What does prejudice against religion mean?

Do religious people have more prejudices against people of different faiths?

Bern, 10/15/16 (kath.ch) Under which conditions does an encounter with a foreign religion or worldview go positively? The xenosophy study at the University of Bern is currently investigating this question. She examines, among other things, the role of prejudices that exist against other religious communities.

Sylvia Stam

"Atheists are warm-hearted", "Muslims are competent", "Christians do not even know about their faith". Such statements are confronted with those who fill out the questionnaire of the "Xenosophy Project". The study examines how Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists in Switzerland perceive themselves and each other. The aim of the study is to contribute to a better coexistence in a multicultural and multi-religious society.

One of the central questions is therefore: Under what conditions does an encounter between the groups mentioned above take place in a constructive manner? This is what the term xenosophy means: “The encounter with the foreign (Greek xenos) can change me and my counterpart. If this encounter takes place at eye level, something new can emerge from it. You can call it wisdom (Greek sophia) ”, explains Anna-Konstanze Schröder, religious scholar and graduate psychologist at the University of Bern.

Treating strangers positively

As a researcher, she assumes that it helps social cohesion when there is a positive approach to the unfamiliar. The study aims to find out where and when such encounters can happen.

The sentences mentioned at the beginning should serve as an impulse which the people who fill out the questionnaire agree to or which they reject. "We can investigate what other characteristics a person who follows the stereotype has," says Schröder, because another part of the questionnaire asks about personal attitudes towards law and order, for example.

It would be conceivable, for example, that people to whom law and order are important tend to agree with stereotypes. "You may consider Muslims to be rather chaotic but warm-hearted, while they consider Jews to be more competent but hypothermic," Schröder illustrates a possible thought pattern.

Questions about one's own religiosity

For the first time, the present study also examines the interaction of such attitudes towards one's own religiosity. This point is also one of the most detailed in the entire questionnaire: The question is, for example, how often someone critically deals with their own religious doctrine and their own basic convictions (intellectual dimension), how often someone experiences situations in which they are at one with everything feels (religious experience) or what emotions he experiences in relation to God (security, gratitude, fear, guilt and others).

In addition to the bond with a religious community and its rituals, private rituals (how often do you pray?) And your own religious upbringing are also an issue. The last point asks, for example, how often you participated in religious rituals such as church services as a child and how often your parents did this.

Do religious people have more prejudices?

"If we differentiate how religiosity is made up of different aspects - the associated feelings, religious practice, beliefs - then one can draw more interesting comparisons," explains Silvia Martens, religious and Islamic scholar at the University of Bern, explaining this interaction.

“Traditionally, one finds in many religious psychological studies that religious people have more prejudices,” adds Schröder, who is responsible for evaluating the online questionnaire. This is due to the fact that religiosity is often only recorded based on the frequency of attending church services. But this only covers a special milieu, namely: "People who are more traditionally oriented".

However, if the term “religious” took into account personal experiences and rituals as well as reflection on one's own religion, religious people would often have much less prejudice in this way. The study aims to find out why this is the case.

Religious education

Religious upbringing can also be important when it comes to dealing with others: "Does someone who has acquired a religious identity as an adult have to differentiate himself more from others than someone who has already been brought up religiously?" According to Schröder, the study can provide possible answers to such questions, which are very topical in connection with converted jihad travelers, for example.

In addition to the online survey, interviews are conducted with selected people. "Here we will focus on how non-Muslims deal with Muslims and Islam," says the Islamic scholar Martens, who is responsible for this part of the study. Here, the results of the quantitative part are used to inquire more precisely: If someone says, for example, that Islam needs to be reformed, “then we are interested in whether the person has direct contact with Muslims and what happens in these encounters,” says Martens. "What does the rejection of Muslims mean for meeting them in everyday life?" In the conversation, the researcher hopes to learn more arguments about this.

Feedback to religious communities

On the one hand, the results are intended for an academic audience, but above all they are socially relevant, says Martens. The aim is to give feedback to religious communities on this study. For them, for example, it could be interesting to find out whether religious communities are alike with regard to prejudice: “Do Jews and Muslims think similarly about Christians? Does it play a bigger role for the prejudices in Christians to be fundamentalist than in Jews? " The researchers are convinced that such background knowledge can be important for an interreligious exchange.

The study could also result in workshops for people who are active in parishes, in migration work or in interreligious dialogue. «Such groups could be given concrete advice on how to improve communication: Where is a special discussion about these prejudices needed? Where do you have to create an awareness that prejudices, which are mostly unconscious, exist at all? ”Martens describes possible questions.

Around 600 people have taken part in the online survey since January 2015; the aim is to provide 2,000 answers by the end of 2017. You can take part in the survey in eight languages ​​at: www.xeno.unibe.ch.


© Catholic Media Center, October 15, 2016
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