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Relationships Between Religion and Intolerance Towards Muslims and Immigrants in Europe: A Multilevel Analysis

Abstract

This paper examines relationships between religiosity and intolerance towards Muslims and immigrants among Europeans living in non-Muslim majority countries by applying multilevel modeling to European Values Study data (wave four, 2010). Thus relationships across 44 national contexts are analyzed. The analysis found large between-country differences in the overall levels of intolerance towards immigrants and Muslims. Eastern Europeans tend to be more intolerant than Western Europeans. In most countries Muslims are less accepted than immigrants,—a finding which reflects that in post-9/11 Europe Islamophobia is prevalent and many still see Muslims with suspicion. A key result is that believing matters for the citizen’s attitudes towards Muslims and immigrants. Across Europe, traditional and modern fuzzy beliefs in a Higher Being are strongly negatively related to intolerance towards immigrants and Muslims, while fundamentalism is positively related to both targets of intolerance. Religious practice and denominational belonging on the other hand matter far less for the citizen’s propensity to dislike the two out-groups. With the only exception of non-devout Protestants who do not practice their religion, members of religious denominations are not more intolerant than non-members. The findings are valid for the vast majority of countries although countries differ in the magnitude of the effects.

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Notes

  1. The statement ‘there is only one true religion’ is dummy-coded against the reference ‘other religions have some basic truths as well’ and ‘all great world religions have some truths to offer’.

  2. The choice to operationalize fundamentalism as an exclusive truth-claim over biblical literacy, another indicator of fundamentalism that has been advanced in the literature (Woodberry 1998), was made for two reasons: firstly, this research is substantially interested in fundamentalism as a form of closed-mindedness towards other belief systems. People, who do not accept that other religions may also have some truths to offer, can plausibly be expected to have a general tendency towards intolerance. It is this aspect of fundamentalism that the analysis of this article is interested in. Secondly, the EVS data do not contain a measure of biblical literacy.

  3. Church attendance is used as a measure of religious devoutness because going to church regularly requires individual effort. Thus frequent churchgoers are assumed to be more devout than non-regular and non-churchgoers. Arguably, strong religious believing can also be a measure of devoutness. However, our measure of believing, ‘Personal God’ versus ‘Spirit/Life Force’ and non-belief is not a Likert-scale, hence it does not measure the intensity of belief. Thus church attendance is the best measure for devoutness in our data.

  4. Foreign-born are all respondents who were not born in the country of residence (EVS 2008 ‘were you born in [country]? 1 = yes, −2 = no’).

  5. 356 of them live in Western Europe and 2,145 in post-communist Eastern Europe.

  6. Because some of the voluntary organizations in the main questionnaire were not asked in Denmark, volunteering was included as a dummy measuring if the respondents volunteer in any of the organizations asked, rather than using an additive index of voluntary organizations.

  7. Both types of belief in God are categories of V125: ‘Which of these statements comes closest to your beliefs?—there is a personal God,—there is some sort of Spirit or Life Force,—I don’t know what to think,—I don’t really think there is any sort of God, Spirit or Life/Force’. The two answers ‘I don’t know what to think’ and ‘I don’t really believe there is any sort of God, Spirit or Life Force’ were collapsed to form the reference category of the analysis because there weren’t enough cases in all countries to include the atheist category in the model.

  8. Because age does not have a linear distribution, age squared was included alongside age in order to adjust for that.

  9. However, group-competition may be better analysed on the regional level, as contributions using regional-level data did find statistically significant relationships (Schlueter and Scheepers 2010; Schlueter and Wagner 2008). In this paper, we are merely interested in controlling for group-competition as a confounding variable at the country level.

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Acknowledgments

This research is part of a PhD project, which was funded by The North American Foundation for the University of Manchester (NAFUM). The author would like to thank three anonymous RORR reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Correspondence to Stefanie Doebler.

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Doebler, S. Relationships Between Religion and Intolerance Towards Muslims and Immigrants in Europe: A Multilevel Analysis. Rev Relig Res 56, 61–86 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-013-0126-1

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Ethnic tolerance
  • Muslims
  • Prejudice
  • Multilevel
  • Cross-National