Religious Identity and Cultural Diversity: Exploring the Relationships between Religious Identity, Sexism, Homophobia, and Multicultural Competence

Article excerpt

Much of the extant research on relationships between counseling and religion has addressed how counselors provide services to religious clients (e.g., Belaire & Young, 2002; Guinee & Tracey, 1997; Hannon& Howie, 1994; Myers & Williard, 2003; Schaffner & Dixon, 2003; Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2000) or on strategies for working with people from specific religious traditions (Richards & Bergin, 2000). This has been needed because empirical research has demonstrated that mental health professionals tend to be less religious than the general population (Bergin & Jensen, 1990). Furthermore, research has indicated that religious clients expect religious attitudes, values, and behaviors to be a focus in counseling, regardless of whether the counselor is identified as religious or secular (Allport, 1950; Belaire &Young, 2002). Although extensive research has identified the need for counselors to be aware of the religious and spiritual needs of clients (e.g., Allport, 1950; Belaire & Young, 2002; Hannon & Howie, 1994; Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2000), very little research has been focused on the role of the religious identity of counseling professionals. The authors attempt to address this gap in the literature by examining the relationships between the religious identity of counseling professionals and several variables reflecting attitudes toward cultural diversity, specifically, sexism, homophobia, and multicultural competence. For the purposes of this research, religious identity is defined as a process in which individuals explore and commit to a set of religious beliefs and/or practices (Griffith & Griggs, 2001). Religious identity is different from religiosity, which refers to the manner in which religion is expressed (Berkel, Armstrong, & Cokley, 2004).

Understanding the role of religion in a multicultural context is pertinent for the counseling profession. The standards of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2009) clearly identify the role of religion in understanding cultural diversity. Thus, it is not only important to focus on the manner in which spirituality and religion affect clients (Constantine, Lewis, Conner, & Sanchez, 2000), it is equally crucial to explore how religion and spirituality are integrated into the theory and practice of delivering counseling services (Knox, Catlin, Casper, & Schlosser, 2005). If clients are likely to assume values similar to those they attribute to the counselor, as suggested by Kelly (1990), then extra monitoring on the clinician's part would be necessary to make certain that his or her values were not improperly inflicted on the client. The pioneering work of Allport (1950) demonstrated the importance of religion in personality development and identity and, thereby, in human interactions. Hunter (2001) suggested that there is a tendency among highly religious people to perceive themselves as having stronger moral attributes than nonreligious people have. Such bias by a highly religious counselor could complicate the counseling relationship (Richards & Davison, 1992) with respect to gender bias, homophobia, and racism.

Religiosity and Gender Bias

The fact that counseling has embraced traditional developmental models such as those of Eriksen and Kohlberg, which focus on the development of White men, indicates a propensity toward gender bias (Gilligan, 1993; Richards & Davison, 1992). For example, Danzinger and Welfel (2000) reported that professional counselors evaluated female clients as being less competent than male clients. Highly religious counselors, who may hold more traditional beliefs about gender roles and behavior, may be vulnerable to exacerbating the type of gender bias Danzinger and Welfel reported. Furthermore, individuals and groups who adhere to religious fundamentalism, which typically places women in roles that are more traditional than those chosen by most contemporary women, are more likely to exhibit sexist behavior (Peek, Lowe, & Williams, 1991). …