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Geographies of Tolerance: Human Development, Heteronormativity, and Religion


In their work on the human development sequence, Inglehart and Welzel (Modernization, cultural change, and democracy: the human development sequence. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2005) argue that there is a “rising tide” of gender equality across various countries in the system. While the authors propose that the process that holds true for a rising tide in women’s rights is also true for other outgroups including minorities and homosexuals, they do not test their proposed relationship on feelings toward these groups. At the same time, studies on sexuality and tolerance suggest that religious beliefs and government institutions play a significant role in shaping societal attitudes about homosexuality, promulgating beliefs and policies that place homosexuality in a negative light. In the case of government institutions, sexuality may also be framed as a security issue, making homosexuality appear as a threat. The present work performs an empirical test of the mechanisms of the human development sequence on tolerance toward homosexuality, and compares this theory to rival hypotheses regarding the effects of religion and heteronormative policies. Empirical testing using hierarchical linear models shows mixed support for hypotheses drawn from work on the human development sequence, but indicates that religious belief and heteronormativity in government policies have a significant relationship to levels of tolerance.

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  1. I use the term “modernization” here as it is defined in the context of work on the human development sequence, referring to “a syndrome of social changes linked to industrialization” that influences “occupational specialization, urbanization, rising educational levels, rising life expectancy, and rapid economic growth.” (Inglehart and Welzel 2005: 34).

  2. Welzel and Inglehart (2009) seem to explicitly deny the proposition that institutions can impact or deter social pressure for emancipation, saying: “[H]uman motivations can and do differ, independent of institutional incentives. Because institutional incentives are extrinsic to people, these incentives cannot eliminate people's intrinsic motivations" (Welzel and Inglehart 2009, 313).

  3. For a further discussion of these historical factors, see Alesina et al. (2010); Inglehart and Welzel (2005).

  4. McQueeney also recognizes a third type of discourse, “moralizing,” which is somewhat more positive and empowering for gay and lesbian Christians. This type of discourse empowers gay and lesbian Christians by urging them to view their sexual orientation as a “special calling” or a blessing. However, moralizing discourse has been observed less frequently than normalizing or minimizing discourse (McQueeney 2009). Other research has found that Christian religious groups aimed at creating a positive, empowering gay Christian identity have a mixed effect—affirming the identity of gay and lesbian Christians on one hand, while removing them from the sphere of “traditional” believers on the other (Thumma 1991).

  5. While their discussion highlights the differences between Islamic and Western countries, they also admit there is a good deal of variance when comparing other cultural groups as well (Norris and Inglehart 2004). The differences among cultural zones is a point addressed infra.

  6. The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, formerly known as the Bahati Bill after its author lawmaker David Bahati, was initially introduced in 2009 and was debated various times before its passage in December 2013.

  7. Statements made by Bahati and by Ugandan President Museveni in the wake of the law’s passage further illustrate this discourse. Upon signing the bill, Museveni denied any genetic basis for homosexuality and accused Western countries of cultural imperialism. Bahati, in reference to cuts in international aid following the bill’s passage, discussed the need to “protect our values” and declared “at the end of the day, the sovereignty of our nation will triumph” (Saul 2014; Karimi and Thompson 2014). Such discourse also indicates another frequently invoked criticism of modernization theory, which that the values defined as “modern” may alternatively be defined as “Western.”

  8. Though the language used in the survey asks participants to rate whether homosexuality is ever “justified,” authors employing this data have generally used this question as an indication of “approval” of or “tolerance” toward homosexuality. Though there may be room for debate on this verbiage, I follow the convention established by previous authors on this point (Adamczyk and Pitt 2009; Norris and Inglehart 2004).

  9. In previous work on the human development sequence, a measure of self-expression values was constructed that included tolerance toward homosexuality (Welzel and Inglehart 2009; Welzel 2007). To avoid the obvious endogeneity problem, I have created a different measure than that used by previous authors.

  10. See Costello and Osborne (2005), suggesting that factor loadings of .40–.70 are commonly employed in the social sciences as factor loadings representative of “low to moderate communalities,” and that factor loadings as low as .32 may be considered acceptable minimum loadings (Costello and Osborne 2005: 4).

  11. There are minor differences in the information offered by each source, but where they disagree I have used the Palm Center’s rating. See also Palm Center (2009).

  12. I have omitted the results here, but a factor analysis on these two questions both correspond to the same single factor with a loading of .57 each, using orthogonal rotation.

  13. The survey does not directly ask respondents to identify themselves as homosexual or whether or not they consider themselves a member of a minority group, limiting my ability to assess the effects of all potential forms of outgroup membership.

  14. Indeed, in a later version of this map the South Asia group was revised and partially recategorized into a separate Islamic group including Jordan, Turkey, and Indonesia (Inglehart and Welzel 2010).

  15. Responses that were coded by region rather than by country in the World Values Survey were also omitted from this analysis. For example, responses for Germany were coded according to whether the respondent was in the territory of the former East Germany or the former West Germany. These responses are not included here.


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Correspondence to Alexis Leanna Henshaw.

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Henshaw, A.L. Geographies of Tolerance: Human Development, Heteronormativity, and Religion. Sexuality & Culture 18, 959–976 (2014).

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  • Homosexuality
  • Heteronormativity
  • Religion
  • Modernization theory
  • Security policy