University of North Texas

Intellectual Humility in Religious Leaders

Joshua N. Hook



The purpose of this project is to examine the theoretical links between religious diversity, intellectual humility (IH), and religious tolerance in religious leaders. Our main hypothesis is that the awareness and experience of religious diversity will be associated with higher levels of IH, which in turn will be associated with higher levels of religious tolerance and the ability to develop and maintain positive relationships with individuals who have different religious beliefs and values.Religion is an area that is difficult to engage with IH. Religious beliefs and values are often strongly defended for both individual and social reasons. On the individual level, adherence to a religious system may decrease existential anxiety and increase self-esteem as one follows the precepts of one’s religion. On the social level, people are ‘groupish’ and have a tendency to defend the groups they are members of and derogate members of other groups. Religion may be an especially powerful form of group membership because it provides a mechanism to form a moral community that binds individuals together. Historically (and today), religious disagreement has often led to conflict, sometimes with violent and disastrous consequences.

Thus, the current project explores IH and religious tolerance in three samples of religious leaders. Religious leaders may be especially important to study because they often hold positions of power in the area of religious discourse, sometimes with thousands of followers who listen to their sermons and read their books. Also, religious leaders often have major roles in mediating religious disagreements and conflicts, so the ability of religious leaders to engage with others who hold different religious convictions has important implications for resolving conflicts between religious groups.

We propose three studies in the current grant proposal. In Study 1, religious leaders from community and academic settings will complete measures of IH, religiousness, experience with religious diversity, and religious tolerance. In Study 2, religious-leaders-in-training (i.e., attending seminaries) will complete a similar set of measures at four time points over two years. In Study 3, religious leaders consist of undergraduate students who are leaders in campus-based religious organizations. They will complete a series of activities that require cooperation and dialogue with members of other religious perspectives. The overall hypothesis is that IH will be associated with (a) higher levels of religious tolerance and (b) the ability to develop and maintain positive relationships with individuals from diverse religious backgrounds and perspectives.

The intellectual merit of this project focuses on providing empirical support to theoretical associations between religious diversity, IH, and religious tolerance. Furthermore, the project addresses these associations in religious leaders—a population with the potential to make real changes in religious discourse both in the United States and in the world. The broader impacts of this project include providing information for how best to encourage religious cooperation and mediate religious disagreement and conflict. This contribution will influence future research and has implications for improving peaceful interactions both at an interpersonal level and at a broad cultural level.