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Galatians and Social Identity Theory

by David Paul Shaules

Claremont Graduate University


© Copyright David Paul Shaules, 2011 All rights reserved.

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This dissertation has been duly read, reviewed, and critiqued by the Committee listed below, which hereby approves the manuscript of David Paul Shaules as fulfilling the scope and quality requirements for meriting the degree of Ph. D in New Testament Studies.

Dennis R. MacDonald, Chair Claremont Graduate University Professor of Religion

Gregory J. Riley Claremont Graduate University Professor of Religion

Michael Hogg Claremont Graduate University Professor of Social Psychology


Galatians and Social Identity Theory

By David Paul Shaules

Claremont Graduate University: 2011

This work applies social identity theory to Galatians in order to better understand

Paul’s use of rhetoric and his manipulation of the community’s social boundaries. Social

identity theory stems from social psychology and studies the function of social identities

and the groups they create. It examines how social identities are created through

categorization and depersonalization and how this gives rise to complex group based

phenomena (i.e. self-enhancement, uncertainty reduction, group bias, group norms,

prototypes, the metacontrast principle, referent informational influence, superordinate

identities, depersonalized social attraction, leadership, etc.). This work uses social

identity theory to view the situation in Galatia as an intra-group conflict, between

individuals who believe they are all part of the same group. From this starting point, it

looks at social scientific criticism of the Bible, Jewish revolts and political turmoil,

rhetoric, the law, faith, the promise, Abraham, Christian identity, Paul’s Jewish heritage

and his sufferings (in Galatians, Philippians, and 2 Corinthians), and Paul’s leadership. In

examining the historical context, social identity theory suggests that uncertainty

concerning Jerusalem may have exacerbated the problem in Galatia, which was cause by

mixed table fellowship. It also highlights the social psychological impact that Paul’s

argument had on its audience. By manipulating key group prototypes (i.e. the law,

Abraham), Paul is able to shift the group’s boundaries, allowing for the admission of the

Gentiles. Furthermore, it underscores how Gal 3:26-29 reflects a superordinate identity,

which includes both Jews and Gentiles. Finally, it explains how Paul’s accounts of his

Jewish heritage and suffering make him more prototypical, and thus makes him a more

effective leader.

Dedicated to:

My Wife, who supported me unconditionally, was always there, and always listened. Who never let me forget that she was by my side.


My Father, who showed me the way and never let me forget what I was capable of.



I would like to thank my committee members: Prof. Dennis R. MacDonald for his patience and encouragement; Prof. Gregory J. Riley for his enthusiasm; and Prof. Michael Hogg for working with me across department lines. I would also like to thank my family: My Wife and my Dad for supporting me without measure; my Mom for always reassuring me that everything will work out; my Brother for keeping me sane with his constant support and friendship; my Grandmother Church for her unending confidence and love; and my Uncle Vince who was always interested in my work and always pushed me to succeed. I’d also like to thank all of my friends who both tolerated me and helped me refine my research. Particularly, I’d like to thank Dan, who was always there to challenge me and help me refine my ideas, and also Chris, who continued to take an active interest in my work despite being thousands of miles away. Finally, I would like to thank Claremont Graduate University and the School of Religion for providing me with a once in a lifetime opportunity to study and grow.


Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Social Identity – Theoretical Model


Origins and Development


Social Identity




Prototypes, Categorization, and Entitativity


Social Categorization and Depersonalization


Accessibility and Fit


Social Identity Motivations


The Influence of Groups


Chapter 2: Specific Features of Social Identity Theory


Uncertainty-Identity Theory


Superordinate Identity


Depersonalized Social Attraction


Social Identity Theory of Leadership


Chapter 3: Social Identity and Modern Religion




In-group Bias



Metacontrast Principle


Threatened Identity




Uncertainty Reduction


Superordinate Identities


Identity Definition




Chapter 4: Social Scientific Criticism




Methodological Assumption


SIT’s Applicability to the New Testament


Social Scientific Criticism and SIT


Chapter 5: Historical and Social Context


Maccabean Revolt


Quirinius’s Census


The First Jewish-Roman War


The Bar Kokhba Revolt


The Overall Relationship with Rome


The Revolts in Light of the Social Identity Theory







Mixed Table Fellowship


The Incident at Antioch


The Situation in Galatia


Chapter 6 Rhetoric 122

Chapter 7: Prototypical Behavior


Galatians 2:15-21


Galatians 3:1-9


Galatians 3:10-14


Galatians 3:15-18


Galatians 3:19-26


Galatians 4:1-7


Paul’s Final Position


Chapter 8: Prototypical Figures




Galatians 3:6-9


Galatians 3:13-14


Galatians 3:15-16


Galatians 3:17-18



Galatians 4:21-23


Galatians 4:24-26


Galatians 4:28-31


Chapter 9: Superordinate Identities


Galatians 3:26-29


Chapter 10: Prototypical Leaders


Leadership and Jewish Prototypes in Galatians


Galatians 1:13-14


Leadership and Jewish Prototypes in Philippians


Leadership and the Christ Prototype in Galatia


Leadership and the Christ Prototype in Philippians


Leadership and the Christ Prototype in 2 Corinthians










Scholarship, across all academic fields, has made progress over the last fifty

years. If the last fifty years are any indication, the growth of academic knowledge in this

area is exponential. Building upon the research of their predecessors, and aided by

technological tools and advances, scholars make new discovers more quickly than ever.

For better or worse, this process has lead to an increased level of specialization. Even

within a single field, scholars often bring their expertise to bear on a small portion of the

field. A literary scholar might specialize in one author, a religion scholar in one sect, a

social scientist in one model. This situation has created a fertile opportunity for

transdiciplinary dialogue, in which different areas of scholarship inform one another in a

mutually beneficial exchange.

This is the spirit in which this work is written, building upon the work and efforts

of biblical scholars who first practiced social-scientific criticism of the bible in the sixties

and seventies. This work applies the social identity theory from social psychology to

Galatians in order to determine why Paul’s rhetoric was persuasive, and to gain insights

into Paul’s choice of rhetoric. This brief overview will map everything out and hopefully

make the work easier to follow.

The first chapter covers the basics of the social identity theory (SIT). The chapter

reviews the origins and development of SIT. It also covers key concepts of social

identity, groups, prototypes, depersonalization, social categorization, social identity

motivations, and the influence of groups. The first chapter simply lays out the basic

features of SIT.


The second chapter then builds upon this by exploring specific features and

developments of SIT that will be applied to Galatians. The chapter examines the

uncertainty-identity theory, superordinate identity, depersonalized social attraction, and

the social identity theory of leadership. The uncertainty-identity theory provides insights

into how the civil and political unrest in Jerusalem influenced Paul’s opponents and thus

contributed to the situation in Galatia. The immediate cause of the dispute in Galatia was

a disagreement over mixed table fellowship. Uncertainty-identity theory suggests that the

uncertainty created in Jerusalem likely reinforced the opponents’ commitment to their

Jewish identity, making them all the more adamant in the face of this challenge.

The research covering superordinate identity sheds light upon the development of

the newly forming Christian identity, which is in its infancy in Galatia. A superordinate

identity encompasses other identities to form one larger group. In other words, a Muslim,

Christian, and Jew can all be American, while still belonging to their religious groups.

Research on superordinate identity explains that in order to be successful, a superordinate

identity should not threaten the subordinate identities that it subsumes. In other words,

Being American must not undermine what it means to be a Jew. By incorporating and

reinterpreting the Jewish identity in Galatians, Paul is more effectively arguing for a

superordinate identity that includes both Jews and Gentiles.

Finally, the concept of depersonalized social attraction and the social identity

theory of leadership help one understand how Paul was perceived by his audience, and

how his rhetoric shaped this perception. In essence, the more prototypical (i.e. the better a

Christian and Jew) Paul was, the more effective of a leader he would have been when

dealing with people he was not personally acquainted with.


The third chapter concludes this coverage of SIT with a survey of social identity

research done on modern religions. The research covered there shows that the above

principles of SIT apply to modern religious practice and that religious identities do

function as powerful social identities.

Chapter four serves as a bridge, connecting the application of SIT in the modern

day to work done on the New Testament (NT). The chapter starts by covering the origins

of social-scientific criticism in the NT. It examines some of the methodological

assumptions of social-scientific criticism, some of its advantages, and some of its

assumptions. It also looks at some of the foundational works in this area, such as the

work of Gerd Theissen, Bruce Malina, and Wayne Meeks. Finally, the chapter ends with

a survey of work that has already applied SIT to the NT, including the work of Philip

Esler, who has done significant work on Galatians. While chapter three establishes the

applicability of SIT to modern religion, chapter four establishes its applicability to the

ancient world and surveys the previous work that serves as a precedent for this approach.

Chapter five then begins the assessment. Chapter five brings SIT to bear upon the

political unrest that surrounded Jerusalem for hundreds of years. Doing so serves two

purposes. First, by using SIT to look at the causes of the various rebellions that occurred,

one can identify key aspects of the Jewish identity, which serve as boundary markers,

separating them from other groups. Second, the uncertainty-identity theory predicts that

this social unrest, and the uncertainty that it created, would have motivated people to

identify more strongly with their social identities. In other words, Jews with strong

religious ties to Jerusalem would have responded to this uncertainty by more strongly

identifying with their Jewish faith.


This is likely what happened with Paul’s opponents. Although they were

followers of Jesus, they had religious ties with Jerusalem, and were probably Jewish.

