Host Culture Acceptance, Religiosity, and the Threat of Muslim Immigration

An Integrated Threat Analysis in Spain

Stephen M. Croucher, Flora Galy-Badenas, & Maria Ruotsalainen

University of Jyväskylä


This study explores the intricate relationships between a dominant group’s fear of an immigrant group, religiosity, and the dominant culture’s perception of if an immigrant group is motivated to culturally adapt. Specifically, Muslim immigration to Spain was analyzed. The study found the following: 1) threat from an immigrant group was negatively correlated with perception of immigrant motivation to adapt, 2) highly religious members of the dominant culture were less likely to believe Muslim immigrants are motivated to culturally adapt, and 3) increased contact with Muslim immigrants led to higher levels of realistic threat and symbolic threat among Spanish Catholics. Implications for integrated threat and intergroup communication research are discussed.

Keywords: Integrated threat theory, Cultural adaptation, Contact hypothesis, Immigration, Islam, Spain


Research abounds discussing the rise of Islamophobia in Europe (Abbas, 2007; Croucher & Cronn-Mills, 2011; Gonzalez, Verkuyten, Weesie, & Poppe, 2008). In each nation, political parties such as the True Finns in Finland, the National Front in France, the People’s Party and the Convergence and Union (Ciu) in Spain have spread anti-Muslim rhetoric. Such rhetoric has painted Muslim immigrants as threats to the European way of life (Stephan, Ybarra, & Bachman, 1999).

Muslim immigration has slowly been increasing since 1990, to an estimated 2-3% of the current Spanish population (Muslims in Europe, 2005). In response to the growing Muslim population, and a perceived Muslim threat, some Spanish lawmakers have begun to propose steps to limit immigration from Islamic nations and to limit expression of Islamic traditions in public (Hurd, 2012; Kern, 2012). Moreover, many Spanish lawmakers and citizens perceive the Muslim population in Spain as unwilling and unable to adapt and fit into Spanish culture (Hurd, 2012). Understanding the variables that relate to the dominant culture fearing/having prejudice toward the growing Muslim population in Spain has both theoretical and practical importance. Theoretically, the perception of threat from Muslim immigrants provides an opportunity to test the effects of integrated threat theory (ITT) (Stephan & Stephan, 1993, 1996) on host environment receptivity. Practically, this examination improves our understanding of the immigration process and intergroup relations. The current analysis adds these theoretical and practical elements to our understanding of threat, host environment receptivity, and the immigration process.

Therefore, the current study explores the relationship between prejudice toward Muslim immigrants to Spain and host culture receptivity of these immigrants. Spain was chosen for analysis for the following reasons. First, Islam is the second largest religious group in Spain, behind Catholicism (Muslims in Europe, 2005). Religion, particularly religiosity (strength of religious devotion) is a key variable in predicting how accepting a group is of religious others (Croucher, 2008; Croucher & Cronn-Mills, 2011). Thus, as Spain is a majority Catholic nation with a slowly growing Muslim minority, it is advantageous to explore religiosity as a potential variable influencing threat and host receptivity. Second, the economic crisis Spain is going through at this time offers an opportune moment to capture one significant type of realistic fear of immigrants, economic fear. Economic fears are highly relevant as research shows concern about the economic situation negatively affects public opinion about immigration (Citrin, Green, Muste, & Wong 1997). Thus, the following study considers the relationship between threat, host environment receptivity, and religiosity in Spain.

Review of Literature

Spain is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, but it is not a secular state (Encarnacíon, 2008). Legally, there are no limits on religious expression. The growing Muslim population in Spain has faced fairly little discrimination in recent years, due to Spain’s relatively de-centralized government. This decentralized government has made it possible for a “viable multicultural state” to emerge (Encarnacíon, 2008, p. 110). Even though Spain has a relatively relaxed immigration regulations, and many Spaniards do not pressure immigrants to assimilate (Encarnacíon, 2008), the 2004 Madrid bombings and the fact that nearly 25% of Spaniards are unemployed (Instituto National de Estadística, 2012) has led to questions regarding immigration in Spain. Immigrants are set to lose health care in Spain (Tremlett, 2012) and some political parties including the People’s Party (PP) and the Convergence and Union (Ciu) are beginning to argue Spain does not have the resources to handle the number of immigrants in Spain. In fact, many Spaniards have started to feel threatened by Muslim immigrants and have begun to not only blame immigrants for economic and social problems, but have started to demand immigrants either leave Spain or become 100% Spanish (Bad news days, 2010; Tremlett, 2012). Muslim immigrants are no longer believed, by a majority of Spaniards, to be willing to adapt to the Spanish society and therefore are not considered as welcomed in Spain. Thus, immigrants have recently become a problem in Spain, something they have not been for many years.

