Effects of Religious versus Moral Identity Priming on the Evaluation of Ingroup and Outgroup Targets

By ElBassiouny, Amanda; Sloan, Lloyd Ren | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Effects of Religious versus Moral Identity Priming on the Evaluation of Ingroup and Outgroup Targets


ElBassiouny, Amanda, Sloan, Lloyd Ren, North American Journal of Psychology


Historically and scientifically, the relationship between religion and morality, and whether one necessitates the other, has often been disputed, seemingly because the constructs themselves lack empirical evidence to understand them singularly (McKay & Whitehouse, 2015). To further juxtapose this continued controversy, it is believed by more than half of Americans that morality can only exist in the context of believing in God (Pew Center Research, 2007), while for atheists and agnostics, living a moral life is not necessitated by religion since their morals are based on principles other than religion (Hauser & Singer, 2005, 2006). Therefore, the objective of the current study was to expand the current understanding of morality and religion by examining the differences in the consequences of these identities on the stereotyping of outgroup targets. Additionally, this research aimed to provide experimental evidence to further understand the constructs of religion and morality, which have been the subject of much debate in the field of psychology (McKay & Whitehouse, 2015).

The connection and amount of overlap that exists between religion and morality has continued to be an ill-defined topic, both in academia and in practice (Black, 1994; Bowers, 1984; Mooney, 2001).The links between religion and morality have been conceptualized in three different ways (Morgan, 1983). The first view perceived them as being "married" to each other (Geertz, 1973; McCready & Greeley, 1976), such that religion provided the foundation and credos to live a virtuous and moral life. According to Bull (1969), moral attitudes consist of "a golden thread of humanitarianism inspired by loving care, motivated by religion" (p. 94). The second perspective viewed morality "separated" from religion (Greeley, 1972), such that the values of modern society were built upon secular, rather than religious, traditions. Consequently, the regulation of social control and peace in society would be handled by legal institutions and not religious ones (Greeley, 1972; Thompson & Sharma, 1998; Wilson, 1985). This perspective would then emphasize a separation between church and state, with the practice of religious doctrine being reserved for choice at the individual level. The third link between religion and morality was that they were "divorced" (Bull, 1969). In support of this view, Kohlberg (1981) believed that religiosity and moral reasoning were two entirely different systems for humans. Kohlberg asserted that morals developed from maturation and life experiences and as such, moral beliefs were based on the rationales of justice. To further bolster Kohlberg's assertions, Gert (2008) stated that "morality is often distinguished from etiquette, law, and religion, all of which are, or involve, codes of conduct put forward by a society" (p. 2). Further, religious beliefs were based on what was set forth by religious authorities, while the adoption of moral beliefs was not dependent on any authority figures or even culture (Kohlberg, 1981; Nucci & Turiel, 1978; Turiel, 2002). Thus, it has been asserted that secular morality is taught in the classroom, rather than morality based on religion, because they are universally accepted beliefs (Skitka, Bauman, & Lytle, 2009). There has been empirical evidence to support the "divorced" view of morality and religion, such that the effects of each of these beliefs may be independent of the other (Skitka, Bauman, & Lytle, 2009). However, more research is needed to fully understand the link between religion and morality, especially since there are contradictions about the relationship between these constructs in the existing literature (McKay & Whitehouse, 2015).

Does a society need religion to provide a foundation for values and a system to judge morality and maintain order? Philosophical debates have been focused on this question and it has been argued that there are millions of people who do not believe in religion, but are still able to hold moral attitudes and behave in a moral way (Pecorino, 2001). …

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Effects of Religious versus Moral Identity Priming on the Evaluation of Ingroup and Outgroup Targets
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