Religious beliefs don't always lead to violence

Yesterday, a woman in Muslim garb was escorted out of a political rally sponsored by a leading candidate for office - for the only reason of her clothing.  As she exited, she was loudly booed and subjected to intolerant cat-calls.

Not a pretty event.

Is there a better way?  Can we learn to be more tolerant of other's political, ethnic, and religious views?

According to these two reports, the answer is yes, and that the solution is within us.

Read the reports of these studies, and consider how reviewing your own religious or ethical beliefs can change the way you respond to people of a different race or that hold different views than yourself.

Here are the reports, with links to the full studies in the attributions.
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Religious beliefs don't always lead to violence
Study shows thinking from God's perspective can reduce bias against others

From the Christian Crusades to the Paris attacks, countless conflicts and acts of violence have been claimed to be the result of differing religious beliefs. These faith-based opinions are thought to motivate aggressive behavior because of how they encourage group loyalty or spin ideologies that devalue the lives of non-believers. However, new research reveals the opposite: religious beliefs might instead promote interfaith cooperation.

Religious beliefs might promote interfaith cooperation
However, new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals the opposite: religious beliefs might instead promote interfaith cooperation. Researchers from the New School for Social Research and Carnegie Mellon University examined how Palestinian youth made moral choices, from their own perspectives and from the perspective of Allah. The results showed that Muslim-Palestinians believed that Allah preferred them to value the lives of Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis more equally, raising the possibility that beliefs about God can mitigate bias against other groups and reduce barriers to peace.

"Our findings are important because one precursor to violence is when people believe that the lives of members of their group are more important than the lives of members of another group. Here, we show that religious belief -- even amidst a conflict centered on religious differences -- can lead people to apply universal moral principles similarly to believers and non-believers alike," said Jeremy Ginges, associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research.

For the study, 555 Palestinian adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 were presented with a classic "trolley dilemma" that involved a Palestinian man being killed to save the lives of five children who were either Jewish-Israeli or Muslim-Palestinian. The participants responded from their own perspective and from Allah's perspective.

The results showed that although Muslim-Palestinian participants valued their own group's lives over Jewish-Israeli lives, they believed that Allah preferred them to value the lives of members of both groups more equally. In fact, thinking from Allah's perspective decreased the bias toward their own group by almost 30 percent.

"Beliefs about God seem to encourage an application of universal moral rules to believers and non-believers alike, even in a conflict zone. Thus, it does not seem to be beliefs about God that lead to outgroup aggression," said Nichole Argo, a research scientist in engineering and public policy and social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon.

"There may be other aspects of religion that lead to outgroup aggression. For instance, other work done in conflict zones has identified participation in collective religious rituals and frequent attendance at a place of worship to be associated with support for violence. This study, however, adds to a growing literature on how religious belief can increase cooperation with people from other faiths," Argo said.
Story Source:  Materials provided by Carnegie Mellon University.  Jeremy Ginges, Hammad Sheikh, Scott Atran, Nichole Argo. Thinking from God’s perspective decreases biased valuation of the life of a nonbeliever. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015



Reminding people of their religious
belief system reduces hostility

New research may shed some light on religion's actual influence on believers -- and the news is positive. Researchers hypothesized that being reminded of religious beliefs would normally promote less hostile reactions to the kinds of threats in everyday life that usually heighten hostility. Across nine different experiments with 910 participants, the results consistently supported the hypothesis for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus alike. The religiously reminded were significantly less hostile.

Few topics can prove more divisive than religion, with some insisting it promotes compassion, selflessness and generosity, and others arguing that it leads to intolerance, isolation and even violence.

"Based on our premise that most people's religious beliefs are non-hostile and magnanimous, we hypothesized that being reminded of religious beliefs would normally promote less hostile reactions to the kinds of threats in everyday life that usually heighten hostility," says researcher Karina Schumann, the article's lead author, now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

To test this hypothesis, participants either received a simple reminder of their religious belief system ("which religious beliefs system do you identify with?") or not. They were then exposed to either threatening experiences (such as thinking about their own death or failing at an academic assignment) or not. They were then given a chance to judge and assign punishments for transgressors, criminals and worldview critics.

Across nine different experiments with 910 participants, the results consistently supported the hypothesis for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus alike. The religiously reminded were significantly less hostile and punitive in the threatening circumstances than the non-reminded participants were (there were no effects of the religious reminders among the non-threatened participants).

"Our research suggests that people generally associate their religious beliefs with Golden Rule ideals of forgiveness and forbearance, and that they turn to them when the chips are down, in threatening circumstances," says York U psychology professor Ian McGregor, the article's second author. "This research contributes to the current dialogue on religion by demonstrating that even brief religious belief reminders not accompanied by any explicit beliefs or injunctions tend to promote more magnanimous, less hostile choices in threatening circumstances."

Though the researchers say the link between religion and magnanimity may seem surprising given that news headlines so often focus on terrorist attacks and other atrocities committed in the name of religion, their results suggest that for most people, the influence of religion may be more positive than what is often portrayed in the media.

"Part of the reason for our magnanimity finding could be that in our research we focused on religious ideals, whereas extremist groups may often be more focused on intergroup rivalries and coalitions than the core religious ideals of love and forgiveness," says Schumann. "Future research is needed to determine whether reminders of religious belief can also foster magnanimity in non-Western countries, among less educated individuals, and in the context of high-stakes conflicts in which transgressions are committed by others with competing religious convictions."
Story Source:  Materials provided by York University.  Karina Schumann, Ian McGregor, Kyle A. Nash, Michael Ross. Religious magnanimity: Reminding people of their religious belief system reduces hostility after threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014.
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