Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


We-they boundaries serve as a source both of in-group solidarity and of prejudice between religious groups. A sense of group identification and loyalty among members is important for a group's survival, but this sense of "we" also can become the basis for ethnocentrism and bigotry toward outsiders. Sociological research indicates that the sense of belonging to a reference group of close associates is an especially potent influence on the behaviors and attitudes of religious group members. Research also suggests that people will often develop antipathy toward anyone who appears "different" from in-group members.

The development of religiously based we-they prejudice is especially likely in situations where racial boundaries and religious boundaries are coextensive. If members of another religious group also look different, speak a different language, are of a different social class, and/or belong to a different political party, the exclusionary tendencies are reinforced and hardened. If the lines of differentiation are crosscutting, so that members of different religious groups are together in a class or political party conflict, then "we" and "they" categories become temporal, and members of groups are less likely to reify the differentiations.

Keith A. Roberts

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