Public opinion about homosexuality varies substantially around the world. While residents in some nations have embraced gay rights as human rights, people in many other countries find homosexuality unacceptable. What creates such big differences in attitudes? This book shows that cross-national differences in opinion can be explained by the strength of democratic institutions, the level of economic development, and the religious context of the places where people live. Amy Adamczyk uses survey data from almost ninety societies, case studies of various countries, content analysis of newspaper articles, and in-depth interviews to examine how demographic and individual characteristics influence acceptance of homosexuality.
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About the Author
Amy Adamczyk is Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
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Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality
Examining Attitudes across the Globe
By Amy Adamczyk
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2017 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
The Importance of Religion, and the Role of Individual Differences
In the United States, the majority of residents report that religion is very important (Pew Research Center 2012a). Additionally, many American city and community ordinances do not allow alcohol to be sold on Sundays (Legal Beer, n.d.), several radio and television stations regularly provide religious programming (Hangen 2002; Hilmes 2013), and along major roads throughout the United States there are billboards with religious messages declaring, "Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world" and "Life is nothing without God" (see Meyer 2013). On Sundays many Americans attend worship services and spend time with other religious people in formal or informal activities (Newport 2015).
While people in the most religious regions of America like the Bible Belt are likely to take their faith very seriously, across the nation residents are quite religious, much more so than in western Europe (Holifield 2014; Pew Research Center 2012a). Somewhat similarly, in many Muslim-majority nations like Morocco and Egypt, the call for prayer rings out across communities five times a day, prompting the majority of Muslims to stop what they are doing to pray (Pew Research Center 2012d). In many Muslim-majority countries, most residents attend mosque at least once a week and fast during the holy month of Ramadan (Pew Research Center 2012d). Conversely, in northern Europe, where historically mainline Protestant faiths like Lutheranism have dominated, many residents do not regularly attend church services or find religion to be very important (Manchin 2004).
Across the globe there is wide variation in the extent to which people are religious and live in places with strong religious cultures. The religion to which one adheres, as well as personal religious importance, has a meaningful influence on feelings about homosexuality. Additionally, differences across national religious contexts can affect attitudes, even for people who are not very religious. In this chapter I examine the roles of personal religious beliefs and the national religious context (i.e., dominant religion and mean level of religious importance), as well as individual demographic characteristics, for shaping public opinion about homosexuality.
MAJOR RELIGIONS' AND FOLLOWERS' ATTITUDES ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY
Religions tend to vary quite substantially in the extent to which their adherents find homosexuality problematic. In figure 3, I present predicted scores for disapproval of homosexuality by different religious affiliations. The two most conservative religious groups appear to be Protestants and Muslims, followed by Hindus. The most liberal groups are Jews, Catholics, and people with no religious affiliation. Buddhists and Eastern Orthodox Christians fall in the middle. A number of other studies have found some of the same religion differences for homosexuality-related attitudes (Adamczyk and Pitt 2009; Ellison, Acevedo, and Ramos-Wada 2011; van den Akker, van der Ploeg, and Scheepers 2013).
Why do affiliates of Muslim and Protestant faiths appear more likely than others to disapprove of homosexuality? A flawed but reasonable explanation would be that their major religious texts differ in what they say about homosexuality. For Judeo-Christian faiths, homosexual behaviors are explicitly mentioned and condemned in the Bible. For example, the Bible's Old Testament, which is used by both Jews and Christians, declares, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads" (Lev. 20:13 [Moo 1973]). Like the Bible, the Qur'an is also clear that homosexuality is problematic: "Do you approach males among the worlds. And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing" (Qur'an 26:165–66 [Aminah Assami 2011]).
Whereas Judeo-Christian and Muslim religious texts make clear proscriptions regarding homosexuality, Buddhism offers less-explicit guidance. In the Vinaya, which provides the regulations for Buddhist monks, sexual intercourse is prohibited, and this is typically interpreted as including sex with anyone. Hindu texts provide more direction, explicitly stating that homosexual acts require penance. The ancient Hindu code, for example, explains, "A twice-born man who commits an unnatural offence with a male, or has intercourse with a female in a cart drawn by oxen, in water, or in the day-time, shall bathe, dressed in his clothes" (Vinaya 11,174 [Bühler 1886]).
Religions typically have subgroups or denominations that operate under a common name, tradition, or identity. Within Islam, for example, there are Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Finer distinctions could also be made based on the school of Islamic thought (e.g., Hanafi for Sunni Muslims). These narrower categories can be particularly important for understanding differences within the major religions for how adherents view homosexuality. In the WVS, Judeo-Christian faiths are the only ones for which researchers collected more detailed information on subgroups. While all Judeo-Christian faiths use a religious text that explicitly proscribes homosexuality, figure 3 shows that Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians have not been as successful as Protestants at getting their adherents to form attitudes that are consistent with biblical statements that condemn homosexuality.
