Researchers at a Catholic university in Belgium have determined that religious people are more tolerant and open-minded than atheists. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)
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A new study has upended long-held assumptions that religious people are more closed-minded and intolerant than atheists.
The study, conducted by Dr. Filip Uzarevic, a researcher at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, revealed that while atheists might consider themselves open-minded than religious folk, they are actually less tolerant of differing opinions.
“The main message of the study is that closed-mindedness is not necessarily found only among the religious,” Uzarevic told PsyPost.
Uzarevic’s analysis determined that religious believers “seem to better perceive and integrate diverging perspectives.” The study revealed, though, that the level of closed-mindedness depends on the issue at hand.
“The nonreligious compared to the religious seemed to be less closed-minded when it came to explicitly measured certainty in one’s beliefs,” he said. “However, and somewhat surprisingly, when it came to subtly-measured inclination to integrate views that were diverging and contrary to one’s own perspectives, it was the religious who showed more openness.”
The paper, which explored whether atheists are “undogmatic,” claims that nonbelievers measured lower than religious people in “self-reported dogmatism” but were actually rated higher in “subtly-measured intolerance.”
“The idea started,” Uzarevic explained, “through noticing that, in public discourse, despite both the conservative/religious groups and liberal/secular groups showing strong animosity toward the opposite ideological side, somehow it was mostly the former who were often labeled as ‘closed-minded.’"
“Moreover,” he continued, “such view of the secular being more tolerant and open seemed to be dominant in the psychological literature.”
The study also revealed that the strength of a person’s belief in religion or atheism directly impacts just how tolerant or intolerant they are.
Researchers surveyed 788 adults from the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. The majority of participants identified as atheists (302). The next largest group was Christians (255), then agnostics (143), Muslims (17), Buddhists (17), and Jews (3). Fifty-one described themselves as “other.”
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