How Religious Fear is Shaping the Culture War

By Brandon Withrow

On Monday, the Supreme Court allowed President Trump’s travel ban to take effect. That he doesn’t hide his anti-Muslim sentiments well is not a secret—a firestorm erupted over his unapologetic sharing of anti-Muslim videos from Britain First in November, and six of the eight countries in the newly approved ban are still predominantly Muslim.

The president’s use of a culture war exploits far right religious motives and fears. But there are good reasons to believe that this strategy, while effective for an election last year, is ultimately short-sighted.

First, why did his culture war strategy work?

recent Penn State study led by Michael H. Pasek and Jonathan E. Cook may have that answer. Looking at religious threats in the United States, their research shows that feelings of religious threats can have spiraling impacts and consequences (full study). Threats, according to the study are psychological responses “experienced by individuals who feel stereotyped, discriminated against, or devalued because of a social group membership.” Individuals who “feel targeted because of their religious identity” also may “experience that as a psychological threat.” This becomes a vicious cycle, according to the researchers. Those who feel threatened frequently feel isolated, tend to hide their religious identities, and in turn increase their own prejudice against others.

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