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Is Religion Essential? Beliefs about Religious Categories

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AbstractThe purpose of the present study was to assess whether presumed variations in people’s values towards intergroup mobility modulate their essentialist beliefs about the groups. Our target population was orthodox Jews, who, on the one hand, value in-group preservation regarding religious affiliation (Jewish or Christian), but on the other, value uni-directional integration regarding religiosity (from secular to orthodox). This population was compared to secular Jews, who do not hold such differential values. Participants were given four different transformation scenarios - addressing both biological and genetic aspects of essentialism - and were asked to rate to what extent the different transformations would change a person’s social group membership. Results showed that orthodox participants were more likely than secular participants to respond that people cannot change their religious affiliation. Moreover, orthodox participants considered it more plausible that a secular Jew would become an orthodox Jew, than that an orthodox Jew would become a secular Jew. Secular participants did not manifest such an asymmetry. The implications of these findings to social essentialism are discussed.

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