At least 84 percent of Americans claim some kind of religious affiliation. This is of interest to social psychologists. Religion plays a major role in the lives of believers, and researchers want to know what this means to other aspects of human social interaction.
There have been a number of past studies that show a negative correlation between religiosity and willingness to grant civil liberties, but most of these limited themselves to the convenience samples of college students. Rowatt et al. (2009) wanted to look at the link between religious belief and prejudice in more detail.
The article, titled “Associations among religiousness, social attitudes, and prejudice in a national random sample of American adults” and published in the premier issue of the APA’s newest journal, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, asks whether religiousness is associated with acceptance with others, or with selective tolerances. The research also looks at whether associations between prejudice and religiousness may be due to extraneous or confounding variables.
The first bit of research I ever read on the subject was by one of the godfathers of personality and social psychology, Gordon Allport (Allport & Ross, 1967). Allport developed an intrinsic/extrinsic scale to measure the quality of religious belief. Intrinsic believers are internally focused and are religious for personal reasons, while extrinsic believers tend to be more outwardly focused. Allport and Ross found that churchgoers are more likely to be prejudiced than non-churchgoers and that people with extrinsic beliefs are more prejudiced than those with intrinsic beliefs.
Rowatt et al. (2009) used representative population sampling, tested prejudice against homosexuality separate from racial prejudice, and tested whether religious belief or prejudice were correlated with answers on the Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale. Their answers are bulleted below:
- General religiousness correlates strongly with less acceptance of homosexuality, but was only minimally related to racial prejudice.
- There was not much difference between the results of college students in older samples and the representative sample used in this study.
- Right-wing authoritarianism correlates positively with religiosity, less acceptance of homosexuality, and racial prejudice. However, religiosity correlates highly with low acceptance of homosexuality even when the scores have been corrected right-wing authoritarianism.
So why does religion correlate with prejudice? Is it intrinsic in religion? To a certain extent, yes. Religion is a way of (literally) deifying the concept of the in-group. Religious dogma will always maintain an out-group, and due to the way we think about other groups, we will always see them as something to be hated and feared.
Gordon W. Allport, J. Michael Ross (1967). Personal religious orientation and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5 (4), 432-443 DOI: 10.1037/h0021212
Wade C. Rowatt, Jordan LaBouff, Megan Johnson, Paul Froese, Jo-Ann Tsang (2009). Associations among religiousness, social attitudes, and prejudice in a national random sample of American adults. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 1 (1), 14-24 DOI: 10.1037/a0014989