Ingroup Contact, Collective Memory and Social Identity of Catholic Youth Ministers: The Importance of Remembering Past Events

By Bellehumeur, Christian P.; Laplante, Joelle | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Ingroup Contact, Collective Memory and Social Identity of Catholic Youth Ministers: The Importance of Remembering Past Events


Bellehumeur, Christian P., Laplante, Joelle, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


This study conducted among Canadian Catholic youth ministers investigates how both Catholic collective memory and contact with Catholics are related to identification with Catholics. We examined how ingroup contact, the frequency of recollection of past (pre -selected) events, as well as the perceived valence, importance, consequences and emotional significance of these events, influence the three components of group identity: cognitive, evaluative and affective. Results of regression analyses conducted among 143 youth ministers highlight how social identity is deeply rooted in the group's past. These results also suggest that recollections of positive events have a significant impact on all three aspects of group identity, whereas it appears negative ones do not. Furthermore, results of sequential regression show that collective memory is a key precursor of social identification, even when accounting for the quantity and quality of ingroup contact. Implications of these findings are discussed in regards to the well-established Social Identity Theory.

In North American countries, such as Canada, Catholics are among the largest religious groups, although others are also well represented (Statistics Canada, 2001). More specifically, in the Canadian 2001 Census, self-identified Roman Catholics represented 42.2 % of the total population, and the representation of many other religious groups such as Protestants, other Christian groups, Muslims and Jews, to name a few, suggests that religion is still an important aspect of citizens' social identity. These Census statistics also reveal an upward trend in individuals reporting no religious affiliation (16% of the population, compared to 12% a decade earlier; Statistics Canada, 2001). Based on these statistics, Catholic identity is clearly an important variable to study and understand, considering the pluralistic context in which religious groups are called to live in, and the increasing number of individuals disidentifying with their religious group. The aim of this article is to explore factors that may enhance the identity of individuals who still identify strongly as Catholic.

Templeton and Eccles (2006) define a religious identity as a collective or social identity because it: "includes group (religious) membership, shared beliefs, perceived closeness to other members of the group, and behavioral enactments such as meeting attendance" (p. 253). Collective or social identity is shared by a group of people who have characteristics in common, such as a native language, a country of origin, or a religion (Ashmore, Deaux, & McLaughlinVolpe, 2004; Greenfield & Marks, 2007). These authors suggest that Social Identity Theory provides a solid theoretical framework for exploring religious identity. According to Cairns (1982), Social Identity Theory is also useful for understanding intergroup conflicts, such as the one in Northern Ireland where the denominational categories of Protestant and Catholic refer to social identities rather than merely religious groupings.

A deeper look at religious identity requires a better understanding of how religious groups evolve over time. For instance, Dillon (1996, 1999) has suggested that current Catholic identity appears more complex and multifaceted than in the pre-Vatican II period when Catholics had an absolutist understanding of Catholic doctrine and an immense respect of the Magisterium's authority. Today, many Catholics do not totally agree with the Church's moral and sociopolitical position, yet they still value its communal and sacramental tradition and are still self-consciously faithful to the Catholic heritage (Dillon, 1996). As Catholic doctrine can be represented as an evolving set of traditions (Dillon, 1999), this evolution is not without consequence on Catholic identity. In fact, this particular topic has generated several studies examining different variables in relation to Catholic identity. For example, Dillon (1996) explored manifestations of religious identity, such as the influence of church attendance on moral and sociopolitical attitudes among American Catholic college students, while Hornsby-Smith and Procter (1995) investigated the relationships between Catholic identity, religious context and environmental values in Western Europe. …

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