Therefore, the uncertainty created by the civil unrest in Jerusalem probably motivated

them to more adamantly defend the traditional Jewish practices. Thus, in response to the

immediate threat of mixed table fellowship, they adamantly defended their Jewish

identity. Finally, chapter five concludes by looking at the circumstances surrounding

Galatians, such as its authorship, date, and the reason for its composition.

Chapter six begins the transition into looking directly at Galatians by briefly

looking at the history of rhetorical analysis carried out on the letter. It notes some of the

pitfalls of research that has been done, and the inadequacy of analyzing the letter in light

of ancient rhetoric. It then examines some of the similarities and differences between a

rhetorical approach and the one taken here.

After this, chapter seven begins the analysis of Galatians in detail by looking at

the prototypical behaviors found in Galatians and how Paul modifies them. Prototypical

behaviors are those behaviors that define the group and that are adhered to by good group

members. Paul addresses the law, a set of prototypical behaviors, in Galatians in response

to his opponents and the behavior of the people in Galatia.

SIT shows that Paul’s chosen response, to emphasize faith, the spirit, and the

promise, is effective because it builds upon preexisting group prototypes. Faith, in this

case, is not a Christian concept, it is a Jewish concept. The faithfulness of the Jewish

people to God is one of their defining characteristics, and is often connected directly to

observing the law. Paul instead separates these two concepts, and emphasizes one (faith)

over the other (the law). By separating and reinterpreting preexisting group prototypes,


Paul is able to effectively shift the group’s boundaries. The rhetoric’s persuasive power

rests less on its logical construction than on its ability to make particular prototypes

salient (i.e. relevant and prominent).

Something similar is seen in chapter eight, which looks at Paul’s manipulation of

prototypical figures in Galatians. Like prototypical behaviors, prototypical figures outline

what it means to be a good group member. The most prominent prototypical figures in

Galatians are Abraham and Christ. SIT shows that Paul’s arguments surrounding

Abraham were persuasive because Paul was reshaping a prototypical figure. Abraham

defined the group. Thus by reshaping his audiences’ understanding of Abraham, he was

able to reshape the group’s boundaries.

Chapter nine shifts focus slightly and looks at the superordinate identity that Paul

is establishing in Galatians. SIT shows that superordinate identities are more effective

when subordinate identities are protected. Thus Paul’s attempts to establish a

superordinate identity are made more persuasive by his reinterpretation of the law and

Abraham. By reinterpreting the traditional Jewish prototypes, he is able to give the

Jewish identity (a subordinate identity) a protected and valued place within the new

superordinate identity. This made it easier for people to adopt the new identity and is one

of the reasons for Paul’s success.

Finally, chapter ten focuses on Paul’s role as a leader in the early church. The social

identity theory of leadership states that leaders who are more prototypical (i.e. more in

line with the group’s standards) will be more effective when the group’s identity is

relevent, and when the leader is dealing with people he or she does not know on a

personal level. Therefore, Paul’s declarations of his Jewish heritage and of his sufferings


as a follower of Christ make him a more effective leader. They make him more

prototypical, more socially attractive, and thus more effective.


Chapter 1: Social Identity – Theoretical Model

Origins and Development

Henri Tajfel was the first to develop social identity theory in the early 1970s.

Tajfel’s interest in social identity was driven by his experiences in the events surrounding

World War II. As a Polish Jew in Europe, Tajfel lived through the rise of the Nazis, the

Holocaust, and postwar relocation. These experiences drove his passion for

understanding prejudice, discrimination, and intergroup conflict. In the events

surrounding World War II Tajfel saw large-scale social movements and phenomena that

could not be adequately explained in terms of personality or interpersonal interactions.

Instead, he saw social forces at work behind individual actions. Tajfel’s explicit goal was

to avoid the reductionism that guided studies of group behavior at the time. He did not

want to reinterpret group phenomena as the product of personality traits, individual

differences, and interpersonal actions carried out by many people. By avoiding this

reductionism, Tajfel went against the dominant paradigm in social psychology. 1

Tajfel’s research laid the foundation for work on social identity. An early paper

from 1959 focused on the way in which social pressure can change the way that people

perceive the physical world around them. In other words, an individual’s estimation of

the size, weight, or color of an object will change when social pressure is applied. Tajfel

uses this as a starting point and speculates that a similar result may occur when the issue

1 Michael A. Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," in Contemporary Social Psychological Theories, ed. Peter J. Burke (Stanford: Stanford Social Sciences, 2006), 112.


at hand is abstract (e.g. beauty, pleasantness, intelligence, etc.) instead of physical. 2 This

is a critical insight. It is one of the first steps taken towards understanding groups as

something other than the sum of individual personalities. Following this, Tajfel’s early

work focuses primarily on the process of categorization. Tajfel’s 1964 study focused

upon the ways in which people categorize various items (e.g. dots, lines, or shapes).

There had been significant interest in this cognitive process, but at this time it was poorly

understood. As with the study in 1959, this study focuses upon physical objects and their

categorization instead of social categories. 3 He tied this work directly into his study of

prejudice and the cognitive processes behind it.

In the 1970s Tajfel’s research started to look at social categories and the influence

of a group upon behavior. For example, a 1971 study divided people into groups and then

asked them to distribute rewards and penalties. The people involved favored the group

they belonged to. Not only that, but they attempted to maximize the difference between

their group and the other group, even at the cost of other objective advantages. 4 These

phenomena of group bias (favoring one’s group over another) and metacontrast

(maximizing the differences between groups) became key features of SIT.

The first studies, such as the ones just mentioned, divided people into groups

based on a seemly irrelevant criterion (e.g. esthetic preferences). In 1972, Tajfel and

Michael Billig wanted to see if the same group bias occurred when the divisions were

entirely random. Not only was it still present, but discrimination increased when the

notion of ‘group’ was introduced. It was greater than it had been in other studies where

2 Henri Tajfel, "Quantitative Judgement in Social Perception," British Journal of Psychology 50 (1959): 28.

3 Henri Tajfel, Alan Richardson, and Louis Everstine, "Individual Consistencies in Categorizing: A Study of Judgmental Behavior," Journal of Personality 32, no. 1 (1964): 90-108.

4 Henri Tajfel, M. Billig, R. P. Bundy, and C. Flament, "Social Categorization and Intergroup Behaviour," European Journal of Social Psychology 1 (1971): 149-77.


the idea of a ‘group’ was never explicitly mentioned, even if those groups were decided

by some non-random criterion. 5

During this period, Tajfel also played a key role in the development of the

European Association of Experimental Social Psychology and the European Journal of

Social Psychology. 6 In the early 1970s, Tajfel began to collaborate with John C. Turner.

They brought together Tajfel’s ideas surrounding social categorization, ethnocentrism,

social comparison, and intergroup relations and united them under the concept of social

identity. 7 Tajfel saw social identity as a combination of the individual’s knowledge of the

group and the emotional significance the individual attaches to group membership. 8

Groups are formed when people share the same social identity. These groups then

compete with one another for status. Additionally, the strategies used by group members

in competition vary depending upon their views of intergroup relations (i.e. the

relationship between different groups). This model became known as social identity

theory. 9 Tajfel presented his theory in 1974 and later published it with Turner in 1979. 10

Tajfel’s contributions to both social psychology and SIT were profound. These words,

written shortly before his death, remain as true today as they were in 1982.

It seems that the future will have to be much longer than the past in the field of intergroup behavior. The increasing global interdependence since the end of World War II has enormously increased the diversity and complexity of intergroup relations. The psychological study of these problems, which will manage to combine some of our traditional

5 Michael Billig and Henri Tajfel, "Social Categorization and Similarity in Intergroup Behaviour," European Journal of Social Psychology 3, no. 1 (1973): 27-52.

6 Henri Tajfel, "Some Developments in European Social Psychology," European Journal of Social Psychology 2, no. 3 (1972): 307-21.

7 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 113.

8 Tajfel, "Some Developments," 307-21.

9 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 113. 10 Henri Tajfel and J. C. Turner, "An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict," in The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, ed. William G. Austin and Stephen Worchel (Monterey: Brooks/Cole, 1979), 33-


preoccupations with an increased sensitivity to the nature of social realities, is one of our most important tasks for the future. 11

Tajfel’s legacy continues to this day.

Social identity research then shifted focus. During the late 1970s and early to mid

1980s Turner focused on developing “the social identity theory of the group,” which

focused on self-categorization (i.e. viewing one’s self as a group member) as the

cognitive dimension of social identity. This period also saw the further development of

referent informational influence. This model describes the ways in which people create

group norms. These norms are based upon the behavior of other prototypical in-group

members and are then internalized by the individual, who then enacts them as part of

their social identity. Also during this period, there was an increased interest in the

motivations of individuals participating in the social identity process.

By the mid-1980s social identity research had begun to spread rapidly. This rapid

growth created a lack of focus and direction, as John Turner points out in the forward of

Michael Hogg’s and Dominic Abrams’ 1988 book Social Identifications. His selective

survey describes research on a wide range of topics, including:

the effects of social categorization on intergroup relations, intergroup conflict and ethnocentrism (including racial prejudice and inter-ethnic contact), social change, the social psychology of language, identity and the self concept, psychological group formation, the distinction between interpersonal and intergroup behaviour, group cohesion, social attraction, social influence and conformity, social co-operation (e.g. ‘social dilemmas’ and social interaction in mixed-motive settings), crowd behaviour, group polarization, social stereotyping, attribution theory, equity theory and the metatheory of social psychology. 12

11 Henri Tajfel, "Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations," Annual Review of Psychology 33 (1982): 32.

12 Michael A. Hogg and Dominic Abrams, Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes (London: Routledge, 1988), XI.


