Religious intolerance is ‘bigger cause of prejudice than race’, says report

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Attitudes to faith said to drive negative perceptions more than ethnicity or nationality


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The survey found more tolerance for those from different ethnic backgrounds than religious groups. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Harriet Sherwood
Sun 15 Nov 2020 06.30 GMT
Religion is the “final frontier” of personal prejudice, with attitudes to faith driving negative perceptions more than ethnicity or nationality, a report to be published tomorrow will say.

How We Get Along, a two-year study of diversity by the Woolf Institute, is due to conclude that most people are tolerant of those from different ethnic or national backgrounds, but many have negative attitudes based on religion.

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Religion is a “red line” for many people, the study – based on a survey of 11,700 adults in England and Wales – will say. This is particularly so in the case of Muslims.

Almost three-quarters of non-black or Asian respondents said they were comfortable with a close relative marrying a black or Asian person, but only 43% were comfortable with a close relative marrying a Muslim.

Muslims were most often the subject of negative attitudes held by other faith groups, but were also the group most likely to hold negative attitudes towards people of other religions.

The researchers focused on the question of marriage as a way of measuring tolerance and prejudice. They found that the public is largely positive about intermarriage across ethnic and national lines. However, the word “Muslim” triggered more negative sentiment than the word “Pakistani”, even though the vast majority of British Pakistani people are Muslim.

Prejudice based on religion was stronger among people aged over 75, those with no or few educational qualifications, people from non-Asian ethnic minorities, and Baptists.

Men appear to be more uncomfortable than women about the idea of a close relative marrying someone from a different ethnic, national or religious background.

Among Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists and people of no religion, the majority felt uncomfortable with the idea of a close relative marrying a Muslim. Among Christians, there was a significant minority.

A majority of Muslims were uncomfortable with the idea of a close relative marrying a Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Sikh person, or someone of no religion. Almost four in 10 Muslims were uncomfortable with a close relative marrying a Christian.

The study also found that attitudes within minority faith communities were undergoing significant generational shifts. In particular, British Muslim women were exercising more freedom to decide when, whom and how to marry.


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