Universität Bielefeld

© Simon A. Eugster

Xenosophia and Religion in Germany

Central question

Using questionnaire data (N=1,534), a reaction time experiment (N=272), and personal interviews (N=27), this project has aimed at investigating paths to xenosophia and xenosophic. Our research was taking place in a time of an epidemic global increase of prejudice and xenophobia, particularly against immigrants and refugees, an epidemic that obviously has infected also political leaders. Thereby the central concern of the study was to complement the investigation of these pathogenic developments with a salutogenic perspective, which documents the development of xenosophic attitutdes such as a culture of welcome. The question regarding a culture of welcoming became highly topical during our investigation period, because of the then increasing flood of refugees arriving in Germany and Europe. Of central interest for our study were the psychological and biographical contexts of pathogenic developments that cause xenophobia and the salutogenic development that may lead to xenosophic attitudes. Special attention was paid to the assessment of religious schemata, which were hypothesized to function as mediators for xenophobic and xenosophic attitudes. Out of the sample, a subsample of n=27 has been invited to participate in a personal interview which attends to biography and faith development.


Xenosophic attitudes

Xenosophia is a term that needs explanation, because it is new to empirical research. The Ancient Greek word xenos means the stranger or foreigner —as in today’s meaning of ‘xenophobia;’ and the Ancient Greek word sophia means wisdom. Thus ‘xenosophia’ means the wisdom that might emerge from the encounter with the strange and the wisdom of adequately responding to the strange. While we are probably the first to introduce this term in empirical research, we are not the first to use the word. We have been inspired by Waldenfels’ (2011) philosophy of the alien and by Nakamura’s (2000) book with the title Xenosophie , in which he presents “building blocks for a theory of alienness.” Inspired by these philosophers, we propose as decisive characteristic of ‘xenosophia’ a specific kind of responsivity that resists hastily putting the strange in a box and making it an other . Xenosophia describes a process which does not shield off against the challenge of the alien, but keeps the openness of the unexpected, challenging experience that cannot assimilated or integrated. Xenosophia resists the premature abandonment of perplexity. It can “stand” paradox and appreciates the “goat” of the alien. Xenosophia thus values the “surplus” of the alien, nurtures is creative potential. Thus Xenosophia is the wisdom that we may expect to emerge from the encounter with the alien.


Quantitative data were obtained with established psychometrical instruments, which have been applied to survey the entire sample (N = 1,534). The questionnaire included a number of measures for religiosity, among them a question for religious affiliation, a scale for the centrality of religiosity, scales for fundamentalism and pluralism, for religious schemata (RSS; Streib, Hood, & Klein, 2010), and a number of single-items asking for preferred self-rating as religious, spiritual, or atheist. Among these measures, the assessment of religious schemata deserves special interest, because we assumed that the style in which religious beliefs, emotions and experiences are processed is essential for the way in which religiosity affects attitudes either in a direction toward more tolerance, interest, and acceptance toward the “strange,” or in a direction toward more prejudice and devaluation. Further measures have been applied to assess values and generalized attitudes such as tolerance of complexity or violence-legitimizing norms of masculinity. An additional single-item asked for the general political orientation (left-right). The demographic section of the questionnaire included questions about age, sex, origin, residence, and economic and cultural capital. Finally, also explicit attitudes toward certain groups such as Jews, Christians, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, blacks, homosexuals, and women have been measured with a selection of established items in the questionnaire. Further quantitative data involve reaction time measured in a series of three Single-Category Implicit Association Tests (SC-IATs) assessing rather impulsive, implicit attitudes toward the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The SC-IATs have been performed with a subsample of n = 272 persons who have been recruited in and around the city of Bielefeld and at Bielefeld University.


Religious schemata

For empirical research on religious styles, we have developed and validated a scale, which includes a clear focus on xenosophia: the Religious Schema Scale (RSS). This scale taps into inter-religious attitudes. One of three schemata in this scale is labelled "xenosophia/inter-religious dialog (xenos)" and consists of five items:"We can learn from each other what ultimate truth each religion contains;" "We need to look beyond the denominational and religious differences to find the ultimate reality;" "When I make a decision, I am open to contradicting proposals from diverse sources and philosophical standpoints;" "Religious stories and representations from any religion unite me with the ultimate universe;" "The truth I see in other world views leads me to re-examine my current views." Together with the two other contrasting schemata 'truth of texts and teachings' (ttt) and 'fairness, tolerance and rational choice' (ftr), the RSS is supposed to support the investigation of inter-religious attitudes.


Our findings are detailed in our publication: Streib, H. & Klein, C. (Eds.) (2018). Xenosophia and Religion: Biographical and Statistical Paths for a Culture of Welcome . Cham, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London: Springer International Publishing Switzerland.

In our Study, we have conducted interviews with 27 participants, who were systematically selected from a pool of 108 participants, who indicated in the questionnaire their readiness for an interview. Based on a conceptual framework for the construction of a typology, we have selected interviewees; and finally four cases that have been selected for case studies. These four cases present our typology of biographical paths to xenosophia. They are presented in detail in Chapters 11 through 14 of our book. To give you an example of our interview study, we present the case study of Nina F.

It became evident in the statistical analyses that religion per se does explain little, if religion is identified only by the frequency of church attendance or of prayer, or by the degree of belief in God. The dividing lines are going right through religion itself: between a religion, which is preoccupied with and focused on one‘s own culture, group, family and the family‘s honor, on the one hand, and a religion, which is open for complexity and dialogue, on the other hand. The dividing lines are specified by distinct religious schemata, as we say. These schemata can be measured with the Religious Schema Scale (RSS, Streib, Hood, & Klein, 2010) which we have developed. The RSS differentiates between three religious schemata: 1. truth of texts and teachings (ttt) , 2. fairness, tolerance and rational choice (ftr) und 3. xenosophia/inter-religious dialog (xenos) . As structural equation modeling shows, religious schemata and Norms of Masculinity have the strongest effect on xenophobic prejudice and a culture of welcoming people.

To sum up: While xenophobia is affected by the inability to deal with complexity and by the Norms of Masculinity, which in turn may be legitimized by religion, xenophilia and the culture of welcoming people who seek protection, in contrast, flourish in a climate of tolerance of complexity and of openness towards being challenged by the alien and the alien religion (xenosophia).