Humans are naturally wired to group together characteristics in order to make connections to seemingly unrelated things. This is why we categorize plants, animals and one another. This quickly turns into stereotyping, especially in current society where artificial connections occur frequently. While labeling is a global commonality, it is a negative, exclusive way of defining people, religious and otherwise.
Warren Blumenfeld, social justice writer for the Huffington Post, said in his column, “a stereotype is an oversimplified, preconceived and standardized conception, opinion, affective attitude, judgment or image of a person or group held in common by members of other groups.”
Using this definition, anytime someone mentions comedic Jews; terrorist, turban-wearing Muslims; stoner Buddhists or Mary-worshipping Catholics, they are categorizing a religion.
Some stereotypes are used as entertainment while others are used as discrimination. Yet these labels negatively impact all those who walk under a religious umbrella. Everyone who claims a religion as part of their identity has felt the repercussions of something assumed of them, even though it may not be applicable to the person or their religion.
“Stereotypes may have originally contained some small grain of truth, but that element has since been exaggerated, distorted or in some way taken out of context,” Blumenfeld said. “Stereotypes, therefore, may be based on false generalizations derived from very small samples or even from a unique case. Some stereotypes have no foundation in fact at all.”
Though widespread, many categorizations begin with flimsy foundations. Some, like the polygamous Mormon, come from the history of a religion. The early history of Mormonism showed a strong belief that men should have multiple wives so their polygamous stereotype has a historical foundation.
Other stereotypes were taken from factual information and warped in the process, producing misleading assumptions, like Mary-worshipping Catholics. Many Catholics do ask Mary to pray alongside them, as God is not likely to ignore his own mother, but any practicing Catholic would not condone outright worship of her. Mary is seen as a role model and leader, someone to admire but not to worship.
Yet a third type of label is one that is completely misled and ill founded. They stem from someone assuming something without checking if it is factual. For in stance, Muslim men do not wear religious headwear. Islamic women do wear hijabs but turbans are traditionally worn by Sikhs.
All three of these foundations for stereotyping are harmful to the religion and its followers. The resulting categories provide false information in some way that create false, injurious identities for anyone associated with them.
Religious stereotypes equally harm both people and the religions themselves. When something is assumed because of religion, a person’s unique personality is shunned and forgotten. They are labeled by what their religion might suggest about them, and often people do not take the time to further their knowledge of someone after a stereotype has been attached to that person.
The same occurs with the breath of a religion. Once people have a general definition to base their opinion and information on for a religion, they do not take the time to learn more about the religion to experience the religion completely.
As categorizing religions often supplies little to no information, the general knowledge people do have about religions is insufficient and inaccurate, which increases religious prejudices and worsens political and social problems.
The Holocaust was the result of widespread ignorance of the Jewish community and its traditions. Stereotypes were used to create fear and mistrust against the Jews. The result was the loss of more than 6 millions lives and World War II. Deaths will continue to increase if society fails to recognize and lessen religious assumptions.
In a society where religious topics are incredibly controversial, there is little room for inaccurate stereotypes. These labels add unnecessary clutter to already littered problems and bias those who believe them to negative, uneducated views of religious people, worsening the problems.
Gaining knowledge of religions you are unaccustomed to is a crucial part of improving society and creating peace throughout communities. Stereotypes run rampant, and they need to be overcome to prevent unnecessary religious turmoil.