Just Thinking About Christianity Makes People More Racist

pure white

Yikes, according to a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science:

Participants subliminally primed with Christian words displayed more covert racial prejudice against African-Americans (Study 1) and more general negative affect toward African-Americans (Study 2) than did persons primed with neutral words. The effects of priming on racial prejudice remained even when statistically controlling for pre-existing levels of religiousness and spirituality. Possible mechanisms for the observed effect of Christian religion on racial prejudice are discussed.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Does thinking about Christianity make people more racist?

The link only has the abstract, so I’m not sure about the methodology, but that’s a kind of scary result considering all the religious propaganda in the States.

Update:

Trevor Blake provided a link to a PDF of the full study, and that sheds some light on the subject. Of particular note is the “Caveats” section (emphasis mine):

It should be noted that, in both experiments, the baseline level of covert racial prejudice was in the neutral range. Furthermore, the magnitude of effects in this study was small. Priming Christian concepts did not cause a large increase in racial prejudice, but it did lead to a small, significant increase. As such, we cannot conclude that priming Christian concepts causes racism per se; our data do not support this conclusion. However, we did find that priming Christian concepts causes a negative shift in existing racial attitudes and that the direction of the shift represents a slight but significant increase in racial prejudice.

The sample sizes of the two studies were quite small. Only 73 in the first experiment and 43 in the second. Participants were mostly white and Christian, but other ethnicities and religions were represented.

The second experiment replicated the results of the first, but further replications by other researchers are needed – preferably with larger sample sizes – before any conclusions can be drawn.

Also, the section “Christian Concepts, Racial Prejudice, and Possible Mediators Between the Two,” which covers the paradoxes of current religious priming research, is worth reading.

9 Comments

  1. 8 page PDF of the study: tinyurl.com/22uxtgc

  2. As a Christian, I am slightly uneasy with the way you are taking this paper. Admittedly, this is the way the study is run, but the articles does admit that there are other factors at work, such as American fundamentalism and the protestant work ethic. I’m sure if they had done something similar with atheists instead of Christians and theists instead of African-Americans then you’d get the exact same results. People do not like people that are different from them, that is all this paper is really saying. I’m not denying that Christianity as a religion has problems, I am all to painfully aware that the religious discourse tends to be about throwing bible verses at homosexuals they way a monkey throws shit and and trying to force that creationist heresy bullshit. That does not necessarily make Christianity in and off itself evil.

    Also, the paper was written at a southern Christian university.

  3. Correlation != causation. This thesis can be demolished in two words:

    William Wilberforce.

  4. When there was African Slavery, the institution was supported by Christianity. When ‘misegnation’ was illegal, it was a practice whose defenders used Christianity to defend. When anti Gay speech, speech suggesting gay people be put to death, when it is defended it is defended not as free speech, but as a freedom of Christian religion.

    White Power organizations … have associated themselves with Christianity.

    When I was bashed for being Gay, what did my attacker tell me? That he was Christian and that it was his Christian duty to drive my evil faggot self away from his Christian neighborhood.

    But of course… correlation doesn’t prove causality, it’s just strong circumstantial evidence of causality.

  5. Weird, because most African-Americans ARE Christians….

    • That’s not weird at all. It makes sense. Those who did not convert (amongst other things) were killed or beaten until they said they were Christian during the Slave Trade. Any religion the enslaved Africans HAD before was to be dismissed upon arrival in America and/or was used against them as evil-doing. The ideals of Christianity in its truest form do not support racism…HOWEVER, the institution of Christianity in THE USA and the Americas does…it’s inherent in it’s foundation.

  6. Trevor – Thanks, I’ve updated the post accordingly.

    To all – please see the caveats added to the post.

    D – “People do not like people that are different from them, that is all this paper is really saying.”

    No, that is not what the study indicates. It finds that those primed with Christian words display more racial prejudice than those primed with neutral words. However, it would be interesting to see what effect other ideological priming may cause (does priming with scientific keywords increase anti-religious attitudes in atheists?)

    Chris – Of course it doesn’t. That’s why the researchers had a control group. The results of the study strongly imply causation.

    Elizabeth – Yes, but most Christians in the U.S. aren’t African Americans.

  7. Wow, a lot of interesting dialogue going on here. Thanks for the post, Klint. I stumbled across this post on a Google search. You and/or your readers my be interested in By Their Strange Fruit, a blog about racism and Christianity:
    http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/

    This post, on the importance of the issue, is a good place to begin: http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/2010/04/why-it-is-important.html

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