Sunday, January 19, 2014

does religion turn weak groups violent?


physorg | But new research by a team of Arizona State University faculty has uncovered one factor that increases the likelihood that weak groups will engage in with stronger groups, despite the likelihood of defeat. That factor is religious infusion, or the extent to which religion permeates a 's public and private life.

"Under normal circumstances, weak folks don't try to beat up on stronger folks," says Steven Neuberg, a psychology professor at ASU and the lead researcher on the project. "But there's something about a group being religiously infused that seems to make it feel somewhat invulnerable to the potential costs imposed by stronger groups, and makes it more likely to engage in costly conflict."

Their findings are published in the January issue of Psychological Science, the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. Their work was also written about in the Huffington Post last summer.

The study Neuberg and his team undertook, part of the Global Group Relations Project, spanned five continents and included nearly 100 sites around the globe. The countries included in the project together account for nearly 80 percent of the world's population.

"Our sites include the most populated countries of the world – China, India, USA, Brazil – as well as a wide range of others," says Carolyn Warner, an ASU political science professor and a co-principal investigator on the project. "This breadth and diversity is rarely the case in studies of religion and conflict."

Most research on group conflict employs one of two methods – the case study, which closely examines a particular location or situation in which conflict occurs – or a quantitative analysis of data pulled from existing studies.

For this project, researchers recruited a large, international network of social scientists with expertise on the sites selected for study. These "expert informants" responded to an Internet survey, answering a wide range of questions on a host of social, political, religious and psychological variables about the groups being studied.

Neuberg and his team examined the data to learn how religion might shape intergroup conflict around the world. They focused on two factors known to increase conflict: incompatibility of values and competition for .

They found that religious infusion was an important factor in predicting conflict in both situations. In cases where two groups held incompatible values, the groups tended to exhibit increased prejudice and discrimination against one another only if religion permeated their everyday lives.

More surprising, however, is the finding on how religious infusion affects groups competing for limited resources and power. Only the disadvantaged groups that are religiously infused are more likely to engage in violence.