New Study on Islamophobia

What citizens think about Muslim immigrants has important implications for some of the most pressing challenges facing Western democracies. Yet scholarship has so far only looked at the generalities of anti-Muslim sentiment, ignoring citizens’ specific attitudes toward Muslim immigrants.

A new study by Marc Helbling and Richard Traunmüller dismantles the simplistic dichotomy between liberal supporters and conservative critics of immigration and reveals the friction between political liberalism and religious fundamentalism also plays an important role.

The results of the online survey suggest that Muslim immigrants in the UK are not per se viewed more negatively than Christian immigrants. Instead, British citizens’ Islamophobia stems to a large extent from a rejection of fundamentalist forms of religiosity, particularly among advocates of left-wing and liberal politics who are generally open to immigration. This group might be more positive towards immigrants themselves, but they are more critical of religious groups than their conservative neighbors.

Animosity toward Muslims is therefore driven by the fear of traditional religiosity as a threat to Western liberal values, secularism, and democracy. These findings are particularly relevant given current concerns over civic cohesion, asylum policy, and political responses to terrorism.

The study was published in the British Journal of Political Science.

About the Authors

Marc Helbling is a Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bamberg and a Research Fellow in the WZB’s Migration, Integration, and Transnationalization research program.

Richard Traunmüller is a Visiting Professor of Quantitative Methods in the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Mannheim and an Assistant Professor for Empirical Democracy Research at Goethe University Frankfurt.