Moreover, the history of reconquesta on the Iberian Peninsula and the complicated relationship which existed between Spaniards and Muslims in that period should not be overlooked. In 711, the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Muslim Moors and they established residence in the area. Islamic Spain lasted more than 800 years, which was characterized by constant conflict as the Christian Kingdoms very soon - from 722 onwards - launched the "reconquesta," an attempt to claim back the land with the support of the Catholic Church. This period lasted until 1495 when the Christians conquered Islamic Spain (Cachia, & Watt, 1965). While exact statements about the effects of the “reconquesta” on current day relations between Muslims and Spaniards cannot be made, it is likely that impact exists.

Integrated Threat

When members of a dominant culture believe their values/beliefs and their group is threatened in some way, prejudicial reactions are likely to develop in response. Prejudice is defined as negative attitudes or beliefs generally expressed through negative emotions or communication toward an out-group (Duckitt, 1992). Factors such as personality, strength of membership in an in-group, adherence to cultural values/beliefs, and perceived differences with an out-group can all affect level of prejudicial expression (Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995). Allport (1954) and Allport and Ross (1967) argued that increased contact between groups, particularly high quality contact should decrease prejudice between groups and facilitate adaptation into the host culture. Thus, the amount of contact members of the dominant culture have with immigrants is related to levels of prejudice. To further explain how prejudice develops in response to a perceived out-group threat, and partially based on the work of Allport (1954), Stephan and Stephan (1993, 1996) posited integrated threat theory (ITT). Stephan and Stephan (1993, 1996) argued threat does not have to be real; perception is enough to lead to a prejudicial response from a dominant group. Four fears can generate prejudice: realistic threats, symbolic threats, negative stereotypes, and intergroup anxiety.

The first kind of threat is realistic threat. These are threats to economic, political and physical resources (Stephan & Stephan, 1996). When resources are limited, or when individuals think there are limited resources, and competition from others, discriminatory behavior and prejudice can emerge over this perceived threat. Historically politicians have often linked immigrant groups to economic problems, a classic economic threat (Croucher, 2008; Hargreaves, 1995). In such situations, immigrants are used as scapegoats for the ills of the economy. In 2012-2013, political parties in Spain (the PP and the Ciu) were blaming immigrants for the rapidly growing unemployment rate in Spain.

Symbolic threat is the second kind of threat. Stephan and Stephan (1993) asserted when a dominant culture encounters a minority culture that they perceive as having different values, beliefs, norms, and worldviews, this could create misperceptions and fear (threat). Research has shown many Muslim immigrant communities have been victims of misperceptions about their values, beliefs, norms, and worldviews, which in turn has led to discrimination, fear, hate, and violence (threat) (Croucher & Cronn-Mills, 2011; Laurence & Vaisse, 2006; Love, 2009; Shaw, 2012). When these immigrant groups are discriminated against, they will often segregate themselves and not make attempts to adapt to the dominant culture (Croucher, 2008).

Negative stereotypes are the third kinds of threat. These are the negative ways in which members of the dominant culture expect the minority culture to behave (Stephan & Stephan, 1993). Negative stereotypes are not a result of realistic or symbolic threats, but instead are another way to communicate fear of a minority group (Stephan & Stephan, 1996). Such negative stereotypes break down communication and lead to fear between groups (Craig & Richeson, 2012; Verkuyten, 1997).

Intergroup anxiety is a fear individuals have when they interact with members of an out-group; this is the fourth kind of threat. As intergroup anxiety increases, threat increases (Islam & Hewstone, 1993). Intergroup anxiety is an individual level fear, a kind of fear one has when directly interacting with an out-group member. The other three kinds of threat are group level threats, kinds of threats an individual has in general regarding a minority/out-group. Therefore, intergroup anxiety is not included as a variable of analysis in this study, as this study considers threat from the group. Previous researchers conducting work in ITT have made the same distinction (Croucher 2013; Stephan & Renfro, 2002; Tausch, Tam, Hewstone, Kenworthy, & Cairns, 2007).

Host Receptivity

When an immigrant moves to a new culture, their cultural adaptation is affected by a variety of factors including their willingness to adapt and the host culture’s level of receptivity and conformity pressure. Receptivity is how accepting or open a society is to newcomers. Mass media portrayals pre-existing notions of groups, economics, and politics (Kim, 1988) all affect receptivity. Conformity pressure is how much the host culture expects immigrant groups to adapt or conform to the values and/or norms of the dominant culture (Croucher, 2008, 2013). In more liberal societies, immigrants are generally allowed more freedom to maintain their own values and/or norms; in more conservative (more ideological) societies, immigrants are typically expected to abandon more of their own values and/or norms for those of the dominant culture (Croucher, 2006). What is key to conformity pressure and receptivity is that they affect an immigrant’s motivation to adapt (Croucher, 2013; Kim, 1988).

