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On Being Holier-than-Thou or Humbler-than-Thee: A Social-Psychological Perspective on Religiousness and Humility

Wade C. Rowatt, Alison Ottenbreit, K. Paul Nesselroade, Jr. and Paige A. Cunningham
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 41, No. 2 (Jun., 2002), pp. 227-237
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1388005
Page Count: 11
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On Being Holier-than-Thou or Humbler-than-Thee: A Social-Psychological Perspective on Religiousness and Humility
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Abstract

This research examined the association between religiousness and humility. Participants in Studies 1 and 2 completed measures of religiousness, socially desirable responding, and their own and other people's adherence to biblical commandments. Participants in Study 2 also rated how characteristic nonreligious positive and negative trait terms were of the self and others. Humility was operationalized as the magnitude of difference between individuals' evaluations of self and other. Overvaluing the self in relation to others or undervaluing others in relation to the self was considered evidence of less humility. Participants rated the self to be more adherent to biblical commandments than others (the holier-than-thou effect) and rated the self to be more positive and less negative than others (the self-other bias). In both studies, intrinsic religiousness was associated with an increase in the tendency to rate the self as more adherent to biblical commandments than others. Quest was associated with a slight decrease in the magnitude of the holier-than-thou effect. Religious motivations did not account for unique variation in the general self-other bias. Irrespective of motivations for being religious, however, highly religious people (i.e., upper thirds on general religiousness and religious fundamentalism) more so than less religious people (i.e., lower thirds on general religiousness and religious fundamentalism) rated the self to be better on nonreligious attributes than others.

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