Religion and Democracy in the United States: Danger or Opportunity?

By Alan Wolfe; Ira Katznelson | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF RELIGIOSITY
Does Religion Always Cause Political Intolerance?

JAMES L. GIBSON

FOR QUITE SOME TIME, social scientists have recognized that religiosity and political intolerance are closely intertwined, with those who are more deeply committed to religion tending toward greater intolerance. However, scholars have not been entirely clear about whether religious beliefs cause intolerance, whether intolerance causes religious beliefs, or whether intolerance and religious beliefs share a common antecedent, such as dogmatism and authoritarianism. Moreover, debate exists as to what precisely it is about being religious that fuels intolerance. Possible candidates include the belief in dogma, with clear and rigid distinctions between ideas that are “right” and “wrong,” the tendency of those who are religious to define themselves as a clearly defined “in-group” distinct from various “out-groups,” and the propensity (concomitant or not) to perceive threats from their political and ideological foes. Without a clear understanding of the precise interconnections between religiosity and intolerance, it is difficult to imagine how the intolerance of believers can be understood and, ultimately, tamed.

The purpose of this chapter is to investigate the relationship between intolerance and religiosity, based on a survey of a representative sample of the American mass public conducted in 2007. The survey is notable for (1) extensive measures of perceived intergroup threat and political intolerance, (2) broad indicators of religiosity and involvement within religious institutions, and (3) the ability to control for a variety of antecedent variables.

The analysis begins with a discussion of political tolerance, grounding this chapter in democratic theory and an empirical literature that is now more than a half a century old. I then focus on multidimensional indicators of religiosity, ranging from measures of self-identification, participation in religious organizations, and collateral beliefs about religion and politics. After testing for the simple interrelationship between religiosity and intolerance, I turn to trying to unravel the causal structure knitting the variables together. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how

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