Monday, November 17, 2014

Exploring Homophobia in Georgia: Part 3

This is the third blog post in a series where we analyze homophobia in Tbilisi and is focused on potential relationships between religiosity and homophobia. The previous blog posts in this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.

In a number of studies, religiosity has been linked to lower levels of support for human rights for homosexuals (Johnson, Brems, & Alford-Keating, 1997; Adamczyk, A., & Pitt, C., 2009; Merino, S. M., 2013). This literature, on the one hand, and the clergy’s active participation in the May 17 events in Tbilisi in 2013 on the other hand, led us to the question - are religiosity and homophobia related to each other, and if they are, what is the strength of the relationship?

In the CRRC-Georgia survey on the events of May 17, 2013, religiosity was measured with one variable - frequency of attendance at religious services (question “Not to speak about special occasions, such as weddings or funerals, how often do you attend religious services?”). It was expected that those who do so regularly and, hence, have more exposure to religious sermons, would be more homophobic than those who attend religious activities less often. The findings, however, do not prove this hypothesis. As the chart below shows, over half of Tbilisi residents rarely or never attend religious services.
Homophobia was measured by a dummy variable generated based on the question, “[Whom] would you not wish to [be] your neighbor most?” with the categories 0 = others, 1 = homosexuals. Neither independent t-test (t (n=526) =.669, p = 504), nor correlation (Kendall’s τ (214) = -.09) showed any evidence that frequency of attendance of religious services was statistically related to homophobic attitudes.
This finding may come as a surprise for many readers, and it should certainly be interpreted taking into consideration the nature of religiosity in Georgia. According to the CRRC 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey, the overwhelming majority of  Georgians consider themselves to belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church (10% of the population reports being Muslim). Trust in the religious institutions people belong to, and the reported importance of religion in their daily lives are high: 72% of the population reports fully trusting these institutions, and 93% think that religion is either “very important” or “rather important” in their daily lives. At the same time and in contrast to these reported attitudes, actual religious practices such as service attendance, fasting and prayer are rather low throughout Georgia. In light of this, the lack of a statistical relationship between religious service attendance and homophobia is less surprising than at first glance.
Finally, if we assume that attending religious services leads people to a better understanding and internalization of religious principles, this finding becomes even less surprising. Since there is much more in the Bible about love and tolerance than there is about hatred and judging others, those who attend religious services may have internalized these messages.
The mismatch between high trust towards the church and the reported importance of religion, on the one hand, and a lack of actual involvement in religious practices, on the other hand, highlights the multidimensional nature of religiosity in Georgia. In the May 17 survey, CRRC-Georgia asked respondents about only one dimension of religiosity – religious service attendance. This dimension may not be the most accurate measure of religiosity in Georgia (and, most probably, only one measure would not be enough to understand this phenomenon anyway). Having data on other aspects of religiosity, like participation in religious practices, the level of trust towards religious institutions or the importance of religion in one’s daily life, would allow us to conduct a more sophisticated analysis of the relationship between religiosity and homophobia and could change the picture that we have at this point. We consider this task a priority for further analysis.

The next blog post in this series will discuss the influence of education and liberal values on homophobic attitudes among Tbilisi residents.

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