The findings about Protestants may seem somewhat surprising because many Protestant adherents in Europe and the United States appear quite liberal, and indeed many are. The reason that Protestants in figure 3 appear to have attitudes that are more similar to those of Muslims rather than of Catholics or Jews likely has to do with the much more traditional views that conservative Protestants have relative to mainline Protestants. Unfortunately, the WVS data do not distinguish between mainline (e.g., Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and American Baptist Churches USA) and conservative or Evangelical Protestant denominations (e.g., American Baptist Association, Assemblies of God, Christian Brethren, and American Reformed Presbyterian Church). In a separate analysis I found that, compared with Muslims, Protestants have much greater variation in their attitudes, suggesting that this group is a lot less cohesive. Additionally, research conducted in the United States, which has many diverse Protestant faiths, making it particularly ideal for examining differences, has found that when they are divided into mainline and conservative Protestant groups, the latter are especially likely to disapprove of homosexuality (Finlay and Walther 2003; Fulton, Gorsuch, and Maynard 1999; Hill, Moulton, and Burdette 2004). Conversely, mainline Protestants are more likely to resemble Catholics in their views about homosexuality (Burdette, Ellison, and Hill 2005).
Part of the reason for differences among Protestants is that mainline groups are more likely to interpret the Bible metaphorically and conservative Protestants are more likely to interpret it literally. With a literal interpretation of the Bible, conservative Protestants take a very basic view of the text and are less inclined to update their understanding with a more modern view of the world (Ellison and Musick 1993; Emerson and Hartman 2006; Hunter 1987). Likewise, as I discuss in more detail below, researchers have found that, compared with mainline groups, conservative branches of Protestantism have been growing more rapidly and that in some countries religious decline has been less extreme among conservative Protestants compared with mainline groups (Bibby 1978; D.M. Kelley 1977, 1978). Because conservative Protestants are more likely to interpret the Bible literally, have been more successful at getting their adherents to abide by religious proscriptions, and have been growing faster — and are, therefore, increasing their influence — the entire group of Protestants (conservatives and mainlines) found in figure 3 appears to have attitudes that are more likely to resemble those of Muslims than those of other Judeo-Christian groups.
THE POWER OF RELIGIOUS REWARDS AND COSTS
The less supportive attitudes of Muslims and many Protestants exhibited in figure 3 are consistent with findings from a vast array of empirical studies (Adamczyk and Pitt 2009; Finlay and Walther 2003; Fulton, Gorsuch, and Maynard 1999; van den Akker, van der Ploeg, and Scheepers 2013; Hill, Moulton, and Burdette 2004; Kuyper, Iedema, and Keuzenkamp 2013). Indeed, it is rare to find research showing that Muslims and Protestants, especially those who adhere to more-conservative versions, report friendlier attitudes about homosexuality than other religious groups. The extent to which adherents literally interpret their religious texts can provide some information on differences in attitudes. As I explain below, rational choice perspectives on religion (Finke, Guest, and Stark 1996; Finke and Stark 2005; Iannaccone 1994, 1995; Stark and Finke 2000) are able to offer additional insight into why Muslims and Protestants (likely the more conservative ones) have been so successful at getting their followers to maintain attitudes that are consistent with religious proscriptions.
For much of the twentieth century social scientists generally thought that as nations became more economically developed, religious belief would decline. The idea was that when people began to feel more physically secure (Inglehart and Baker 2000) and were exposed to different religions, they would start questioning their faith, and eventually give up their beliefs for a more "rational" understanding of the world (Berger 2011). Consistent with these ideas, throughout the twentieth century religious belief in Europe — specifically, western Europe — appeared to be declining (Crockett and Voas 2006; Voas 2009; Voas and Crockett 2005). Many early social scientists who thought that religious secularization was occurring (e.g., Durkheim, Weber, Marx, and Freud) resided in Europe. The idea that the world was becoming more secular had a big influence on how they generally viewed religion at that time.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, researchers began to notice that religious belief was not universally declining. In many nations outside of western Europe, religious belief seemed to remain relatively high. For example, in 1990, 80% of Americans reported that religion is important (WVS 2015). In contrast, in 1990 only 34% of Germany's residents reported that religion was important, in Spain it was 53%, and in Sweden it was 27%. In 2005 the proportion of Americans who found religion important dropped to 70% but was still quite high, especially compared with residents from many western European nations. In addition to relatively high levels of religious belief in many non-European countries, researchers began noticing that many newer religions (Stark and Iannaccone 1997), such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, were expanding (D.M. Kelley 1977, 1978). Likewise, religious fundamentalism seemed to be increasing in places, like Iran, that previously seemed to be secularizing (Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003). Finally, in some of the countries from the former Soviet Union (Greeley 1994), which had made great attempts to squelch belief, religious faith appeared to be increasing. The patterns revealed at the end of the twentieth century suggested that religious belief was not universally decreasing. Rather, in some places and for some religions it appeared to be growing.
Researchers working with the "New Paradigm" (C.M. Warner 1993), as it was initially referred to, began to develop alternative thoughts about what contributed to the rise and fall of religious belief. These researchers borrowed ideas from microeconomics to explain why some religions and denominations were much more successful than others at recruiting converts and maintaining their congregations (Finke, Guest, and Stark 1996; Finke and Stark 2005; Iannaccone 1994, 1995; Stark and Finke 2000). Ideas from the New Paradigm can help us understand why people from some religions and denominations are more likely than others to disapprove of homosexuality. The micro basis of these ideas is that people maximize benefits and try to reduce costs, even when they are considering which religion to follow (Iannaccone 1994, 1995; Stark and Finke 2000).
