Sunday, April 19, 2009

Does Religiosity Correlate With Intolerance?

Earlier in the month Gallup released a poll showing that there is a correlation between the religiosity of a nation and the perceived ethnic intolerance within - the more religious the country, the more intolerance of ethnic minorities. Money quote:
Gallup Polls conducted in 139 countries between 2006 and 2008 reveal that in countries where a higher percentage of citizens say religion is important in their daily lives people are also more likely to say that their communities are not good places for ethnic or racial minorities to live. However, this trend is not linear. Countries with average levels of religiosity -- comparatively speaking -- report about as much intolerance as the world's most religious countries.
Among self-identified adherents, Hindus (14%) were the least likely to report the intolerance to ethnic minorities in their countries, followed by Secularists (24%) and Christians (27%). Jews (52%) were the most likely to report the existence of ethnic intolerance. To a large extent, however, intolerance may have more to do with cultural and geo-political realities rather than religiosity:
[T]hese group differences may reflect historical and political factors, such as long-standing conflict over territory, rather than religious ideology per se. A case in point involves Jews and Muslims living inside and outside Israel. A majority of Jews and nearly half of Muslims living in Israel say their neighborhoods are not good places for ethnic and racial minorities. Outside of Israel, however, only about one in three Muslims and about one in five Jews say the same thing.
Although articles on this poll have generally tended to imply that religion promotes intolerance (i.e., this United Press International article), this poll actually concludes with a hopeful trend. Historically speaking, the levels of religious intoleration, over time, are decreasing:
Critics of religion have often noted that religion has historically played a major role in fueling and maintaining ethnic tensions. From the Crusades of the Middle Ages to the ancient tensions that flare daily in the Middle East, religion is certainly connected in some ways to ethnic tensions. This fact notwithstanding, the present findings suggest that most modern religious traditions seem to have made some progress, at least since the Middle Ages, in promoting ethnic understanding and cooperation. Although there are some connections between religiosity and ethnic and racial intolerance, these connections were generally small and inconsistent ... (emphasis mine)
While I'm not exactly sure how Gallup polled the Middle Ages to make this comparative claim, I do think we generally understand, despite breaking news stories to the contrary, that humanity is developing past these shallow forms of intoleration. In an ever shrinking world, via technological and informational inter-connectivity, we understand that exposure and dialogue between (and within) the world's major religions are necessary for a peaceable future. On the one hand, we are slowly heading in that direction, and on the other, as this poll indicates, religion still has some house-cleaning in order.

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