistically link with agnosticism but do with fundamentalism).
It’s worth noting, Woods adds, that one of the studies that revealed the strongest religion-racism link looked at attitudes of seminary students, a population of highly educated and devout people.
“It’s not just the poor and the uneducated,” she says.
Read the full report here.