Elizabeth Hoose and Dr. Jeffrey Reber, Department of Psychology
Little research has been done on prejudice against people of faith. Several studies indicate that fundamental or evangelical Christians face the effects of prejudice especially in educational settings (Ressler & Hodge, 2006). In particular, two surveys of Christian social workers inquiring about their professional experience in regards to their religion, found that the respondents felt ridiculed, degraded and demeaned by their colleagues because of their beliefs (Ressler & Hodge, 2006; Ressler & Hodge, 2003). Recently, researchers have begun to explore the potential implicit prejudices towards faith and people of faith in psychology (Slife & Reber, 2009). Likewise, it has also been found that religious people are vastly underrepresented in psychological professions (Gartner, 1986). A positive relationship between antireligious prejudice and educational level has been suggested (Bolce & De Maio, 1999). In other words, as the population becomes more educated, prejudice against religious individuals increases.
A study done in 1986 on antireligious prejudice in clinical psychology graduate school admission decisions found that applicants who indicated in their personal statement that their religion (evangelical Christian) was important and would influence the way they practiced psychology were less likely to be admitted compared to applicants of lesser religious conviction or applicants who made no mention of religion at all (Gartner, 1986). We sought to reexamine this study from the perspective that prejudice is directed at people of faith in general not just evangelical Christians.
The format of the study was as follows. Participants were chosen using random sampling of APA accredited schools. Clinical psychology professors from each of the selected schools were contacted through email. The email included a consent form and a Qualtrics link to one of four mock applications and a survey. Participants were randomly assigned one of four applications. The applications consist of a GPA, a GRE score and a personal statement. All the applications were the same except for 1) a stated religious belief and 2) the place of undergraduate study. Application 1 had no stated religious beliefs and was affiliated with a secular university. Application 2 had no stated religious beliefs and was affiliated with a known religious university. Application 3 had stated religious beliefs and was affiliated with a secular university. Application 4 had stated religious beliefs and was affiliated with a known religious university. The survey consisted of the following: 1) four items rated on a Likert scale addressing participants’ feelings toward the mock applicant and if they would admit them to their clinical psychology PhD program, 2) two qualitative items asking why they would or would not admit the mock applicant and asking how face valid the survey was and 3) five demographic items. We hypothesized the following: 1) applicant 4 will be admitted least out of the four applicants, 2) applicant 3 will be admitted more often than applicant 4 but less often than applicants 1 and 2, 3) applicant 2 will be admitted more often than applicants 3 and 4 but less often than applicant 1 and 4) applicant 1 will be admitted most often out of the four.
Over 1500 professors were contacted via email and 194 responded to the survey giving us a response rate of 13%. The data was analyzed using a MANOVA statistic. Over all, there were no significant differences between the four mock applicants on any of the Likert scale questions. Though we did not find any significant results in the quantitative portion of the questionnaire, there were several interesting factors in the qualitative portion. On the question addressing why the participants would or would not admit the applicant, 6.2% cited the religion of the applicant as a concern, 28% said the applicant did not fit with their research interests, 22% said they did not have enough information to make a decision. On the face validity question, 28.8% guessed the variable being manipulated. Of those who received applications with any faith-related content 39% knew what we were studying and commented on the religious element.
There were several limitations in the way we conducted this study. The difference between the admissions process to graduate school programs now compared to 1986 is significant and contributed to the participants’ undifferentiated responses. Other limitations include the relatively small sample size and low response rate which raises questions of how the rest of the population would respond. Many of the participants were also able to identify religion as the variable being measured and because the survey came from a known religious university, it is possible any bias or prejudice against the applicant’s expression of faith was denied rather than expressed. Even with the obviousness of the variable being studied, several participants noted that the applicant’s faith was a concern of theirs. For example, one participant said, “I have concerns about the possibility of narrow-minded view of religion to be imposed on others in clinical work.” Other participants had similar responses illustrating that though this particular study did not find significant results, it is probable this bias does exist. Future research should focus on designing a method to uncover the implicit biases that were apparent in the qualitative portion, instead of explicit ones which will most likely not be found.
The results of this study were presented at the AABSS conference in Las Vegas, Nevada February 2012. The presentation provided us with valuable feedback on the results and procedure of our study that will be used to further investigate the phenomenon of faithism particularly in academia.
A special thank you is extended to Dr. Jeffrey Reber for his support on this project, for the idea behind it, and for making its subsequent presentation possible.
- Bolce, L., & De Maio, G. (1999). Religious outlook, culture war politics and antipathy toward christian fundamentalists. Public Opinion Quarterly , 63, 29-61.
- Gartner, J. D. (1986). Antireligious prejudice in admission to doctoral programs in clinical psychology. Professional Psychology Research and Practice, 17(5), 473-475.
- Hodge, D. R., Baughman, L. M., & Cummings, J. A. (2006). Moving toward spiritual competency. Journal of Social Service Research, 32(4), 211-231.
- Ressler, L. E., & Hodge, D. R. (2006). Religious discrimination in social work. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 24(4), 55-74.
- Ressler, L. E., & Hodge, D. R. (2003). Silenced voices. Social Thought, 22(1), 125-142.
- Slife, B. D., & Reber , J. S. (2009). Is there a pervasive implicit bias against theism in psychology?.Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 29(2), 63-79