When people from different social groups mix, they generally come away with a more positive attitude towards the other social group. However, this benefit is not always symmetrical – people from a minority group are less likely to emerge with improved attitudes. It depends on how they perceive the experience, and how they perceive the dynamics between their social group and the majority group.
Nick Hopkins and Vered Kahani-Hopkins have explored such perceptions by analysing some of the diverse positions on inter-faith dialogue adopted by British Muslims in the 1990’s. For example, they found speakers at one event arguing that inter-faith dialogue was unhelpful until the Muslim community was fully united and better organised.
One speaker said: “At present interfaith dialogue is conducted on both sides by individuals and groups who have no interest in Islam. Under such circumstances interfaith dialogue becomes a tool through which the religious rights of one group – Muslims – are slowly eroded away”.
Hopkins told The Digest: “It seems that for some minority group activists, interventions involving contact could be problematic because they are perceived as undermining group members’ abilities to act collectively and bring about social change”.
However, this was not a feeling held by all Muslims at the time. Hopkins and Kahani-Hopkins also analysed a 1997 report by the Runneymede Trust – ‘Islamaphobia: a challenge for us all’ which represented an important strand of Muslim opinion. The report emphasised the need for inter-group contact if Islamaphobia were to be overcome, and mentioned “the importance of practical projects which require people from different communities and faiths to work as partners on the resolution of shared problems, and to make common cause to other bodies”.
The researchers believe it is only through this kind of careful, qualitative analysis of how people think about inter-group dynamics that a more realistic, politically sophisticated understanding of how different groups feel about intergroup contact can be achieved.
Hopkins, N. & Kahani-Hopkins, V. (2006). Minority group members’ theories of intergroup contact: A case study of British Muslims’ conceptualisations of ‘Islamaphobia’ and social change. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 245-264.