Friday, June 11, 2010

Two takes on religion and racism study

From my blog on Psychology Today:
When my husband was young, a white grade school teacher informed him that African Americans were meant to be oppressed, secondary citizens, because they were descendants of Ham, an Old Testament figure whose son, Canaan, was cursed by Noah. To this woman, the inequities among races were not man-made but divine. Her Bible told her so. Religion as a justification for racism is not uncommon. In fact, a recent analysis led by Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC College and the USC Marshall School of Business, found a positive correlation between religiosity and racial bias. But is religion really the problem here or is it something else?

The meta-analysis, titled Why Don't We Practice What We Preach, was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review. The authors analyzed data from 55 studies on religion and racism in America dating to the Civil Rights era. Combined, the studies include more than 22,000 participants, mostly white and Protestant. An abstract of the study reports: "A meta-analytic review of past research evaluated the link between religiosity and racism in the United States since the Civil Rights Act. Religious racism partly reflects intergroup dynamics. That is, a strong religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups. Other races might be treated as out-groups because religion is practiced largely within race, because training in a religious in-group identity promotes general ethnocentrism, and because different others appear to be in competition for resources. In addition, religious racism is tied to basic life values of social conformity and respect for tradition. In support, individuals who were religious for reasons of conformity and tradition expressed racism that declined in recent years with the decreased societal acceptance of overt racial discrimination. The authors failed to find that racial tolerance arises from humanitarian values, consistent with the idea that religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members. Only religious agnostics were racially tolerant." Read more...
Though "Why Don't We Practice What We Preach?" focused on mostly white, Christian Protestants, its authors think that their findings are relevant across world religions. As they put it, "All religions teach moral superiority."

But I wonder if that assumption of universality isn't a little presumptuous — even when we're just talking about Christianity in the United States. For example, a 2009 Pew study found African-Americans to be markedly more religious than the U.S. population. Seventy-nine percent of African-Americans reported that religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% of the general population. More than 80% of religious African Americans identify as Christians. Is the black relationship to Christianity really the same as that of white America? The idea certainly warrants some scrutiny. Christianity in the U.S. tends to reflect the image and values of mainstream culture. So how do racial attitudes evolve among Christians of color? Read more...


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