A key reason why people tend to stay in the same religion as their parents is that early religious experiences are likely to shape later religious preferences. For example, people who grew up with traditional organ music may not like religious services where an electric guitar is being played. Likewise, some people may have always felt comfortable with fellow adherents "speaking in tongues" (i.e., glossolalia), which is practiced by some conservative Protestants. However, individuals who are not familiar with it may find it bizarre and unsettling. Because people are typically born into a given faith (Myers 1996), there are high costs, such as disappointing family members and fewer opportunities to socialize with friends, to leaving their religion. Indeed, Ellison and Sherkat (1995) point out that in some places the social and familial obligations to belonging to a given religion may be so strong that regular religious involvement may be perceived as involuntary.
Along with the costs of not belonging to a religion, there are typically a lot of benefits to being involved with a specific faith. By actively participating in a given religion or denomination, many adherents may feel that they will ultimately be rewarded for their devotion with a wonderful afterlife (Iannaccone 1994; Stark and Finke 2000). There are also short-term benefits. In many nations, including Ireland and Poland, religious organizations have been important institutions for organizing citizens around political goals (Bosi 2008; Johnston and Figa 1988). If residents are interested in political or economic change, it can be very useful to be involved with the local religious community. In the United States, for example, the Black church has historically been a key organizer for social and political concerns related to the African-American community (Lincoln and Mamiya 1990).
Additionally, some places of worship offer a warm and friendly group of congregants (Iannaccone 1994), free babysitting during religious activities, language classes, after-school activities for teens (Adamczyk 2012a, 2012b; Adamczyk and Felson 2012), and social, financial, and physical- and mental-health services (Cnaan, Sinha, and McGrew 2004; Twombly 2002). If adherents are encouraged to primarily interact with other religious followers, the religious organization typically provides opportunities to socialize. These occasions may include ice-cream socials, bowling nights, and Sunday-morning breakfasts.
Religions and denominations differ in the extent to which they make demands on their followers and their ability to get their adherents to abide by religious proscriptions (Iannaccone 1994). These demands may include restrictions on food (e.g., not eating pork, beef, or onions), dress (e.g., wearing the hijab), and interactions (e.g., not spending time with unrelated people of the opposite sex). It may seem that having many restrictions would make a religion less desirable. Certainly, there are some religious groups that are particularly strict, and the heavy obligations cause some people to leave. But, as Stark (1996b) and Iannaccone (1994) point out, under the right circumstances the exact opposite may occur. Some people may feel that because they make sacrifices that other people are unwilling to make, they have a particularly special relationship with God.
How do these ideas shed light on differences between religions in how adherents think about homosexuality? Differences in attitudes about homosexuality can partially be explained by the success of different religions and denominations in getting their adherents to abide by religious proscriptions and develop feelings and opinions that are consistent with more-literal interpretations of homosexuality in religious texts. Muslims and conservative Protestants are some of the fastest-growing religious groups (Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003; Bibby 1978; D.M. Kelley 1977, 1978). They also appear more successful than others at getting their followers to abide by their demands. A number of studies have found that relative to other major religions, conservative Protestants and Muslims are better able to shape a range of attitudes and behaviors, including those regarding premarital and extramarital sex (Adamczyk and Hayes 2012), alcohol consumption (Adamczyk 2011; Ghandour, Karam, and Maalouf 2009), prostitution (Stack, Adamczyk, and Cao 2010), pornography (Sherkat and Ellison 1997), and abortion (Adamczyk 2008; Evans 2002).
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations Introduction: Patterns across Nations, Mixed Methods, and the Selection of Countries PART ONE. PUBLIC OPINION ACROSS THE WORLD 1. The Importance of Religion, and the Role of Individual Differences 2. The Importance of Democracy and Economic Development PART TWO. COMPARATIVE CASE STUDIES FOR UNDERSTANDING ATTITUDES 3. Shaping Attitudes in Protestant Nations: A Comparison of the United States, Uganda, and South Africa 4. Understanding Views in Muslim Countries: An Analysis of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Turkey 5. The Relatively Liberal Views of People from Catholic- Majority Countries: An Examination of Spain, Italy, and Brazil PART THREE. VIEWS ON HOMOSEXUALITY IN EAST ASIA 6. Investigating Public Opinion in Confucian Nations: Buddhism and the Importance of Family Ties in East Asia 7. Shaping Attitudes in Taiwan: A Case Study (OK, but Not in My Family) Conclusion: Other Religions, Outliers, and the Future Appendix A. Countries Included in the WVS HLM Analysis, by Homosexuality Laws as of 2015 and the Nation’s Dominant Religion Appendix B. WVS Data and Hierarchical Models Appendix C. Additional Macro-Level Indicators Appendix D. Details on the Content Analysis of Newspaper Articles Notes Bibliography Index