Does the Religious Composition of Cities and Counties Influence Individuals’ Attitudes About Racial Inequality?
Do local religious contexts impact people’s attitudes about race inequality in society? In this dissertation, I examine this question using data from the General Social Survey and multilevel modeling. I define religious context as the local population percentage that are in particular denominational groups (evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, and Catholics); the percentage that are in groupings which cross-cut denominational affiliation (religious liberal, religious moderate, and religious conservative); and the percentage that are religiously unaffiliated. The racial attitudes I examine are what a person attributes to be the root cause of Black-White income inequality in the US—individualistic explanations (a lack of will or in-born differences between the races) or structural explanations (a lack of access to education or discrimination).
This dissertation sits at the intersection of three bodies of literature: (1) the impact of local religious context on sociological variables, (2) the impact of religion on social attitudes about race inequality at the individual level, and (3) the impact of contextual level factors (that are not religious in nature) on social attitudes about race inequality at the individual level. The theoretical foundation for this research is a theory of religious subcultural influence which outlines how the presence of more people from a religious tradition creates a local religious subculture which can impact the local public subculture which can impact the attitudes and behaviors of individuals in the area.
Results from the analyses presented in this project indicate that while personal religious affiliation at the individual level is influential on these attitudes, the influence of the religious context around a person is more mixed. For some explanations of racial inequality, namely a lack of will or a lack of education, the religious contexts surrounding a person have some moderate influences. Stepwise regression analyses reveal that some other contextual variables, such as the region of the country in which the respondent resides or the local concentration of immigrants, have stronger influences on these attitudes.
Further analysis examines if these effects of religious context extend to all people in a geographic area, not only the focal religious group’s own people. Findings from this analysis show that, for the most part, where there are religious context effects, the effect extends to all residents of an area. In a few cases, however, there are only self-reinforcing effects (where a group is only influential on themselves) or possible reactionary effects (where there is an effect on the non-members, but it is likely not due to transmission from the religious context group).
Other explorations in this dissertation look for threshold, ceiling, or floor effects in the effects of religious context. This analysis shows that most of the detected effects of religious contexts are linear, and the group does not need to be a certain size before it can be influential. In a few cases, the effect of the religious context reaches a floor or ceiling limit meaning the effect of the religious context eventually levels off and does not exert any more influence. Additional analyses also look at the role of the respondent’s racial identity, how ideological differences between Hispanic Catholics and non-Hispanic Catholics may be present, if the effects of religious context are stronger now than in previous decades, and if biblical literalism is responsible for some of the influences of religious context detected.
Taken together, all of the analyses in this dissertation illustrate that there are some important, albeit mild, influences of local religious context on a person’s racial attitudes. These findings also show that religious context intersects with region in noteworthy and complex ways.
- Doctor of Philosophy
- West Lafayette