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Regular version of the site

Dr. Malina Voicu: ‘Not to Blame the Differences, but to Prize Diversity’

The HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (LCSR) is hosting the 3rd Annual LCSR Conference from 12th - 16th November 2013, in Moscow. The focus of this year’s conference is on developing empirical quantitative comparative studies in social science. Dr. Malina Voicu from GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences Data Archive for the Social Sciences (DAS), European Data Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (EUROLAB), gave a special interview for the HSE news service before the conference.

—    You've been researching social diversity for a long time. What are some major findings you can share?

—   Diversity is a daily fact of life for people living in contemporary societies, and we are faced everyday with people of different ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds. The effect of diversity on social life was for long time a controversial topic in the social sciences. While some authors consider that diversity builds bridges between different social groups and enriches social life, others proved that diverse societies are less cohesive. However, based on my empirical work, I think that we should talk about diversities, not diversity. Different types of diversity have a different impact on social life and affect different life domains. Moreover, the impact of different types of diversity on social life is not uniform since a variety of mechanisms mediate this impact.

—    Could you please introduce your report — the one you plan to present at the Conference?

—   Until now, scholars investigating diversity have mainly studied the impact of ethnic and linguistic diversity on social capital and political participation. Religious diversity was mainly a core issue in the sociology of religion, with social scientists being concerned about whether greater religious diversity boosts the general level of religiosity. I approach religious diversity as a specific type of social diversity, but one that cannot be considered just another facet of ethnic diversity. In some specific context, religious diversity might be an ethnic border, crosscutting other life domains and shaping attitudes and behaviors, but its effect is mediated by several individual factors such as intensity of religious beliefs and personal religious denominations. Moreover, in the long run, its effect is impacted by modernization and secularization. This is basically the general framework of my presentation. I am testing my hypotheses empirically, using international survey data (World Values Survey and European Values Survey) and running analyses that allow both cross-sectional effects (Multilevel regression Models) and time dependency effects (Changing Parameters Model) to be investigated. The results show that while ethnic and linguistic diversity has increasingly impacted political attitudes and behaviors over last two decades, the impact of religious diversity has decreased. The effect is more pronounced in the case of attitudes related to public areas, like politics and civic life, and less important in the case of attitudes and behavior related to private areas, such as gender roles. Moreover, individual religious affiliation is an important mediator, too; compared to other denominations, Protestants share more prodemocratic and proactive behaviors in a diverse religious society.

—    Why do you think it's so important to research and talk about religious diversity and its impact on social life?

—   For a time, religion and religious diversity were rarely the focus of public and scientific debate. However, the terrorist attacks that we experienced during the last two decades and the fact that they had a religious background made the topic of religion more salient. Religion and its consequences on social life are increasingly the focus of scientific research because religion is perceived as a salient inter-group border. Moreover, nowadays the world is not a world without religion as was predicted by secularization theory; it is rather a world of à la carte religiosity. Basically, modernization eroded the power of traditional religiosity and opened the floor for new religious movements, highly individualized and less connected with traditional religious institutions. Consequently, the religious spectrum is more diverse, and we should really take into account the impact of religious diversity on social life.

—    Are there more diversities now than, let's say, 10-15 years ago? Are we ready for them? Do we know how to educate people about cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversities?

—   We are living today in a very diverse world. This diversity is due partially to a higher influx of migrants in the Western world and partially to the availability of instant, long-distance communication. Twenty years ago, it was more difficult to get in touch with someone living in a different country. The phone was helpful, but expensive and not available to everyone. Now the internet makes possible direct communication with people located very far away. This instantly put us in touch with people from different cultures and basically increases the level of diversity that we experience in our daily lives. Of course, we need to learn how to cope with diversity, how to be tolerant, and how to respect diverse customs, opinions, and values. Tolerance is an important value, and it is easily acquired in early childhood when one interacts with peers of a different cultural background. The most difficult thing here is to learn not to blame the differences, but to prize diversity.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service

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