Indian American-led study finds religious tolerance among children in India

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Mahesh Srinivasan (Courtesy: psychology.berkeley.edu)

A new study led by Mahesh Srinivasan, an Indian American psychologist at UC Berkeley, concludes that children in India are showing a remarkable level of acceptance of rules and practices of other religions.

Conflicts arise when members of one religion apply their norms to members of another religion, it said.

However, the study found that “even in a setting marred by religious conflict, children can restrict the scope of a religion’s norms to members of that religion, providing a basis for peaceful coexistence.”

Researchers, including Srinivasan, Audun Dahl, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz and Elizabeth Kaplan at Syracuse University in New York, worked with about 100 Hindu and Muslim children between the ages of 9 and 15, at two different schools in a specific region known for its history of Hindu-Muslim violence, in the state of Gujarat.

According to a UC Berkeley press release, they focused on different Hindu and Muslim norms as well as asked the children about hitting people to see what they said about moral norms, and found that though most children prefer to mingle with members of their own religion, they do not believe that their religion’s norms should be practiced by people of other faiths, but at the same time they should respect each others’ religious norms and customs.

The children also said that it is wrong for people of both religions to harm other people in any way.

“Children recognize that the norms of one religion — such as the Hindu prohibition against eating beef or the Muslim custom to fast during Ramadan — don’t apply to members of another religion,” Srinivasan quoted in a UC Berkeley press release.

“The study provides some hope that children raised in a region with a history of communal conflict can nevertheless develop tolerant attitudes and respect for other religious practices. There has been alarming violence in recent years in India stemming from religious differences, such as whether it’s okay to eat beef. Our findings provide hope that such conflicts could subside over time,” he added.

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