Does religion make people prejudiced?

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Our take: Researchers have long questioned the role of religion in uniting and dividing people. With sectarian violence appearing routinely in the news for the last decade, it has been generally accepted that religion tends to divide people, particularly from others outside the faith. However, recent studies have shown that some types of religious belief actually make people more open to outsiders. This Patheos article by Connor Wood compares the differences between intrinsic, extrinsic and questing religious beliefs and how those impact our views of others.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, left a smoking crater in lower Manhattan, its been common knowledge that religion divides people. After all, the hijackers who steered jetliners into some of the worlds best-known buildings were hardline Islamists, motivated by a grim theological doctrine of holy war against the West. When taken against the backdrop of history, with its endless Crusades and holy wars, these horrific attacks cast religion as the root cause of human violence and strife. But is this hard-and-fast conclusion really true? A just-published paper suggests that, on the contrary, some religious people are actually less prejudiced against outsiders.

To be blunt: the surge of interest in religion among researchers, academics, and intellectuals after September 11th was, in many ways, partly if tacitly motivated by the hope that, in learning everything we could about religion, we could discover how to make it go away. Or, failing that, we could defang it, strip it of its odd power over peoples hearts, minds, and trigger fingers. We wanted, in other words, the religious equivalent of an aged and doddering Doberman pincer a beast that once inspired terror but now is purely decorative, whose only possible use might be to help cuddle the children to sleep at night.

Read more about the impact of religion on prejudice on Patheos.

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