Responses to Religious Diversity in Nation and Community: Examining the Role of Beliefs and Inter-religious Contact

Open Access
Merino, Stephen Miguel
Graduate Program:
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
Committee Members:
  • Roger Kent Finke, Thesis Advisor
  • theological exclusivity
  • religious diversity
  • contact theory
Many scholars have argued that religious tolerance in the United States has become the norm and that boundaries between religious traditions have declined in salience. However, several pieces of evidence suggest that the boundary between Christians and non-Christians is still meaningful to many Americans. A majority of Americans believe that the United States is a “Christian nation” and express concerns about non-Christians. Using data from the nationally representative Religion and Diversity Survey, this paper examines how Americans respond to religious diversity at the national and community levels. A four-item scale measuring theological exclusivism is consistently and strongly associated with negative attitudes toward religious diversity and a decreased willingness to include Muslims and Hindus in community life. Contrary to expectations, a three-item scale measuring belief in a “Christian nation” is associated with a positive view of religious diversity in the nation as a whole and is not predictive of respondents’ attitudes toward inclusion of Muslims and Hindus in community life. Prior contact with Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus is associated with more positive views of religious diversity at the national and community levels.