Wilkins and Martin win grant to explore religious values and public virtue

In Obergell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry. In response, some opponents of the ruling argued that the growing acceptance of LGBT individuals would impede the ability of Christians to practice their faith — as if gains for one group necessarily involved losses for the other.

A new study led by two faculty members at Washington University in St. Louis is aiming to explore the root causes of such zero-sum thinking.

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences, will serve as principal investigator for “Harnessing Religious Values to Increase Public Virtue.” Lerone A. Martin, associate professor in the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and incoming director of American Culture Studies in Arts & Sciences, will serve as co-principal investigator.

The two-year study — which recently received an award of $187,176 from The Self, Virtue, & Public Life research initiative — builds on a series of pilot surveys with approximately 500 Christians of various denominations. It will combine in-person interviews with quantitative psychological analyses to assess the extents to which faith communities perceive bias against their own groups; the motivations and policy implications of those beliefs; and potential strategies for addressing zero-sum thinking and the resulting tensions between Christian and LGBT groups.

The Self, Virtue, & Public Life is funded by the Templeton Religion Trust through the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing. The trust supports interdisciplinary research that engages “big questions,” such as the relationship between scientific discovery and religious exploration, human flourishing and the common good.