Hogg and Abrams’ 1988 work argues in favor of an integrated social identity approach,

which would incorporate a wide range of concepts. 13 Since then there has been a massive

amount of social identity research focused on developing key concepts such as

stereotyping, self-conception, motivation, collective behavior, norms and others. Social

identity theory continues to grow and has gained popularity in fields outside of social

psychology, such as sociology and organizational science. 14

Social Identity

Identity remains a slippery concept. SIT draws a general distinction between

social identity and personal identity. Social identity, as defined by SIT, is centered on the

social group. A social group is a group of three or more people that share a common

identity. They evaluate themselves in the same way and share a definition of who they

are, what their characteristics are, and how they compare to and relate to people that do

not belong to their group. “Group membership is a matter of collective self-construal –

‘we’ and ‘us’ versus ‘them.’” 15 Thus an individual’s social identity comes out of his or

her awareness of belonging to a group, and the importance placed upon this membership.

The groups that an individual belongs to are designated as in-groups. The groups that the

individual does not belong to are designated as out-groups. Furthermore, social identity,

as founded upon group membership, becomes the basis for in-group/out-group

distinctions. One individual’s in-group is another individual’s out-group. SIT focuses on

both how the in-group/out-group distinction arises and how it influences behavior.

13 Hogg and Abrams, Social Identifications, XIII.

14 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 113-14.

15 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 115.


In contrast to social identity, personal identity focuses on the characteristics of the

individual that are not shared. “Personal identity is a self-construal in terms of

idiosyncratic personality attributes that are not shared with other people (‘I’) or personal

dyadic relationships with a specific other person (‘me’ and ‘you’).” 16 Social identities

often shape the development of personal identities, friendships, and enmities. It is

important to note that people can have many different personal and social identities,

limited only by the number of social groups they belong to and personal relationships

they have.

The subjective importance, value, and accessibility of these identities vary from

person to person. The accessibility of these identities varies in both chronic accessibility,

how accessible it is in an individual’s mind, and situational accessibility, how accessible

it is in an immediate situation. An identity that is currently prominent in the mind is said

to be salient. Additionally, an individual’s sense of identity varies from situation to

situation, and it is important to note that “in any given situation only one identity is

psychologically salient to govern self-construal, social perception, and social conduct. As

the situation or context changes, so does the salient identity, or the form that the identity

takes.” 17

The concepts of social and personal identity are generally accepted within the

study of SIT; athough some refinements, variations, and alternatives have been

suggested. For example, Anne Reid and Kay Deaux discuss personal attributes rather

than personal identities. They define attributes to be “the personality traits,

16 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 115.

17 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 115.


characteristics, and behaviors that an individual uses in self-description.” 18 Deaux,

working with others, also found support for different categories of social identity. Their

research suggested five categories: “personal relationships, vocations/avocations,

political affiliations, ethnic/religious groups, and stigmatized groups.” 19

Rather than looking at different categories of social identity, James Cameron

examines whether social identity is a single-faceted concept or is better represented by

several separable facets. 20 Cameron suggests three facets: centrality, in-group affect, and

in-group ties. Centrality refers to the enduring psychological salience of group

membership, while in-group affect reflects the value ascribed to it. Finally, in-group ties

deal with the relationships developed with other group members. 21

Some scholars view the dichotomy drawn between social and personal identities

as too stark. 22 For example, Marilynn B. Brewer and Wendi Gardner suggest three

categories of self: personal self, relational self, and collective self. “Personal self is the

differentiated, individuated self-concept

relational self is the self-concept derived

from connections and role relationships with significant others

[and] at the group

level is the collective self, which corresponds to the concept of social identity.” 23 Brewer

also later wrote an article suggesting four categories of identity: person-based social

identities, relational social identities, group-based social identities, and collective

identities. Person-based social identities refer to social identities that are located within

18 Anne Reid and Kay Deaux, "Relationship between Social and Personal Identities: Segregation or Integration," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71, no. 6 (1996): 1084-91.

19 Kay Deaux, Anne Reid, Kim Mizrahi, and Kathleen A. Ethier, "Parameters of Social Identity," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68, no. 2 (1995): 280.

20 James E. Cameron, "A Three-Factor Model of Social Identity," Self and Identity 3, no. 3 (2004): 239.

21 Cameron, "A Three-Factor Model," 253.

22 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 116.

23 Marilynn B. Brewer and Wendi Gardner, "Who Is This 'We'? Levels of Collective Identity and Self Representations," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71, no. 1 (1996): 84.


the individual. These identities are aspects of the self that are heavily influenced by

membership in groups and shared socialization experiences. Relational social identities,

like the role identities mentioned by other scholars, define the self in relation to others.

This category includes a wide range of group identities such as familial relationships,

close personal relationships, occupational role relationships, work teams, social clubs,

and others. Group-based social identity is viewed in the same way as social identity in

social identity theory and Turner’s self-categorization theory. Finally, collective identity

focuses on the norms, values, and ideologies of the group and can represent the

achievement of collective efforts. 24

The concept of the relational self or relational social identity and its relationship

to the personal and social identity categories of SIT is particularly interesting. On the one

hand, when discussed in terms of dyadic relationships that separate people from the

group, as is seen in individualist cultures, relational social identities are best described as

personal identities. On the other hand, “in collectivist cultures group membership can be

defined in terms of people’s relationships to one another – your network of relationships

locates you within the group and maintains your membership. Here relational identity is

how social identity is expressed.” 25

While the distinctions, refinements, and variations on the concepts of social and

personal identity presented here are important, this work will use the terms social identity

and personal identity to refer to collective self-construal and individual self-construal

respectively. These definitions reflect the basic understanding of identity found within

SIT. They are also easily applied to the NT, given that early followers of Jesus formed

24 Marilynn B. Brewer, "The Many Faces of Social Identity: Implications for Political Psychology," Political Psychology 22, no. 1 (2001): 119.

25 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 116.


social identities, of collective self-construal, where groups were explicitly defined,

adhered to, and used as a point of social comparison. Unfortunately, given the nature of

historical texts, some information is absent. It is impossible to ask Paul to clarify his

arguments or discuss new topics. It is also impossible to interview members of his

congregations. In light of this, it is important to use SIT and its concept of identity

carefully in order to illuminate the subject without moving beyond either the explanatory

scope of SIT or the data provided by the NT.


While social identity is collective self-construal, and this forms the basis for a

group, it is important to look at the concept of a group in more detail. To start with, two

people do not form a group. SIT does not view dyads as groups for three main reasons.

First, the interactions within a dyad are dominated by interpersonal processes. Second,

three people are necessary for inferring group norms from others. These norms are

inferred by watching the way that other people interact within a group. If there are only

two people, it is impossible to witness two other group members interacting. Finally,

many group processes (e.g. coalition formation, majority social pressure, and deviance

processes) can’t happen. This view of dyads reflects the views of many researchers.

It is possible for two people to reflect a group if they belong to a larger social

identity. For example, a Japanese couple visiting the United States might behave in a

Japanese way, but this is not because the two people form their own group. It is because

they belong to a larger social identity, they belong to the group “Japanese.” Indeed, a


single individual may reflect the norms of a group and be representational of their

identity; but this is only possible because they belong to a larger group. 26

While three or more people are necessary for group formation, they are not

sufficient. The key distinction, from the perspective of social identity, is that the

individuals identify with the group. Many things, such as group structure, interaction,

shared goals, etc., contribute to the distinctive and cohesive nature of a group. 27 These

things may strengthen identification; but it is the underlying psychological process of

identification that is the basis of group phenomena. As a result, groups vary in ways that

reflect the variation in identity discussed earlier. One general distinction is drawn

between groups based upon interpersonal bonds and group based upon formalized and

impersonal associations. While these distinctions might be important, the SIT sees them

as secondary to the role played by group identification. A person might belong to a

group, either based upon interpersonal relationships or formalized associations, but if that

person does not identify with the group, if he or she does not define and evaluate

themselves in terms of the group, then they will not think and act like group members. 28

Prototypes, Categorization, and Entitativity

As concepts, social identity and group are defined as the shared self-construal of

three or more people who identify with one another. An individual’s ability to recognize,

define, and distinguish these social identities from one another, a process of

categorization, is key. “The theory of social identity rests on an assumption that

26 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 117.

27 Donald T. Campbell, "Common Fate, Similarity, and Other Indices of the Status of Aggregates of Persons as Social Entities," Behavioral Science 3 (1958): 14-25; David L. Hamilton and Steven J. Sherman, "Perceiving Persons and Groups," Psychological Review 103, no. 2 (1996): 336-55.

28 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 117.


categorization is the process by which people order, and render predictable, information

about the world in which they live. This process of categorization operates on objects,

other people, and oneself, and consequently people are seen as belonging to the same or

different categories as oneself.” 29 Groups, and thus social identities, are fundamentally

categories of people. These categories are represented cognitively as prototypes. A

prototype is “a fuzzy set of attributes (perceptions, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors) that

are related to one another in a meaningful way and that simultaneously capture

similarities within the group and differences between the group and other groups or

people who are not in the group.” 30

The process of describing the similarities within and the differences between the

group and others maximizes entitativity. Entitativity refers to “the property of a category

that makes it appear to be a cohesive and clearly structured entity that is distinct from

other entities.” 31 In other words, prototypes maximize entitativity by highlighting

similarities within the group and differences between groups. Prototypes also follow the

metacontrast principle. They highlight similarities within a group and differences

between groups, creating the largest possible contrast between the in-group and out-

groups. 32

This has various consequences. First, the content of the prototype will focus on

those things which maximize metacontrast in a positive way for the in-group (i.e. a group

would not demean itself simply for the sake of entitativity). Second, because prototypes

29 Hogg and Abrams, Social Identifications, 209.

30 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 118.

