Intellectual Humility and Religious Tolerance

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Religious diversity is a fact of life in multicultural societies. How, though, do people respond when others’ beliefs differ from their own? The question is particularly relevant given that most people follow some sort of religious tradition.

Joshua Cook, from the University of North Texas, and his colleagues recently examined factors associated with religious tolerance.

They focused on the role of intellectual humility, which represents “having an accurate view of one’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses, as well as the ability to negotiate different ideas in an interpersonally respectful manner.”

Drawing from this perspective, the authors collected data from nearly 200 pastors, all of whom identified as Christian. The researchers asked the participants about a number of their beliefs and attitudes, as well as their religious tolerance. Cook and colleagues accounted for other factors that might affect one’s views, such as the pastors’ religious commitment and conservative views.

The researchers found that, as one’s intellectual humility increased, so too did their tolerance of diverse religious views. The relationship was particularly strong when the pastors had been around others who held different views.

The findings are encouraging, as the study offers one approach to promoting greater understanding and appreciation of different religious traditions.

Results also show the benefits of being around people who are different—something researchers refer to as intergroup contact. That is, when you are around people with different views or beliefs, you learn about them, and your anxiety and prejudice are likely to decrease.