As sheep amidst the wolves: Religion in the social environment

Bart Duriez

September 11, 2001. Two airplanes crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. An act of political violence that was justified on religious grounds. An act of violence that led to an upsurge of little nuanced articles on religion and religiosity in several European journals and magazines. According to some of these articles, religion would, almost by definition, cause intolerance. A point of view that is fueled by the fact that, although all world religions pretend to proclaim brotherly love, history is littered with moments in which religion has provided a justification for, or has given cause to, atrocities directed towards people from a different religion, a different race, a different culture, a different ideology  or a different sexual orientation. Hence, not surprisingly, the relation between religiosity and intolerance is probably the most important paradox within the psychology of religion and a lot of social scientist have carried out research in order to investigate whether religion truly causes intolerance. The aim of the present dissertation is to contribute to this debate. In order to do so, a new way of measuring religiosity, the Post-Critical Belief scale, is introduced. This Post-Critical Belief scale, which allows the disentanglement of the effects of being religious or not (Exclusion vs. Inclusion of Transcendence) from the effects of the way in which religion is being dealt with (Literal vs. Symbolic), is then applied to study the relation between religiosity on the one hand and social and political attitudes, personality traits, value orientation and modes of cognitive functioning on the other hand. Results suggest that, on average, religious people can indeed be characterized as rather intolerant and unprepared to allow other people to live according to their own principles. However, a lot depends on how religion is being dealt with. If religion is being dealt with in a symbolic fashion, intolerance is unlikely. However, if religion is being dealt with in a literal fashion, the vulnerability to become intolerant sharply increases. Based on these results, some suggestions are made as to how intolerance can be cured and prevented. These come down to the fact that, in an increasingly pluralist and multicultural society, it becomes increasingly important to (learn to) engage in dialogue with fellow human beings in order to be able to understand and respect each other.

Duriez, B. (2002). As sheep amidst the wolves: Religion in the social environment. KULeuven: Doctoral dissertation.