31 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 118. For a more in depth discussion of the definition, measurement, and implications of entitativity see Hamilton and Sherman, "Perceiving Persons," 336-55.

32 Michael A. Hogg and Deborah J. Terry, Social Identity Processes in Organizational Contexts (Philadelphia: Psychology Press, 2001), 5.


seek to maximize entitativity, they tend to describe ideal, often hypothetical, in-group

members. Such ideals highlight the distinctiveness of the group more effectively than a

prototype that reflects average and typical members. Third, prototypes vary from

situation to situation. They reflect the social context. This is because metacontrast

involves comparisons made both within the group (intragroup) and between groups

(intergroup). Finally, intragroup behavior and intergroup behavior are directly related, as

one affects the other. 33

Social Categorization and Depersonalization

Social categorization is the mechanism behind prototypes and is the cognitive

basis of social identity processes. Social categorization refers to the process of

categorizing someone as a member of a group. This involves both categorizing people as

well as depersonalizing them. Depersonalization is the act of viewing a person in terms of

group membership and in comparison to group prototypes, instead of as a unique

individual. This also involves ascribing prototypical attributes to the individual.

This should not be confused with dehumanization. Dehumanization refers to the

act of viewing someone as less then human, or unworthy of humane treatment. In

contrast, depersonalization only refers to viewing someone in light of a prototype. This

often leads to a positive evaluation, particularly when dealing with in-group prototypes.

This, however, can lead to negative evaluations, particularly if the prototype comes from

an out-group. Depersonalization of out-group members is often called stereotyping. 34

33 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 118.

34 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 118-19.


The key to SIT is that this process happens not only with in-group members and

out-group members, but also with an individual’s sense of self. The individual

depersonalizes oneself. This change in self-perception is important. It brings the

perception of the self and one’s behavior in line with the relevant in-group prototypes.

One begins to behave as a member of a group, rather than as an individual. This process

“produces, for instance, normative behavior, stereotyping, ethnocentrism, positive

ingroup attitudes and cohesion, cooperation and altruism, emotional contagion and

empathy, collective behavior, shared norms, and mutual influence.” 35

It is also important to look at the psychological saliency of social categories. As

mentioned above, people depersonalize themselves and others by associating individuals

with relevant prototypes. These prototypes follow the metacontrast principle and thus

serve to maximize entitativity by emphasizing intragroup similarities and intergroup

differences. Given that this process is shaped by the relevant social context, social

identities must shift in relative importance, some being more relevant to a particular

situation then others. For example, an individual’s social identity as an American may be

particularly relevant when that person is traveling in South Africa, yet fade into the

background when the individual returns to the United States. The prominence that

particular social identities carry in the mind is referred to as psychological saliency. The

cognitive system compares details of the present social context to social categories and

activates (i.e. makes salient) the social identity that frames the present context and one’s

place within it in the most meaningful way. 36

35 Hogg and Terry, Social Identity Processes, 5. 36 Hogg and Terry, Social Identity Processes, 7.


Accessibility and Fit

This application of social categories to particular situations is often talked about

in terms of accessibility and fit. The accessibility of a category refers to its availability.

Categories can be both chronically accessible and situational accessible. A category is

chronically accessible if it is considered important and frequently used. In contrast, a

category is situational if the immediate situation itself makes it particularly salient. 37

The fit of a given category is often described in terms of structural (or

comparative) fit and normative fit. Structural fit refers to how relevant a category is for

describing the similarities and differences among people. In contrast, normative fit refers

to a category’s ability to account for context-specific behaviors. 38 When presented with a

new social context, people examine various social categories and their relationship with

the immediate social context. Those that fit poorly, either because they fail to account for

the differences and similarities found between individuals (structural fit) or they fail to

explain the observed behavior (normative fit), lose saliency. When this happens, people

cycle through various categories (e.g. political orientation, religion, profession) until the

optimal fit is achieved.

That said, saliency is not the mechanical product of the best categorical fit and it

is not entirely automatic. For example, people prefer categories that favor their in-group.

Additionally, the process can also be social in nature with people negotiating or

competing over the saliency of different categories. 39 This “social interaction involves

the motivated manipulation of symbols (e.g., through speech, appearance, behavior) by

people who are strategically competing with one another to influence the frame of

37 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 119.

38 Hogg and Terry, Social Identity Processes, 7.

39 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 119.


reference within which accessibility and fit interact.” 40 People are not willing to passively

accept whatever category naturally has the best fit. Instead they are active participants,

seeking out those categorizations that are the most meaningful and favorable for them. 41

The category that emerges from this process with the best fit becomes

psychologically salient. This category then becomes the basis for prototype-based

depersonalization, group identification, and self-categorization. It forms the basis of

context-relevant intergroup behaviors by enhancing the entitativity of the group and by

highlighting in-group similarities and out-group differences. 42 In this way, the

psychological saliency of social categories is the product of a dynamic process that

adjusts to fit the specific circumstances of the individual.

Social Identity Motivations

While the discussion up to this point has focused on the processes underlying

social identity, it is important to examine the motivations that lie behind the behavior.

One of the motives that SIT focuses on is self-enhancement. The other main motivation,

uncertainty reduction, will be examined in detail later. Social identities play a central role

in self-enhancement. Given a relevant social context, social categories become

psychologically salient, and thus the “self, as social identity, is defined and evaluated in

group terms, and therefore the status, prestige, and social valence of the group attaches to

oneself.” 43 This causes people to promote the positive distinctiveness of their group,

40 Hogg and Terry, Social Identity Processes, 7.

41 Hogg and Terry, Social Identity Processes, 7.

42 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 119.

43 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 120.


which is the belief that “we” (those belonging to the in-group) are better then “them”

(those belonging to an out-group).

This close relationship between one’s social identity and one’s sense of self has

led to the suggestion that self-enhancement and group membership may be related to an

individual’s sense of self-esteem. The self-esteem hypothesis suggests that individuals

with low self-esteem are motivated to identify with a group and that intergroup behavior

and identification raises self-esteem. 44 But continued review of the self-esteem

hypothesis has yielded mixed results. 45 A crucial finding is that although group

adherence can raise self-esteem, it is a relatively unreliable cause of identification. This

supports the idea that rather than motivating behavior, self-esteem is an internal

measurement, gauging the individual’s level of satisfaction. Self-esteem reflects the

degree to which other needs and motivations (e.g. the need for rewarding interpersonal

relationships) are being met. Ultimately, although the connection between self-

enhancement and social identity processes is undeniable, the link between self-est eem

and positive group distinctiveness is not always tight. This is also seen in the ability o f

people to buffer themselves against stigmatizing group membership. 46

The Influence of Groups

Groups can have a large impact upon both the behavior of an individual and what

they consider to be normal and acceptable behavior. We can informally experience this

44 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 120. See also: C. Sedikides and M. J. Strube, "Self-Evaluation: To Thine Own Self Be Good, to Thine Own Self Be Sure, to Thine Own Self Be True, and to Thine Own Self Be Better," in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, ed. M. P. Zanna (New York: Academic Press, 1997), 209-96; Hogg and Abrams, Social Identifications.

45 Dominic Abrams and Michael A. Hogg, "Comments on the Motivational Status of Self-Esteem in Social Identity and Intergroup Discrimination," European Journal of Social Psychology 18 (1988): 317-34.

46 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 120.


effect first hand. For example, more then once I have found myself, as a student of

religion, attending a religious service that I was unfamiliar with. In these situations I find

myself compelled to emulate the behavior I see around me. I am acting out the normal

behavior of the group in order to, at least temporarily, become a participating member of

that group. SIT has formalized the study of this process.

The study of the influence groups exert and the norms they establish is not new. 47

The development of SIT provided a new theoretical framework for understanding this

influence. SIT understands the influence exerted by the group to be a product of the

relationship between group norms and the process of self-categorization. Norms are those

attitudes and behaviors that define the group. Cognitively, these norms are represented by

the group’s prototypes. As discussed above, prototypes can be either ideals to which the

group holds or can be represented by people who represent the ideal group member (e.g.

Jesus, Abraham). This is then met by the process of self-categorization and

depersonalization, in which a person sees oneself through the lens of the prototype. The

person is no longer an individual, but instead a group member, defined by and evaluated

against the group’s prototypes. This produces conformity to in-group norms because the

self is brought inline with the prototype. “Thus conformity is not surface behavioral

compliance but a deeper process whereby people’s behavior is transformed to correspond

to the appropriate self-defining group prototype.” 48

The influence of groups upon the individual has been demonstrated

experimentally numerous times. Early research demonstrated both the influence that

47 George R. Goethals, "A Century of Social Psychology: Individuals, Ideas, and Investigations," in The Sage Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. Michael Hogg and Joel Cooper (London: Sage Publications, 2007), 3-23. 48 Hogg, "Social Identity Theory," 124.


groups have upon the attitudes of individuals and the long term consequences of such

influence. 49 It is worth looking at some specific examples. One relevant phenomenon is

group polarization. Group polarization refers to the process in which an individual’s

views become more extreme after they discuss them with other like minded individuals.

For example, five people who support same-sex marriage will support it more strongly

after discussing it with each other. This phenomenon was first observed in the 1961 by

James Stoner. Early research looked at situations in which group discussion increased

risky choices. The phenomenon was originally called the risky-shift phenomenon.

