BGSU researchers look at psychology of anti-Semitism

Osama bin Laden says the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States were justified by what he claims to be U.S. desecration of Saudi soil during the Gulf War. And many Americans feel that 9/11 was a desecration of our values, justifying the military response.

Do religious groups also react with prejudice toward those they perceive as threats to their sacred values? BGSU psychologists tested the idea that Christians who view Jews as desecrators of the Christian faith are more likely to feel prejudice toward Jews. The study, reported in the current issue of the quarterly Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, confirmed their hypothesis.

Dr. Kenneth Pargament

Typically, says Dr. Kenneth Pargament, the article’s lead author, research on prejudice focuses on the participants’ personalities or general religiousness rather than whether they perceive other groups as threats to their values. But the study of 139 undergraduates indicated that to the extent Christians see Jews as a threat, “they’re more likely to react with antagonism and prejudice,” according to Pargament, who will present the findings Aug. 20 at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco.

The results may help explain many of the world’s religious conflicts—and underscore the importance of sensitivity to others’ spiritual values, he notes. “If you perceive another group as threatening your most sacred values, that can trigger a strong reaction.” That perception also adds “a sacred dimension to conflict,” which “raises the stakes,” making the conflict more difficult to resolve, he says.

The findings have been replicated in subsequent studies of prejudice against gays and lesbians, and against Muslims, according to Pargament. His BGSU collaborators on the study were Dr. Annette Mahoney, also psychology, and graduate student Kelly Trevino.

August 13, 2007