How liberals and conservatives are alike and apart: A research autobiography

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Book Chapter


I grew up in Denmark for most of my childhood. Unlike the United States, Denmark is not particularly diverse. Thiswas evenmore truewhen Iwas a child, as there were fewer immigrants than now. The vast majority of Danes, then and now, value a society where all individuals have relatively equal access to education, health services, and work and civic opportunities. In turn, everyone is expected to contribute substantial time and taxes to make this vision a sustainable reality. It is a vision and a reality based on beliefs in individual autonomy coupled with collective responsibility (see also Vainio, Chapter 3, this volume). It is not, however, based on religious or spiritual beliefs (Arnett & Jensen, 2015; Zuckerman, 2008). Religion is largely absent from individual and collective consideration. For example, unlike in the United States, meetings in city hall do not start with a prayer. There is no pledge of allegiance invoking divinity. Nor does themonetary unit avow a “trust in God.” The vast majority of Danes very rarely attend religious services.When they do it is typically to affirm family and communal ties and traditions, such as at weddings, rather than belief in God. On worldwide surveys assessing extent of religious and spiritual belief and behavior, Denmark repeatedly comes out rock bottom (Crabtree, 2010). At 18, I immigrated with my family to the United States. Like many immigrants, we came with educational and occupational aspirations (Suárez-Orozco, 2015). We were hopeful and fascinated. We also felt apart and puzzled. Certainly, the religious side of the United States was mysterious. Living in Atlanta, we wondered on Sundays where all those cars with very well-dressed people were going during the morning hours. After a busy week, all we wanted to do was read the newspaper and drink strong Gevalia coffee. Where were those Americans going? It took us several Sundays to figure it out. By the early 1990s, I had decided to delve more deeply and systematically into this American religious side.

Publication Title

Moral Development in a Global World: Research from a Cultural-Developmental Perspective

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moral psychology, insight, autobiography, conservatives