The Power Of Religious (Jewish) Stereotypes In The Workplace

May 25th, 2012 | Categories: Religion

For today’s Casual Friday at The Communicated Stereotype, I thought I would take a casual approach to my blog and highlight commentary on stereotypes that demonstrates the power of religious stereotypes communicated in the workplace. Check out this link for replies to a question about stereotypes in the workplace:

How do you deal with ethnic stereotyping from a colleague in the form of innocent questions?

That the stereotypes being discussed are Jewish stereotypes strikes me as particularly interesting. First, Jewish stereotypes in particular are often uniquely viewed as ethnic stereotypes because of the intersection of Jewish religion with Jewish ethnic culture and, at an extreme, Zionism. Second, religious stereotypes are not as commonly discussed as ethnic, racial, or gender stereotypes – evident in the archives of my own blog as well. Third, part of the reason religious stereotypes are not as often discussed is that most people to do not wear their religion on their sleeves; that is to say, a person’s religion is not always visible. Third, another reason religious stereotypes are not often discussed is because people may view religion and politics as topics to avoid in conversation.

Nonetheless, people do communicate stereotypes about religion. When they do so, these stereotypes may be framed in such a way as to appear as innocent inquiries for information about a particular religion. This makes arguing against the communicated religious stereotype an inappropriate thing to do. This sense of being inappropriate can be explained by Grice’s Maxims. Grice’s Maxims describe Western norms of behavior related to conversational content. Shifting the discussion from a mere request for information to a more emotionally charged topic like stereotypes violates the maxims of Grice’s theory. The topic shift may be viewed as uninformative thereby violating the maxim of quantity, opinionated and, therefore, unsupported violating the maxim of quality, irrelevant and, so, violating the maxim of relation, and obscure in such a way as to violate the maxim of manner. As a result of these violations, the person who argues against religious stereotypes communicated as information seeking may be perceived as aggressive. Not surprisingly, a controversial and heated discussion may ensure. Hence, the prescription to avoid the topic of religion in the first place. When it comes to the workplace, violating Grice’s maxims is particularly problematic because of the power dynamics involved.

As you read the link, note the lengths to which the person asking the question goes to in order to avoid being perceived as aggressive. For example, the person asking the question states, “it doesn’t make me uncomfortable (well, maybe a touch, but not nearly enough to ask her to stop).” The person just quoted is the boss. Seemingly fearful of how a subordinate will respond, the boss continues, “is it totally dangerous to even HAVE these discussions in a work context?”. Even the responses to the question suggest that the boss has reason to be concerned and should be particularly cautious about the situation. The responses overall view the stereotyper as an innocent inquirer. For example, one commenter responds, “Since she has shown no ill will towards you, show no ill will towards her. Honestly, she may just be looking for a little education. So give it to her.”

How powerful are religious stereotypes communicated in the workplace? Well, powerful enough to reverse a traditional workplace hierarchy and make a boss kowtow to an employee.

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