Interviews with Palestinian youth suggest that differing religious beliefs don’t always incite aggression. In fact, the findings raise the possibility that beliefs about God can mitigate bias against other groups and reduce barriers to peace.
Researchers presented a classic moral dilemma to more than 500 Palestinian teenagers. The scenario involved a Palestinian man being killed to save the lives of five children who were either Jewish-Israeli or Muslim-Palestinian. The participants responded from their own perspective and from Allah’s perspective.
The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that Muslim-Palestinians believed that Allah preferred them to value the lives of Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis more equally.
“Our findings are important because one precursor to violence is when people believe that the lives of members of their group are more important than the lives of members of another group,” says Jeremy Ginges, associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research at Carnegie Mellon University.
While the Muslim-Palestinian participants valued their own group’s lives over Jewish-Israeli lives, they believed that Allah preferred them to value the lives of members of both groups more equally. In fact, thinking from Allah’s perspective decreased the bias toward their own group by almost 30 percent.
“Beliefs about God seem to encourage an application of universal moral rules to believers and non-believers alike, even in a conflict zone. Thus, it does not seem to be beliefs about God that lead to outgroup aggression,” says Nichole Argo, a research scientist in engineering and public policy and social and decision sciences.
“There may be other aspects of religion that lead to outgroup aggression. For instance, other work done in conflict zones has identified participation in collective religious rituals and frequent attendance at a place of worship to be associated with support for violence. This study, however, adds to a growing literature on how religious belief can increase cooperation with people from other faiths.”
The National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research and the Social Sciences Research Council funded this study.