Eventually it was realized that this was incorrect. Experiments showed that the

phenomenon could lead to more cautious choices as well as riskier ones. Thus it has since

become known as group polarization. 50

Explaining the cause of group polarization has been difficult, but resent research

has made progress understanding the phenomenon in light of SIT. 51 According to SIT,

polarization is the consequence of an individual’s conformity to a perceived in-group

norm. Research has started to support this understanding. For example, two experiments

conducted by Diane Mackie demonstrated the importance of the group. The first

experiment found that polarization occurred when the relevant information was provided

by the individual’s in-group. The second experiment found that polarization occurred

49 T. M. Newcomb, Personality and Social Change: Attitude Formation in a Student Community (New York: Dryden Press, 1943). Newcomb studied the views of women who attended the newly formed Bennington College. The women, who were mostly conservative, were influenced by the more liberal norms of the college. His follow-up study found that these changed persisted in the women for years to come.

50 David G. Myers and Helmut Lamm, "The Group Polarization Phenomenon," Psychological Bulletin 83 (1976): 602-03.

51 For example, Isenberg examines the social comparison and persuasive argumentation explanations in Daniel J. Isenberg, "Group Polarization: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (1986): 1141-51. Along these lines, Abrams divides previous explanations into two general categories, pressure to comply and reasons to agree. See Dominic Abrams and Michael A. Hogg, "Social Identification, Self-Categorization and Social Influence," European Review of Social Psychology 1 (1990): 208.


when individuals focused on their group membership, and it did not when they focused

on their individual performance. 52 Other research also supports this understanding. 53

This naturally leads towards an examination of behaviors. Research has

demonstrated that the more strongly a person identifies with a group, the more likely they

are to follow the behavioral prescriptions of the group. For example, two studies were

conducted that examined the relationship between the level of group identification and an

individual’s intention to carry out a prescribed behavior. In the first study, the behavior

was to engage in regular exercise. In the second it was to engage in sun-protective

behavior. In both cases the group norm had an effect on those individuals that identified

strongly with the group. It was also found that an individual’s attitude and the perceived

consequences of not taking action had a larger influence on those people that had a low

level of identification with the group. 54 This fits with the anecdotal observation from the

field of religious studies that increased identification with a particular religious group

often correlates with an increased devotion to its teachings.

The ability for group norms to influence our behavior serves an important social

function. Namely, it combats loafers. People work collectively towards goals, and often

the outcome of the endeavor is not directly tied to an individual’s performance. For

example, people pay taxes in order to fund public schools, police forces, and fire

departments. At the same time, an individual can cheat on their taxes and still enjoy these

benefits because the group succeeds despite the individual’s failure to contribute.

52 Diane M. Mackie, "Social Identification Effects in Group Polarization," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (1986): 702.

53 Abrams and Hogg, "Social Identification," 208-12.

54 Deborah J. Terry and Michael A. Hogg, "Group Norms and the Attitude-Behavior Relationship: A Role for Group Identification," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 22 (1996): 776.


That people loaf is well established. 55 Social identities and the norms that they

establish can encourage greater participation and contribution from individuals. Research

has shown that an individual’s level of participation in collective action is influenced by

both a cost/benefit consideration and an individual’s social identity. In other words,

people are motivated both by specific extrinsic rewards and by the obligations found in

their social identity. 56 While the influence of social identities upon group participation is

well established, the reason social identity has such a strong influence is less clear.

Research is beginning to shed light on the problem. One paper looked at two

possible explanations for the phenomenon. The first was the goal-transformation

hypothesis. It suggests that social identification makes the collective good more

important to the individual. The second was the goal-amplification hypothesis. It suggests

that social identification lead to a greater level of trust in the cooperation of the other

group members. The three studies conducted supported the goal-transformation

hypothesis. This suggests that social identification promotes cooperation because the

individual’s motives are transformed, shifting towards the interests of the group. 57

Taken together with the research above, it becomes clear that social identities

have a clear impact upon the attitude and behavior of the individuals who adopt them.

This is the result of self-categorization and depersonalization. People see themselves as

group members, rather than individuals. Thus their attitudes shift towards those of the

group, and their behavior is influenced by the group’s norms.

55 S. J. Karau and K. D. Williams, "Social Loafing: A Meta-Analytic Review and Theoretical Integration," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65 (1993): 681-706.

56 S. Stürmer and B. Simon, "Collective Action: Towards a Dual-Pathway Model," European Review of Social Psychology 15 (2004): 59.

57 D. De Cremer and M. Van Vugt, "Social Identification Effects in Social Dilemmas: A Transformation of Motives," European Journal of Social Psychology 29 (1999): 871-93.


Chapter 2: Specific Features of Social Identity Theory

Uncertainty-Identity Theory

This chapter will highlight some specific features of SIT that will be particularly

relevant for this study of Galatians. Uncertainty-identity theory is the first specific feature

of SIT that will be examined. Alongside self-enhancement, the desire to reduce

uncertainty is one of the motivational factors that drives people to adopt and emphasis

various social identities. “When people feel uncertainty about themselves or things

reflecting on self, they ‘join’ new groups (e.g., sign up as a member of an environmental

group), identify with or identify more strongly with existing self-inclusive categories

(e.g., one’s nation), or identify with or identify more strongly with groups that they

already ‘belong’ to (e.g., one’s work team).” 58 Over the last decade, the roll that

uncertainty plays within SIT has increasingly become a focus of study in and of itself.

The term uncertainty-identity theory refers to this pursuit and reflects the further

development of this motivational component of SIT. 59

It is important to start by looking at uncertainty. While uncertainty motivates

people to adopt and emphasize social identities, not all uncertainties are created equal.

Feelings of uncertainty related to an individual’s sense of self are the most critical. For

example, someone may know very little about Botswana, the African country. They may

be uncertain about its location, language, and cultural customs, but this uncertainty will

not influence their sense of self and their social identity if it seems irrelevant. On the

58 Michael A. Hogg, "Uncertainty-Identity Theory," in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, ed. Mark P. Zanna (San Diego: Elsevier Academic Press, 2007), 80.

59 Hogg, "Uncertainty-Identity Theory," 69.


other hand, if the individual decides to marry a person from Botswana, move to

Botswana, and seek citizenship, suddenly this uncertainty becomes very relevant to one’s

sense of self and social identity. This type of uncertainty, self-uncertainty, is the focus of

uncertainty-identity theory and a key motivational component of SIT. 60

Additionally, uncertainty-identity theory focuses on uncertainty that corresponds

to the social context surrounding an individual. This uncertainty “is produced by

contextual factors that challenge people’s certainty about their cognitions, perceptions,

feelings, and behaviours, and ultimately, certainty about and confidence in their sense of

self.” 61 Finally, it is important to note that uncertainty-identity theory examines

uncertainty-reduction, not certainty creation. Absolute certainty does not exist, and

instead of pursuing it, people seek to reduce their levels of uncertainty. 62

Research has emerged to support the claims of the uncertainty-identity theory.

Early studies of uncertainty focused upon the minimal group paradigm. The minimal

group paradigm emerged from early studies in social psychology that found that people

will display intergroup biases even when placed in seemly arbitrary and meaningless

groups. The minimal conditions needed to create this effect became known as the

minimal group paradigm.

The minimal group paradigm was an appropriate starting place for three reasons.

First, the minimal group paradigm played a critical role in the creation of SIT. Second, it

seemed unlikely that self-enhancement would be the only cause behind the intergroup

discrimination in these clinical situations. Finally, research utilizing the minimal group

60 Hogg, "Uncertainty-Identity Theory," 73.

61 Hogg, "Uncertainty-Identity Theory," 77.

62 Hogg, "Uncertainty-Identity Theory," 73-74.


paradigm naturally creates uncertainty in the participants due to the novel nature of the

experience. 63

The first paper examining uncertainty in this way was published in 1999. Two

experiments were conducted that manipulated the levels of uncertainty felt by the

participants and examined how this affected their intergroup biases. Beyond looking at

uncertainty’s roll, the study also examined the critical question of whether or not

categorization itself is sufficient to cause intergroup discrimination. The study found that

participants only discriminated when categorized under conditions of uncertainty. This

correlated with enhanced group identification and elevated self-esteem. Additionally it

was found that categorization, while necessary, was not sufficient to cause

discrimination. Self-categorization, motivated in this case by uncertainty, is a necessary

prerequisite for discrimination. 64

Further research continues to support uncertainty-identity theory. A 2005 paper

looked at the relationship between uncertainty, group status, and prototypicality. In the

first experiment, uncertainty and group status were manipulated. As predicted, it was

found that individuals with low levels of uncertainty preferred to identify with high-status

groups, while individuals with high levels of uncertainty showed no preference between

high or low status groups. The individuals under high levels of uncertainty where more

strongly motivated to identify with a group, in order to reduce their uncertainty. Because

of this, they were more willing to associate with a group regardless of its status. In

addition to this, the strength of their group identification was higher then those

63 Hogg, "Uncertainty-Identity Theory," 81.

64 Paul G. Grieve and Michael A. Hogg, "Subjective Uncertainty and Intergroup Discrimination in the Minimal Group Situation," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25 (1999): 926.


experiencing low levels of uncertainty. Greater levels of uncertainty caused individuals to

identify with their groups more strongly.

A second experiment added prototypicality to the mix. The individual’s

identification with a low status group, under high uncertainty, decreased when

prototypicality was low. In other words, individuals are attracted to groups that fit

themselves. 65 Prototypes play a key role in SIT, not only in uncertainty-identity theory,

but in other areas as well. Its presence will be seen in the rest of this chapter.

