When faith hurts: Stigma, social identity threat, and religion

Open Access
Pasek, Michael H
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
October 22, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Jonathan Emdin Cook, Thesis Advisor
  • Stigma
  • Social identity
  • Identity threat
  • Religion
  • Religiosity
Members of four religious groups in the United States completed an online survey designed to assess predictors and consequences of religious stigma and the effects of an experimental identity threat manipulation. Participants were a national community sample of Protestants (n = 250), Catholics (n = 243), Jews (n = 246) and Muslims (n = 234). Results reveal that religious stigma was higher among religious minorities (i.e., Muslims and Jews) compared to Christians (i.e., Protestants and Catholics) and among people who are more religious. In turn, people who reported more stigma also reported a greater propensity to conceal their religious identity, felt like they belonged less and were more likely to question their belonging, and endorsed more negative outgroup attitudes. Participants were randomly assigned to read a news article designed to elicit religious stigma and social identity threat or a neutral article. Results revealed that the effect of this religious social identity threat manipulation differed between the religious groups, with consequences ranging from increased stigma consciousness, a greater propensity to conceal religious identity, and, in some cases, more negative attitudes towards various outgroups. However, the specific direction of these effects and the religious groups that were affected varied. A stereotype threat effect that was expected to lead participants, particularly those with greater religiosity, to underperform on a test described as measuring scientific ability did not yield the expected results. Participants performed equally well across conditions. Results suggest that societal attitudes and beliefs about religion can be stigmatizing and that religious stigma can have negative implications, as shown here. However, null and mixed results of an identity threat manipulation suggest that religion or another variable may confer a benefit that helps neutralize identity threats. Alternatively, the identity threat manipulation used here may not have been sufficiently compelling, either because of the stimuli themselves or the use of an adult online sample who may be more difficult to threaten using typical materials. Implications are discussed.