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Religious Tolerance Q&A, Part II

by Albert L. Winseman, D. Min.
Religion and Social Trends Editor

On March 25, 2003, Gallup's Global Practice Leader for Faith Communities, Dr. Albert L. Winseman, presented Gallup's inaugural Religious Tolerance Index Web summit. This is the second installment of questions asked by summit participants and Dr. Winseman's replies.

Q: Why does it appear that worship attendance has little effect on religious integration?

A: For the same reason that worship attendance is not a predictor of an individual's level of spiritual commitment or congregational engagement. Worship attendance is an outcome -- not a cause -- of these attitudes, and not a very reliable outcome at that. In Gallup's studies of congregational engagement, we found that while it is true that engaged individuals attend worship regularly, it is also true that some who are not engaged or even actively disengaged also attend worship regularly. At any worship service, regardless of faith tradition, there will be a mix of those who are engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. The same is true for religious tolerance: at any given worship service there will be a mix of those who are isolated, tolerant, and integrated.

Q: What has to happen in America to make the isolated more tolerant and the tolerant more integrated?

A: There is a strong correlation between congregational engagement and integration, so I think that the answer may be to focus on increasing the engagement levels of members of faith communities across the country. Over the years, our research has shown that the more secure and rooted individuals are in their own faith traditions and within their own congregations, the more open they are to those of other faiths. Gallup's religious tolerance study further validates this finding: those who are engaged in their faith communities are far more likely to be religiously integrated than those who are not.

Q: In what ways are the results different from what you expected them to be?

A: We really didn't have any preconceived notions about what we would find -- we just asked the questions and then analyzed the results. But there were two things that I found particularly surprising: the relatively high percentage of religiously integrated individuals (37%) and the huge percentage of those who are engaged in their congregations and also religiously integrated (52% of those who are engaged are also integrated). With regard to the first surprise, far more Americans than I would have originally suspected go beyond a "live-and-let-live" attitude -- and actively seek to know more about those of different faith backgrounds. As for the second surprise, it reinforces the notion that being engaged in a congregation can have a real impact on an individual's life.


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