|Path Home: Empathy, Altruism and Agape | Presenters or Itinerary
Many studies of altruism have focused on personality dispositions, oftentimes in conjunction with situational variables (Eisenberg, 1986; Schroeder et.al., 1995; Oliner & Oliner, 1988, 1992). The study of cultural dispositions in relation to altruism is far less common. Yet culture-more or less shared ways of thinking, feeling and acting among people who share a common identity-has a strong influence on the personality of individuals. There are hundreds of cultures throughout the world, and individuals belong to multiple cultures, including occupational, socioeconomic, and national cultures. Among them, religion is a particularly important one. Interventions to enhance altruism are likely to be more effective if cultural contexts were better understood.
According to sociologist Lester Kurtz (1995), Christians almost universally believe that one should love they neighbor. Whether love means altruism is not entirely clear, and whether neighbor includes ingroup members as well as outgroups is also not clear. Given that Christians include Catholics and Protestants, each of whom has a distinct religious tradition and culture-the latter acquired through networking with other co-religionists in a variety of religious and other social activities‹how might each respond to these questions? More specifically, how might Catholics and Protestants be similar and/or different with respect to altruistic values generally and approaches toward ingroup and outgroup altruism?
Beginning with Max Weber almost a hundred years ago, Protestant culture, as compared with Catholic culture, is more often described as individualistic; that is the self is usually defined as independent, and personal and communal goals as divergent (Triandis, 1995; Kurtz, 1995; Lenski, 1961). It has also more often been described as a masculine culture (Erikson, 1958; Jung, 1952; Ulanov, 1971). In individualistic and masculine cultures, ties between individuals are allegedly loose, implying that they are not very likely to engage in either ingroup or outgroup altruism.
By way of contrast, Catholic culture is purportedly more collectivist (Tropman 1995, Hofstede, 1991)-interdependent and perceiving personal and communal goals as convergent-and feminine (Greeley, 1989, 1990). In collectivist and feminine societies, ties among individuals in the group are allegedly close, implying that they are more likely to engage in ingroup altruism but are unlikely to engage in outgroup altruism (Fiske, 1991). Feminine cultures, on the other hand, are sometimes asserted to be high on both ingroup and outgroup altruism (Hofstede, 1991).
Not all scholars agree about these alleged characteristics, and several argue that matters are far more complex. Data on Protestant and Catholic rescuers and nonrescuers of Jews during the Holocaust collected by the Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute offer a basis for exploring this issue. Rescuers included Protestants and Catholics, indicating that both groups had the capacity for outgroup altruism, albeit in very small numbers. The data suggest that Protestants differed significantly from Catholics in several important ways, and that their approaches to altruism, ingroup and outgroup, reflected different cultural styles. The purpose of this presentation is to explore these differences and their possible implications.
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