Interfaith friendships increase religious tolerance

Naomi Schaefer Riley adds to our understanding of what Robert Putnam and David Campbell have done in their forthcoming book “American Grace: The Changing Role of Religion in American Civic Life”:

If you ask Americans about their five closest friends — the sociological equivalent of T-Mobile’s “fave five” — it turns out that, on average, between two and three of them are of other faiths. And more than half of Americans are actually married to someone of a different faith from the one in which they were raised. Just to be clear: For two people to be counted by Messrs. Campbell and Putnam as of different faiths, they must be from significantly different traditions; if they are both Protestants, one must be evangelical and the other mainline.

The effect that all of this religious bridging has on American attitudes is even more interesting. By surveying people two years in a row, the authors were able to look at who had added a friend of another faith in the intervening time and to see how those respondents reacted differently to particular questions.

At the Pew event, Mr. Campbell demonstrated the book’s findings on a sort of religious “thermometer” — actually, two of them: one measuring people’s attitudes toward other faiths and another measuring them again after interfaith friends were added. The first measurement showed Americans, on average, feeling “warmth” (or positive feelings) toward Jews and Catholics and coolness (negative feelings) toward evangelicals — and something approaching iciness toward Buddhists, Mormons and Muslims, who scored at the bottom of the “temperature” gauge.

If respondents gained a Catholic friend over the course of the year, their feelings of warmth toward Catholics almost doubled. If respondents befriended an evangelical, then evangelicals as a group “completely closed the gap,” according to Mr. Campbell — meaning that they inspired neutral feelings instead of negative ones.

Ms. Riley’s column appeared in the

Wall Street Journal


Other comment on Putnam-Campbell has appeared including Kevin Drum writing at Mother Jones (he in turn links to Michelle Cottle at The New Republic).

The Lead’s previous coverage of Putnam-Campbell is here.

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