Over the last five years, further research of the uncertainty-identity theory has tied

uncertainty to many different phenomena observed by the SIT. A paper published in 2007

looked at the relationship between group-norms and uncertainty. The study found that

individuals under high levels of uncertainty are more likely to conform to group norms. 66

Another paper published in 2007 looked at the relationship between uncertainty

and in-group entitativity. Two experiments were done, one was a field study dealing with

political parties, and the other was a done with ad hoc groups. Both experiments

supported the study’s hypothesis. Individuals identify most strongly with a group when

both their uncertainty and the group’s entitativity are high. In other words, in times of

high uncertainty, people identify with groups that are cohesive, clearly structured, and

distinct from other groups. 67

Another paper, from 2009, looked at striking grocery store employees in one

experiment, and Democrats and Republicans in a second. It found that when individuals

65 Scott A. Reid and Michael A. Hogg, "Uncertainty Reduction, Self-Enhancement, and Ingroup Identification," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 31 (2005): 804-17.

66 Joanne R. Smith, Michael A. Hogg, Robin Martin, and Deborah J. Terry, "Uncertainty and the Influence of Group Norms in the Attitude-Behaviour Relationship," British Journal of Social Psychology, no. 46 (2007): 769-92.

67 Michael A. Hogg, David K. Sherman, Joel Dierselhuis, Angela T. Maitner, and Graham Moffitt, "Uncertainty, Entitativity, and Group Identification," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43 (2007): 135-42.


are faced with a highly entitative in-group, and a high level of uncertainty, they polarize

their group’s position in relation to the out-group. In other words, when an individual

belongs to a cohesive and distinct group (e.g. Democrats), and they experience

uncertainty, they polarize their position, taking a stronger stance against their opponents

(e.g. Republicans). 68

The papers presented here are representational of a growing body of research that

is beginning to tie uncertainty reduction theory into real world situations. Specifically, the

link between uncertainty and ideological positions is becoming clearer. Uncertainty,

particularly extreme cases of uncertainty, can be associated with orthodoxy, hierarchy,

extremism, and ideological belief systems. This can contribute to groups with strong

identities, following simple and highly focused beliefs. Such groups have a low tolerance

for disagreements and clear group norms which one has to follow. 69 This can lead to a

polarization of positions and a strict adherence to the group’s moral and ethical standards,

creating a stronger sense of community and group identity.

Superordinate Identity

Superordinate identity is the second feature of SIT that will be examined. The

idea behind superordinate identities is straight forward. People often belong to more than

one social group. For example, someone may be both Jewish and an American. Both are

social identities, and they each become salient under different circumstances. In this

example ‘American’ can become a superordinate identity. This is because being ‘Jewish’

68 David K. Sherman, Michael A. Hogg, and Angela T. Maitner, "Perceived Polarization: Reconciling Ingroup and Intergroup Perceptions under Uncertainty," Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 12 (2009): 95-109.

69 Michael A. Hogg, "Uncertainty, Social Identity, and Ideology," in Advances in Group Processes, ed. S. R. Thye and E. J. Lawler (New York: Elsevier, 2005), 203-29.


can be viewed as a subset of the category ‘American’. Just as there are Jewish-

Americans, there are also Christian-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Hindu-Americans,

Buddhist-Americans, and so on. Being American is a social identity that supersedes the

individual identities of the various groups and unites the subgroups in a larger social

identity. The formation of superordinate identities has important implications, from

corporate mergers to dealing with racism and discrimination. Because of this, it has been

the focus of a great deal of research.

Unfortunately, reducing discrimination is not as simple as creating a

superordinate identity. Studies have found a complex interaction between the

superordinate group and the subgroups. A paper published in 2000 looked at university

students (superordinate identity). Some of the students were from the humanities and

others from math and science (subgroups). The experiment manipulated their perception

of intersubgroup similarity. In other words it manipulated the perceived similarity

between humanities students and math-science students.

The experiment also manipulated the level at which students categorized

themselves, either at the superordinate level, or at the superordinate and subgroup level

simultaneously. An interesting pattern emerged. When the students were categorized

exclusively at the superordinate level, discrimination was higher against subgroups seen

as similar to their own.

At first glance, this can seem counter-intuitive and in contradiction to the

similarity-attraction hypothesis, which simply states that people are more attracted to

people similar to themselves. But when the students were categorized at the superordinate

and subgroup levels, their levels of discrimination fell in line with the similarity-


attraction hypothesis. The results are consistent with the SIT, which suggests that threats

to one’s identity (by being categorized only at the superordinate level) can result in

increased levels of discrimination as individuals try to maintain their identity. 70

Similar results have been found in other studies. 71 This principle is known as the

mutual intergroup differentiation model, which simply states that superordinate identities

can improve relations as long as the integrity of the subgroups is maintained. These

studies have profound implications for attempts to reduce discrimination outside of the

lab. Placing people in a superordinate category can cause problems if the subgroups feel

that their own distinctiveness is threatened. For example, attempts to improve relations

between different religious groups can run into problems if people feel their religious

identity is being undermined by a superordinate category (e.g. spirituality, national

identity). 72 One possible tactic is to emphasis both categories at the same time.

Something like emphasizing the common nature of all religious practice while at the

same time highlighting one’s valuable Hindu heritage.

Another study, similarly set up with math-science and humanities students, was

conducted to examine the effects of status on subgroup relations. The study found that the

lower the perceived status of the subgroup, the more strongly people identify with the

superordinate group. This is consistent with the self-enhancement motive in the SIT.

People who find they belonging to a group that is viewed negatively will sometimes try

70 Matthew J. Hornsey and Michael A. Hogg, "Intergroup Similarity and Subgroup Relations: Some Implications for Assimilation," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 26 (2000): 948-58.

71 Matthew J. Hornsey and Michael A. Hogg, "Subgroup Relations: A Comparison of Mutual Intergroup Differentiation and Common Ingroup Identity Models of Prejudice Reduction," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 26 (2000): 242-56.

72 Maykel Verkuyten, "Religious Group Identification and Inter-Religious Relations: A Study among Turkish-Dutch Muslims," Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 10, no. 3 (2007): 341-57.


to adopt superordinate identities that have a higher status. This allows them to enhance

their identity, and in turn themselves.

In the second experiment of the paper, both levels of identity are reinforced and

thus status does not have an effect on subgroup bias. But status did cause bias to increase

when only the superordinate identity was emphasized. The effect is similar to the one

discussed above, with the added find that high status groups are more protective of their

identity. 73

These experiments have implications for the business world as well. A paper

published in 2002 looked at negations. Some models of negation suggest that group

membership should be downplayed because it can lead to bias. Building off of the

findings mentioned above, this study instead examined the effect of highlighting group

membership at the subgroup level before entering into superordinate negotiations. As

expected, although people identified more at the subgroup level they were also more

satisfied with the negotiation process. 74

The importance of social identities can be seen around the world. A study

conducted in Chile looked at political coalitions as forms of superordinate social

identities. In Chile’s multiparty system, coalitions form between the various parties. The

study conducted a survey that asked participants to judge their own party, parties within

their coalition, and parties within opposing coalitions. The parties are understood as

subgroups within the larger superordinate group of the coalition. The results are inline

with the research above. Generally speaking, identification with a coalition, as a

73 Matthew J. Hornsey and Michael A. Hogg, "The Effects of Status on Subgroup Relations," British Journal of Social Psychology 41 (2002): 203-18.

74 Rachael A. Eggins, S. Alexander Haslam, and Katherine J. Reynolds, "Social Identity and Negotiation:

Subgroup Representation and Superordinate Consensus," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28 (2002): 887-99.


superordinate group, correlated with positive attitudes towards allies. Specifically,

positive feelings towards one’s own party correlated with positive feelings towards

members of one’s own coalition. Additionally, one’s views of the coalition impacted

one’s views of individuals within the coalition. As in the studies mentioned above,

perceived inter-party distance and political identity threat (a threat to the subgroup) had a

negative impact on the feelings towards coalition party members. 75

When these studies are all taken together it is clear that superordinate identities

are powerful tools for social change and interaction. But it is equally clear that

superordinate identities run the risk of being unproductive when they threaten subgroup

identities. Therefore, one of the most effective strategies for improving relations is to

emphasize the superordinate group while at the same time reinforcing subgroup

distinctiveness and value.

Depersonalized Social Attraction

Depersonalized social attraction is the third feature of the SIT to be examined.

People interact with one another on a daily basis. As part of this process individuals will

like some people better then others. This will happen for many different reasons, and

many different psychological approaches have been developed for understanding this

phenomenon. SIT focuses on one very specific example of attraction, which is

depersonalized social attraction.

Depersonalized social attraction occurs when individuals depersonalized

themselves and others through the process of categorization, and then are attracted to

75 Roberto González, Jorge Manzi, José L. Saiz, Brewer Marilynn, Pablo de Tezanos-Pinto, David Torres, Maria Teresa Aravena, and Nerea Aldunate, "Interparty Attitudes in Chile: Coalitions as Superordinate Social Identities," Political Psychology 29, no. 1 (2008): 93-118.


others who match the group’s prototype. In other words, when individuals view

themselves and others as group members, they do not evaluate others as individuals.

Instead they evaluate them as group members. Since prototypes set the standards for

groups, the more prototypical people are, the better they appear. In other words, a

Christian will like an outstanding Christian more than an average Christian.

This concept was developed in the early 1990s. In 1993 a paper examined this

phenomenon. Two studies were conducted that looked at the relationship between group

salience, group cohesiveness, clarity of the group prototype, and perceived

prototypicality of the members. The results clearly supported depersonalized social

attraction. When the group identity was salient and individuals were depersonalized,

individuals were more attracted to prototypical group members. The attraction was also

stronger when the group was perceived as cohesive and when the prototype was clearer.

