(C2-30) Prejudice, Conspiracy Theories and Negative Stereotype: The Influence of Individual and Contextual Religious Factors

Prejudice, conspiracy theories and negative attitudes towards groups that are considered to be cultural minorities are closely related to authoritarian political mindsets, approval of using torture and military force or limiting the civil rights of certain population groups. In times of “fake news” and post-factual policy making, the project leaders Prof. Dr. Mitja Back and Prof. Dr. Bernd Schlipphak pose the question: which factors determine whether citizens perceive or adopt prejudice, conspiracy theories and negative stereotypes of minorities (PCS)?

To answer this question, the interdisciplinary bridging project will bring together two lines of reasoning for the first time. From a psychological perspective, individual predispositions as well as factors of individual identity formation play an important part. In contrast, political science assigns the communication of political and social actors – and thus the social context of an individual – a large influence on the perception in the population. Bringing together both of these perspectives, the project leaders argue that the combination of individual predispositions and elite communication is decisive for the perception of PCS and thus also for the political attitudes related to PCS.

Religion, religious concepts and religious discourses are of fundamental relevance for the stimulation, containment and modification of PCS at two points in this argument. On the one hand, studies point at a correlation between religiosity and religious concepts (providentialism, the belief in angels and the devil) and the manifestation of a so-called “conspiracy mentality”. However, different socio-religious contexts seem to lead to opposing effects. Effects of religiosity on the individual level should therefore be moderated through the religious context.

On the other hand, studies on the communication of political and social actors have shown that in order to convince citizens, explicit and implicit religious references are used in very different areas. The direction and size of effects of these religious references, however, seem to be limited by individual predispositions and religious conviction. Effects of the media coverage of and about religion and religiosity on a contextual level should thus be moderated through individual religiosity. In summary, the project leaders therefore expect that the simultaneous observation of religion and religiosity on an individual and contextual level enables a deepened understanding for the emergence and preservation of PCS. The project hence contributes considerably to understanding the escalation versus the containment of religiously or politically motivated conflicts and violence.

In order to examine these questions, in addition to using secondary data of both disciplines the project leaders will conduct survey experiments in Germany and Poland as well as in Jordan and in Lebanon. The country selection include countries that vary concerning the strength of elites communicating PCS and concerning their religious contexts.