A study of cultural empathy and attitude toward diversity: The case of Australian church attenders

Lily A. Arasaratnam-Smith, Miriam Pepper, Ruth Powell, Nicole Ward

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Australia’s context is one of increasing ethnic and religious diversity. Intercultural communication is an everyday reality, with cultural empathy fostering intercultural competence. Yet ideas about belonging to Australia are complex and contested. This study addresses a paradox within the context of Christian churches. Church attenders have a high sense of belonging to Australia, which has been found in other studies to be negatively related to empathy. Yet, individuals have opportunities for intercultural contact within church settings, which is associated with positive intercultural relations and reduced prejudice. This study examines data from 1,700 participants (aged 15 years and over) in the 2016 National Church Life Survey to test relationships between empathy, attitude to diversity, and belonging to Australia, taking into account congregational ethnic diversity, levels of bonding, and country of birth. Results provide some evidence that culturally diverse congregations provide opportunities to foster cultural empathy. There was also an interaction between country of birth and belonging. Belonging and attitude to diversity were not related amongst attenders born in non-English speaking countries, but were negatively related amongst those born in English-speaking countries, despite opportunity for regular contact with outgroup members. Future work would benefit from improved measures of ethnicity and further understanding of how belonging and identity operates for different groups of Australians. Implications for church leaders are that while intercultural proximity alone may not be sufficient to foster positive attitudes towards diversity, positive interactions among perceived peers with shared goals may be more effective.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch in the social scientific study of religion
EditorsRalph W. Hood, Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor
Place of PublicationLeiden, The Netherlands
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9789004443969
ISBN (Print)9789004443488
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2020


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