Interpersonal attraction was also measured. Depersonalized attraction was found

to be independent from the interpersonal attraction, and the interpersonal attraction was

also unrelated to issues such as cohesiveness and prototypicality. 76 These findings have

been further supported by additional research.

A paper published in 1995 added more evidence for depersonalized social

attraction. In the experiment, individuals were asked to report their attitudes towards an

individual who was either a group member, or their partner for a task. The study looked

at how prototypicality influenced attraction and the results generally supported the idea

76 Michael A. Hogg, Louise Cooper-Shaw, and David W. Holzworth, "Group Prototypicality and Depersonalized Attraction in Small Interactive Groups," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 19 (1993): 452-65.


that through depersonalization people are more attracted to prototypical group

members. 77

Another paper published in 1998 wanted to examine the relationships between

friendship, group identification, group cohesiveness, and groupthink. Generally speaking,

groupthink arises when a group’s striving for unanimity overrides other practical

considerations and prevents the group from realistically evaluating its situation. This can

lead to various problems, such as an unquestioned belief in the morality and

invulnerability of the group. It also leads to problems in the decision making process.

Groupthink’s impact upon politics and other social situations has made it a popular topic

for study, but the causes behind it have been less clearly understood.

Many factors can contribute to groupthink. The primary antecedent is group

cohesiveness. The 1998 paper sought to better understand how cohesiveness could lead to

groupthink by drawing a distinction between cohesion based upon personal attraction

(friendship) and cohesion based upon depersonalized social attraction. The experiment

placed people into four-person discussion groups that were formed with friends, socially

attractive people, or random strangers. Conditions were then set up to encourage group

think. The results showed that friendship was weakly or negatively related to groupthink.

Friendship based cohesiveness was not conducive for groupthink. On the other hand,

depersonalized social attraction was strongly correlated with groupthink. 78 This is just

one example of the powerful role that depersonalized social attraction can play.

77 Michael A. Hogg, Elizabeth A. Hardie, and Katherine J. Reynolds, "Prototypical Similarity, Self- Categorization, and Depersonalized Attraction: A Perspective on Group Cohesiveness," European Journal of Social Psychology 25 (1995): 159-77.

78 Michael A. Hogg and S. C. Hains, "Friendship and Group Identification: A New Look at the Role of Cohesiveness in Groupthink," European Journal of Social Psychology 28 (1998): 323-41.


A paper published in 2005 provided tentative support for the idea that

prototypicality can influence the appeal of celebrities, and that media sources are able to

manipulate the perception of prototypicality and thus influence a celebrity’s appeal. The

experiment involved university students that participated voluntarily. The researchers

also collaborated with the school’s newspaper, which printed up 3 fake news stories

reporting upon the intelligence of different racial groups. The students were told that they

were being involved in a study that was looking at intelligence in order for the university

to improve its level of education.

The student’s level of racial identification was measured and used to establish an

in-group for the individuals. Then, through the fake news stories, the prototypical level of

intelligence for the in-group (i.e. different racial groups) was manipulated. The students

were then asked to evaluate various celebrities. As predicted, the more a celebrity

matched the prototypical level of intelligence for the in-group, the more socially

attractive they were. The level of prototypical embodiment was the strongest predictor for

social attraction. 79 The results stress both the importance of depersonalized social

attraction and the powerful effect that media can have on people’s perception of others.

Social Identity Theory of Leadership

Leadership is the fourth feature of SIT to be examined. Over the years there has

been an increasing collaboration between social psychological research on social identity

and organizational psychological research on work groups and organizations. 80 Out of

79 Dana E. Mastro, Ron Tamborini, and Craig R. Hullett, "Linking Media to Prototype Activation and Subsequent Celebrity Attraction: : An Application of Self-Categorization Theory," Communication Research 32 (2005): 323-48. 80 Hogg and Terry, Social Identity Processes, 1.


this dialogue, a SIT of leadership has emerged. There are many different psychological

models of leadership, focusing on different aspects of group/leader interaction. The social

identity theory of leadership studies the role that identity plays in leadership. Groups

form social identities and these social identities have a large impact upon our leadership.

Leaders play a crucial role. “We look to our leaders to express and epitomize our identity,

to clarify and focus our identity, to forge and transform our identity, and to consolidate,

stabilize, and anchor our identity.” 81

Because leaders can play such a pivotal role in social identities, SIT looks at

leadership in terms of the processes that are behind the formation of social identities.

Through the process of self-categorization people adopt social identities, and through a

process of depersonalization they no longer view themselves as individuals, but instead

evaluate themselves and other in-group members against the in-group prototype. As just

discussed, this leads to depersonalized social attraction. Thus the more a leader reflects

the prototype, the more influence he is likely to have as followers are attracted to him

through depersonalized social attraction. 82 This understanding of leadership has real

world consequences, particularly in the business world where corporate management and

mergers often create changing and shifting social identities.

Research has started to look at challenges facing the work place. A paper

published in 2005 surveyed 242 employees from 3 Italian companies. The study looked at

leader prototypicality and leader effectiveness as mediated by a need for closure. The

need for closure was interpreted as a desire to reduce uncertainty. Thus it was predicted

81 Michael A. Hogg, "Influence and Leadership," in The Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. S. T. Fiske, Daniel Todd Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey (New York: Wiley, 2010), 1195.

82 Michael A. Hogg, "A Social Identity Theory of Leadership," Personality and Social Psychology Review 5 (2001): 184-200.


that individuals needing closure would turn to their group membership (uncertainty-

identity theory). This turning to the group would increase the importance of leader

prototypicality, therefore making a leader’s effectiveness more dependent upon

prototypicality. The results of the survey were inline with the predictions. Prototypicality

was more important for the individuals with a high need of closure than it was for the

individuals with a low need. 83

Another very similar study was conducted in 2010 with 368 people from 4 Italian

companies. Rather than looking at a need for closure, this study introduced role

ambiguity in order to manipulate the level of uncertainty experienced by the subjects. The

results were inline with the previous study. Leader prototypicality was correlated to

leader effectiveness more strongly when the individuals were under higher levels of

uncertainty. 84

This is not to say that leadership is a simple issue. A paper published in 2005

compared the social identity theory of leadership to the leader-member exchange theory.

While SIT looks at leadership in terms of group identity and depersonalization, the

leader-member exchange theory examines the relationships that are formed between

supervisors and subordinates. The study involved two surveys, the first was of 439

employees from organizations in Wales while the second was of 128 members of

organizations in India.

83 Antonio Pierro, Lavinia Cicero, Marino Bonaiuto, Daan van Knippenberg, and Arie W. Kruglanski, "Leader Group Prototypicality and Leadership Effectiveness: The Moderating Role of Need for Cognitive Closure," The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005): 503-16.

84 Lavinia Cicero, Antonio Pierro, and Daan van Knippenberg, "Leadership and Uncertainty: How Role Ambiguity Affects the Relationship between Leader Group Prototypicality and Leadership Effectiveness," British Journal of Management 21 (2010): 411-21.


The results were consistent with those presented above. Depersonalized leader-

member relations, based more upon prototypicality and social identity, were found to be

more effective with individuals for whom the group was more salient, and who identified

more strongly with the group. On the other hand, personalized leadership, based upon the

relationships between leaders and their subordinates, was preferred by individuals from

low-salience groups more than by those from high-salience groups. 85

This research highlights the importance of applying theoretical models to their

appropriate context. The social identity theory of leadership provides a powerful tool for

understanding the relationship between leaders and their groups. But the social identity

and the prototypicality of a leader will only be relevant in certain circumstances,

particularly when a group’s identity becomes salient and important to its members. In

other circumstances, as illustrated in this study, other models of leadership may be more


Further research has begun to look at the possible role that prototypicality

oriented leadership may have on discrimination. A 2006 study conducted in the lab

looked at the relationship between people’s stereotype-based impressions of their leader

and how well that matched the group norm. It was hypothesized that leader effectiveness

would increase the closer the two matched. The results followed those mentioned above.

In high salience groups, highly prototypical leaders were more effective than leaders that

were less prototypical. Similarly, the effectiveness of a prototypical leader was higher the

more salient the group’s identity.

85 Michael A. Hogg, Robin Martin, Olga Epitropaki, Aditi Mankad, Alicia Svensson, and Karen Weeden, "Effective Leadership in Salient Groups: Revisiting Leader-Member Exchange Theory from the Perspective of the Social Identity Theory of Leadership," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 31 (2005): 991-1004.


This research went farther and found that its original hypothesis was true. The

stereotypes attached to leaders have an impact upon how prototypical they are perceived

to be, and thus how effective they are. The study used men, women, and their

accompanying gender stereotypes. It found that people utilized these stereotypes in the

absence of explicit group prototypicality information about their leader. These findings

illuminate some of the problems that can face minorities and other stereotyped groups

within the work place. 86

Finally, research published in 2008 examined the relationship between negative

actions by an out-group leader and the liking of in-group leaders. Two studies were

conducted in which people were presented with a hypothetical international situation in

which the leader from the other nation was portrayed negatively. The first study found

that individuals viewed their leader more favorably when presented with the negative

actions of the out-group leader.

