Clashes, Sex, and Cognitive Dissonance

Later this month I’m giving two public presentations (one at a conference and one in a small, 10-person room) about a paper I’ve been working on for about six months (it gets moved around the burners depending on my workload). The point of these presentations is to allow faculty, students, and the general public to comment on my work prior to completing it. This allows me to catch mistakes I missed, learn from people in different fields who might have better insight into certain elements of my paper, and to offer myself an opportunity to take my work in new directions. Without getting too deep into the content of the 6,000 word paper, here are my main findings:

  1. Religiosity is a product of variances in existential security (see Pippa/Inglehart 2004). As existential security increases, religiosity decreases.
  2. Beliefs about gender and sex are constructed in the state of the world according to the degree of existential security. As existential security decreases, religiosity increases, and beliefs about gender and sex fall in line with traditional church/mosque doctrines. As existential security increases, beliefs about sex and gender secularize.
  3. If we take populations from areas of high religiosity and thus low existential security and displace them into a secular environment (for example, Muslim migrants from Morocco into Spain), cognitive dissonance and the host country’s insistence that the migrant’s traditional beliefs about human sexuality and gender are “backwards” can force the migrant to coalesce with other migrants and hold onto their beliefs (see Festinger, 1956). In other words, their traditional beliefs about sex and gender will self-reinforce due to an initial culture shock and the host country’s subsequent backlash against migration.
  4. The migrant community’s alienation and its consequent doubling down on beliefs—if it prevails—and if the migrant population grows large enough that it significantly overlaps with the host country’s secular communities—will form the basis of a future clash (see Huntington 1996), ranging from attempts at sectarianization through policy or social change to (when that fails) violent outbursts (e.g. the Madrid train bombings).
  5. This can be mitigated through industrialization, which increases existential security in lesser-developed nations. I freely admit this is going to be difficult, and furthermore, due to the effect of cognitive dissonance, it could take several generations to secularize beliefs about gender and sex. Personally, I wouldn’t count on Huntington’s “Clash” theory being proven wrong during our lifetimes.

The first time I presented this paper in December I got some good feedback and criticism about it. The best question I was asked was whether or not I thought the public school systems, which are generally secular organizations in most secular states, could prove me wrong about my view that it will take many generations before sectarian beliefs secularize. I am not so certain, and I made note of this in a subsequent draft of my paper. I wrote:

This is very likely true in many cases; however, the rate of immigration and familial pressures will hinder liberalization and secularization among these young populations. Furthermore, in the case of Islamic radicalization, there are several instances of young people—even Western-born people—being radicalized almost instantaneously. [Furthermore,] if education and social systems were able to adequately join the Moroccan/Algerian and Spanish societies in terms of their levels of secularization, it would have happened already.

[I confess that the last sentence is not very strong at all, and I will probably remove it or back it up substantially.]

So the point of this post—if you’ve made it this far—is to offer you an opportunity to comment on and critique my scholarly work. It isn’t that often when my academic career overlaps with this blog in any meaningful way. If you think I’ve missed something along the way, or even if you think I’m completely wrong, feel free to help me in the pursuit of truth.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political and social activist.
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