Book chapter

The Impact and Conceptualization of Religious Identity Across Disciplinary Perspectives (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Religion is among the most powerful forces in the world and therefore one of the most prominent sources of both individual and group identification. Because of this, scholars have spent decades attempting to pinpoint its impact on numerous psychological, social, and political outcomes. A review of extant work shows religion in general (and religious identity in particular) affects mental and physical health; social relations, outgroup hostility, and conflict; and political attitudes and behavior.Importantly, however, the social scientific study of religion has conceptualized and operationalized religious "identity" along different lines: sociologists and political scientists typically define it as religious affiliation (assessed demographically or by self-placement into nominal religious categories) or religiosity (based on one's frequency of worship attendance and/or how personally "important" one feels religion is), while social psychologists show greater interest in how psychologically central religion is to one's self-concept. These distinct approaches underscore that scholars have both meant disparate things by their usage of "identity" and "identification," as well as measured each term in nonequivalent ways. Moving forward, greater interdisciplinary dialogue—and ideally the establishment of a common metric—would be beneficial in order to better isolate why religion is a more central social identity for some people than others; the extent to which identification with religion overlaps with religiosity; where religious identity fits in among the multitude of identity options with which citizens are confronted; and how the determinants of strong versus weak religious identification vary across person, context, and religious tradition.