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Religious Group Narcissism Drives Ambivalent Sexism

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A recent study published in Current Psychology has illuminated the intricate dynamics between religiosity, religious group narcissism, and ambivalent sexism. The study analyses data from a nationwide sample to disentangle the multifaceted relationship between religious identification and sexist attitudes.

The researchers found that religious identification on its own did not correlate with ambivalent sexism, challenging common assumptions about the direct link between religiosity and traditional gender attitudes. However, when religious group narcissism was taken into account, a different picture emerged.

The study discovered a connection between hostile and benevolent sexism and religious group narcissism, which is characterized by an insecure and defensive attachment to one’s religious group.

Ambivalent sexism comprises two seemingly contradictory dimensions: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism reflects overtly negative attitudes towards women who defy traditional gender roles, while benevolent sexism entails subjectively positive but patronising attitudes that reinforce traditional gender roles. These two forms of sexism are interrelated and work together to maintain gender inequality​

The researchers hypothesised that religious identification would have a complex relationship with ambivalent sexism due to the dual nature of religious values. On the one hand, religion can promote traditional gender roles and thereby support sexist attitudes. On the other hand, it can foster values of kindness, equality, and universalism, which are incompatible with hostile sexism​​.

The study’s results revealed that religious identification alone was not associated with either hostile or benevolent sexism. However, when controlling for religious group narcissism, religious identification was negatively associated with both forms of sexism. This suggests that a secure attachment to one’s religion, free from the defensive and insecure elements of group narcissism, may actually promote more egalitarian gender attitudes​​.

Religious group narcissism emerged as a significant predictor of both hostile and benevolent sexism. This form of narcissism involves an exaggerated sense of the importance of one’s religious group, coupled with a heightened sensitivity to perceived threats to the group’s status. The study found that individuals high in religious group narcissism were more likely to endorse both hostile and benevolent sexism, potentially as a way to protect their group’s traditional values and status​​.

The researchers argue that religious group narcissism may drive sexist attitudes by framing gender non-conformity as a threat to the integrity of one’s religious group. This aligns with past research showing that group narcissism is associated with increased threat perception and defensiveness​​.

These findings have significant implications for understanding the relationship between religion and gender attitudes. They contend that the frequently noted positive correlation between religiosity and sexism may be largely due to the subset of religious people who exhibit high levels of group narcissism. By contrast, those with a secure and confident religious identity may be less likely to endorse sexist attitudes.

The study highlights the importance of distinguishing between different forms of religious identification in research on religion and social attitudes. Future studies could further explore how different aspects of religious identity interact with other social and psychological factors to shape attitudes towards gender roles.

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