Religious Beliefs Can Promote Cooperation Rather than Violence

While the world reels from religion-inspired terrorism, new research has found that religious beliefs can promote interfaith cooperation, when believers look at things from God’s perspective, rather than their own.

For the study, 555 Palestinian adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 were presented with a classic “trolley dilemma” that involved a Palestinian man being killed to save the lives of five children who were either Jewish-Israeli or Muslim-Palestinian. The participants responded from their own perspective and then again from Allah’s perspective.

The results showed that although Muslim-Palestinian participants valued their own group’s lives over Jewish-Israeli lives, they believed that Allah preferred them to value the lives of members of both groups more equally. In fact, thinking from Allah’s perspective decreased the bias toward their own group by almost 30 percent.

“Our findings are important because one precursor to violence is when people believe that the lives of members of their group are more important than the lives of members of another group,” said Dr. Jeremy Ginges, associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research.

“Here, we show that religious belief — even amidst a conflict centered on religious differences — can lead people to apply universal moral principles similarly to believers and non-believers alike.”

“Beliefs about God seem to encourage an application of universal moral rules to believers and non-believers alike, even in a conflict zone,” added Nichole Argo, a research scientist in engineering and public policy and social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. “Thus, it does not seem to be beliefs about God that lead to outgroup aggression.”

There may be other aspects of religion that lead to outgroup aggression, Argo noted.

“For instance, other work done in conflict zones has identified participation in collective religious rituals and frequent attendance at a place of worship to be associated with support for violence,” she said. “This study, however, adds to a growing literature on how religious belief can increase cooperation with people from other faiths.”

The National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research and the Social Sciences Research Council funded the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Source: Carnegie Mellon University
Young religious group photo by shutterstock.