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Religious tolerance thrives in Omaha


Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 14:01

In a time when religious differences are polarizing the masses, the city of Omaha appears to be a safe haven of tolerance.

In a study conducted by University of Nebraska at Omaha senior Amanda Ryan, people with different religious and ethnic backgrounds revealed an overall sense of acceptance from the community regarding their religious identity.

Ryan, a religious studies major, based her study on interviewee responses from – a site sponsored by Project Interfaith. People taking part in the interviews are asked how they self-identify religiously, and whether they feel acceptance from their community.

There are more than 20 categories that people on the website have identified as their religious affiliation. Ryan chose to focus on four of those categories for her research.

“I looked at Roman Catholics as a baseline for a feeling of acceptance and then looked at how Buddhists, Muslims and Atheists felt accepted in comparison,” Ryan said.

Overall, Ryan said the interview subjects expressed feeling accepted by their community in terms of their religious affiliation. A higher percentage of those people who identified as being Atheist, however, did express feelings of not being accepted in comparison with the other three groups.

“I think a big part of why Atheists feel some animosity from their community has to do with exposing their beliefs to family members who may be religious and unaccepting of the idea of not believing in God,” Ryan said.

One of the major obstacles to acceptance that was identified by the interviewees on was the idea that Atheists are immoral. In his interview with the website, Cody, an Atheist from Omaha, speaks about this stereotype:
“A stereotype that impacts me is the stereotype that all Atheists are immoral or that since I’m coming from a Christian background, the reason I became an Atheist is because I want to do drugs and be a hoodlum. When in reality I’m a better person now than I was when I was a Christian.”

Ryan’s faculty mentor is chairperson of the Philosophy and Religion department, Paul Williams. Her research is being funded by a FUSE grant which, according to UNO’s website, is available to faculty-mentored undergraduate students who are engaging in research and creative activity.

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