The second study measured levels of national identification. It found that the

intergroup leader-enhancement effect occurred with those individuals that held a strong

national identity, but that it did not occur when individuals identified only weakly. 87 This

follows the previous studies which stress the importance of group saliency. This also

helps explain the attacks that leaders often launch against the leaders of other groups. The

social identity theory of leadership provides a powerful model and tool for understanding

the relationships between leaders and their groups. The fact that it is dependent upon

86 Michael A. Hogg, Kelly S. Fielding, Daniel Johnson, Barbara Masser, Emily Russell, and Alicia Svensson, "Demographic Category Membership and Leadership in Small Groups: A Social Identity Analysis," The Leadership Quarterly 17 (2006): 335-50.

87 Todd L. Pittinsky and Brian Welle, "Negative Outgroup Leader Actions Increase Liking for Ingroup Leaders: An Experimental Test of Intergroup Leader-Enhancement Effects," Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 11 (2008): 513-23.


groups and social identities makes it well suited for historical studies, given that historical

documents often are the product of such groups.


Chapter 3: Social Identity and Modern Religion

Before applying SIT to ancient religious practice, it is important to examine the

research that has applied SIT to modern religions. Religions foster naturally occurring

and common social identities, which are often ideally suited for the application of SIT.

This is because so many of the things that the SIT discusses are explicitly stated in the

sacred texts and official decrees of established religions. Things such as prototypes,

group norms (both prescribed and prohibited behaviors), and out-groups are clearly stated

and expounded upon.

This can be compared to social identities found within the business world, an area

of research that has seen recent growth. 88 Businesses can, and often do, have explicitly

documented guidelines for employee behavior (i.e. group norms) that in turn describe the

ideal employee (i.e. the group prototype). Businesses can also have clearly defined rivals

(i.e. out-groups). In this way, social identities from the business world and from religions

are similar, but social identities stemming from religion take a much more prominent

place in people’s lives. Rarely does one hear of employees studying their employee

handbook weekly or wearing corporate jewelry, and there is little marketability for books

condemning corporate rivals. Yet weekly religious services, religious jewelry, and

apologetic literature are all common forms of religious expression. Religions create

powerful social identities that are prime candidates for study under SIT. Unsurprisingly,

research that has been conducted applying the SIT to religious groups has supported the

basic tenants of SIT and demonstrated the validity of its application to religion.

88 Hogg and Terry, Social Identity Processes.


Surprisingly, there has not been a great deal of this research. Two articles

published this year point out that religion has held a low profile in the field of social

psychology, and while a great deal of work has been done on gender and race, fewer

studies have focused upon religious identities. 89 The validity of SIT for religion appears

to be assumed. 90 Because of this, the majority of research on religion has been geared

towards tackling real world problems that people face (e.g. immigration, violence,

discrimination.) rather than demonstrating point by point that the tenants of SIT apply to

religion. This means that a review of recent research can seem disjointed at times, as

different situations and groups of people must be brought together under broad principles

of SIT. Thus this chapter will be divided into small sections, under which different

studies will be brought together to illustrate various tenants of SIT.


Categorization is the cognitive process that lies behind the group behavior

described by SIT. People categorize both themselves and others. Then, through a process

of depersonalization, they evaluate themselves and others according to the prototypes set

forth by the group. Therefore, if religions establish social identities, then people should

categorize themselves and others according to their religion.

Two papers have demonstrated that this is exactly what people do. The first paper,

published in 2000, examined the process of self-categorization. Through self-

89 Michael A. Hogg, Janice R. Adelman, and Robert D. Blagg, "Religion in the Face of Uncertainty: An Uncertainty-Identity Theory Account of Religiousness," Personality and Social Psychology Review 14 (2010): 72-83. and Renate Ysseldyk, Kimberly Matheson, and Hymie Anisman, "Religiosity as Identity:

Toward an Understanding of Religion from a Social Identity Perspective," Personality and Social Psychology Review 14, no. 1 (2010): 60-71.

90 Christopher Burris and Lynne M. Jackson, "Social Identity and the True Believer: Responses to Threatened Self-Stereotypes among the Intrinsically Religious," British Journal of Social Psychology 39, no. 2 (2000): 257-78.


categorization people categorize themselves according to their religion and view

themselves as group members rather than as idiosyncratic individuals. This first paper

sought to demonstrate that people do this with religious categories. In the experiment, the

participants first reported their religious commitment. Then, at a later time, the

participants returned and received false feedback that either threatened or bolstered their

religious group membership. They then again reported upon their religious commitment

so that the consequences of the feedback could be measured. The authors of the paper

then compared the results to other studies within SIT that had looked at how people

respond to threats to their social identities.

People that identify weakly with the group will often distance themselves from

the group, whereas people that identify strongly with the group will often increase their

level of self-stereotyping, portraying themselves as an ideal group member. This is

consistent with the self-enhancing nature of group membership, as people either dedicate

themselves more firmly to the group or ‘cut their losses.’ Because people in this study

responded in the same way as other people had in other studies of social identity, the

authors conclude that religion must be an example of social identity. Thus this paper

demonstrated that people categorize and stereotype themselves according to religious

social identities in the same way that people do with the established social identities of

gender, ethnicity, and nationality. 91

Instead of looking at how people categorize themselves, a paper published in

2007 examined how people use religious affiliation to spontaneously categorize others.

The authors theorized that people likely categorized others according to their religious

affiliation given the social significance of religion. The paper reported upon 3 studies.

91 Burris and Jackson, "Social Identity and the True Believer," 257-78.


The studies employed the statement recognition task. In this method, participants are

shown pictures of people having a discussion, with their statements being presented to the

participant. Essentially people watch a slideshow of the discussion. Later people are

required to identify which person said which statement. The mistakes that the participants

make, confusing various individuals, provide information on the way in which that

participant is categorizing the people. This approach is commonly used to measure social


Each study supported the proposition that people categorize others according to

religious affiliation. In the first study, participants categorized the people according to

their religious affiliation but not according to a visual alternative (a colored boarder

around the photographs). In the second study, participants categorized people according

to their religious affiliation as well as according to their race. In the third and final study,

participants were provided information about which clubs they belong to, rather than an

explicit declaration of their religious affiliation. As predicted, the participants still

categorized the people according to their religious affiliation. As a result of these studies,

the authors conclude that religion is a prominent social category, similar to race and

sex. 92

Because categorization and depersonalization lie behind social identities, the

findings from these two papers lay the foundation for examining religions with SIT. They

also match what one sees in various religious communities, where people often

categorize themselves and others by their religion and then evaluate them accordingly

(e.g. evangelical attitudes towards Israel as a Jewish nation).

92 Matthew Weeks and Mark A. Vincent, "Using Religious Affiliation to Spontaneously Categorize Others," International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 17, no. 4 (2007): 317-31.


In-group Bias

If people categorize themselves and others according to religious affiliation, SIT

predicts that people will favor their own religious group over those of other people.

Indeed multiple studies have been published that support this hypothesis. A paper

published in 2005 looked at implicit and explicit attitudes towards Christians and

Muslims held by a sample of people from within the United States (most of whom were

Christian). Seeking to examine both implicit and explicit attitudes, the experiment

measured people’s attitudes in two ways. The participants reported their explicit attitudes.

Implicit attitudes were assessed with the Implicit Association Test, in which participants

used a computer to categorize adjectives (pleasant or unpleasant) and names (of

Christians or Muslims). The computer recorded the reaction times of the participants. The

assumption behind the Implicit Association Test is that people process closely related

concepts more quickly then concepts that are more distantly related. For example, most

white people will associate white faces with the category ‘pleasant’ more quickly than

black faces. This is usually understood as an indication of an implicit level of bias. 93

Consistent with SIT, both the explicit self-reported attitudes and the implicit

attitudes showed an in-group bias favoring Christians. Surprising the correlation between

the explicit and implicit attitudes was only weakly positive, suggesting that the

93 The Implicit Association Test has recently come under some criticism. While it remains widely used to this day, some have started to question whether it measures true prejudice or something simpler, such as familiarity or cultural knowledge. A full discussion of the issue would be long and out of place here. As I see it, the fact that both the explicit and implicit attitudes measured in this study show a bias makes the issue somewhat moot.


relationship between implicit and explicit attitudes is not fully understood yet. 94 The fact

that the people in this study showed an in-group bias based upon religious identification

provides strong evidence that religious identities function and can be examined as social

identities under SIT.

Another paper, published in 2010, also sought to examine in-group bias as it

relates to religion. The paper explored the relationship between religious identification

and one’s reaction to aggression from others. The study was conducted in Israel, a place

famous for religious conflict. 217 Jewish and Muslim young men, ages 14 – 18,

participated in the study. They were asked to respond to 12 different hypothetical

situations. In these situations the participant was to imagine that they were in an isolated

area, confronted with by an aggressive individual. The religion and gender of the

aggressor, as well as the severity of the aggression changed from one scenario to another.

At the lower level, the aggression was described as a light shove, which did not

knock one off his feet and was not painful. This was accompanied by a curse. At the

higher level, it was described as a painful slap accompanied by profuse cursing. The

study found that the participants’ responses were more moderate towards members of

their same religion than they were towards members of the opposite religion. This fits

with the predictions made by SIT, as the participants are favoring their in-group.

The author points out some of the limitations of the study. For example, by only

interviewing 217 people, the sample size was too small to be declared representational of

the whole population. Additionally, one has to be careful when drawing conclusions from

94 Wade C. Rowatt, Lewis M. Franklin, and Marla Cotton, "Patterns and Personality Correlates of Implicit

and Explicit Attitudes toward Christians and Muslims," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44, no.


hypothetical situations and using them to predict behavior. 95 Despite these limitations,

this study is a good example of research being conducted that is designed to put SIT to

practical use tackling problems facing various people around the world.

A fascinating paper, published in 2009, sought to examine different social

identities at the same time. The paper publishes the results of two studies that looked at