Anti-Muslim Sentiment in America

Very excited to announce that Social Problems has accepted our paper using American Mosaic Project data, collected here at the University of Minnesota, analyzing the sources and nature of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. Building on recent work in critical race theory and a theoretical approach to national belonging that focuses on symbolic boundaries, we show that Muslim-Americans are excluded on religious, racial, and civic grounds simultaneously. Nearly half of Americans expressed anti-Muslim sentiment in responding to our survey (fielded in 2014) and we show that while social location is associated with negative views of Muslims (gender, education level), cultural factors matter more, especially an understanding of American identity rooted in a white, Christian cultural heritage and a de facto English Protestant civic culture.

This paper builds on our earlier project work using data from our 2003 survey. In an article published in 2008 in Social Problems, Eric Tranby and I found that those who value and want to preserve a white Christian cultural heritage were more willing than are other Americans to exclude a wider range of ethnic, religious, and other minorities. A team of project researchers has replicated this analysis with data from our 2014 survey and found that this applies not only to symbolic exclusion, but willingness to deny civil liberties to a range of minority groups. And in our research on anti-atheist sentiment we develop the symbolic boundaries framework that articulates the intersection of repertoires of beliefs about American identity and religiosity.

Taken together, this research helps us to understand the origins and resonance of Christian nationalist appeals in the public arena today. Such appeals resonate with a broad cultural understanding of the nature of American identity that goes beyond the confines of a conservative White evangelical subculture. This understanding excludes Muslims on multiple dimensions simultaneously, which helps to explain both the scope and durability of anti-Muslim sentiment and which reveals the intersection of religion, race, and understandings of citizenship and American identity that motivate much of conservative religious expression in the public arena today.