Relationship between Threat and Host Receptivity

The following section combines the research on integrated threat and host receptivity to show how prejudice (threat) relates to levels of host receptivity. In various nations, dominant groups have displayed prejudice, hostility, and fear toward minority (immigrant) groups. In countries such as Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Muslim immigrants have been victims of prejudice (Abbas, 2007; Bowen, 2007; Croucher, 2008; Fetzer & Soper, 2005; Tremlett, 2012). Not only have immigrants been victims of prejudice and discrimination, but many groups have been accused of not trying hard enough to adapt to the dominant cultures. When prejudice and hostility increase toward minorities, the chances for productive communication between immigrant groups and the dominant culture decrease, which is an integral part of the cultural adaptation process (Kim, 1988). Prejudice and hostility increase in societies where members of the majority culture perceive their way of life as under attack from the minority cultures, which Stephan and Stephan (1993, 1996) described as an essential element of threat. As Croucher (2009) pointed out, when a situation is unfavorable for an immigrant group to adapt to, such as it is hostile, the group is less likely to want to adapt. Moreover, a dominant culture that is threatened by an immigrant group is more likely to believe that immigrant group is not trying to adapt (Croucher, 2013).

As previous research has demonstrated a negative relationship between threat (real, symbolic, and stereotypes) and perception of immigrant motivation to adapt to the host culture, the following hypothesis tests this relationship:

H: As threat from an immigrant group increases perception of immigrant group motivation to culturally adapt decreases

Effect of Religiosity on Host Receptivity

Religiosity, or religiousness, is the “degree of one’s connection or acceptance of their religious institution, participation in church attendance and activities, as well as one’s regard for the leaders or the religion and church” (Alston, 1975, p. 166). Allport (1954) posited two aspects of religiosity, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic religiosity is how religious beliefs influence an individual’s thoughts, values and motives. Extrinsic religiosity is how an individual acts out their religion and how that religion helps them in daily life. Individuals with higher intrinsic religiosity are more likely to have lower levels of prejudice; while people with higher levels of extrinsic religiosity are more likely to have higher levels of prejudice (Allport & Ross, 1967).

An individual’s level of religiosity is related to their approach to conflict, argumentativeness, self-knowledge, media preferences, and strength of ethnic identification (Blaine, Trivedi, & Eshelman, 1998; Croucher, Oommn, Borton, Anarbeva, & Turner, 2010; Rimmer, 1996). Croucher & Cronn-Mills (2011) hypothesized religiosity could predict how much a dominant religious group believes immigrants lack motivation to adapt. They showed this relationship from a qualitative perspective, but did not directly investigate it from a quantitative approach. The argument is that individuals who are highly religious are more likely to not believe individuals from a different religious community are willing to adapt to the dominant culture and group (Croucher, 2008). Therefore, to better understand the predictive power of religiosity on the perception of immigrant group motivation to culturally adapt, we explored it in Spain, a Catholic nation known for high levels of religious observance (Encarnacíon, 2008). Thus, the following question is posed:

RQ1: To what extent will religiosity predict perception of immigrant group motivation to culturally adapt?

Finally, Spanish Catholics are more than likely going to have more contact with other Catholics than with Muslim immigrants. Research has shown contact with an immigrant group (Croucher, 2013; Stephan & Stephan, 1993, 1996; Verkuyten, 1997) significantly decreases prejudice toward (threat) that group. Croucher (2013) proposed the level of religiosity of an individual may influence their willingness to have contact with an individual from a different religious group. Individuals may perceive an individual from a different religious group as too different from their ingroup, and not want to engage in communication, thus intensifying perceived difference and threat. Therefore, the following question is put forth to explore the predictive nature of religiosity on threat:

RQ2: To what extent will religiosity predict levels of threat?


Participants and Procedures

The total sample was 217 self-identified Catholics in Spain. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 57 (M = 29.88, SD = 9.17). Of the participants, 121 (55.8%) were men and 96 (44.2%) were women. When asked to characterize their highest educational level, 51 (23.5%) said high school or less, 27 (12.4%) said two-years of college, 82 (37.8%) said a college degree, 31 (14.3%) said some graduate education, and 26 (12%) said a graduate degree. All surveys were distributed online via Survey Monkey. Participants were contacted through previously established social networks in Spain using a snowball sampling method (Neuman, 2006). Therefore, this sampling method is not random. However, it represents a case of “sampling to” as opposed to “sampling from” a population (DeMaris, 2004). “Sampling to” a population represents a hypothetical population, who to a certain extent can be understood based on demographic characteristics.


All surveys included demographic questions and the following measures: measure of intergroup contact (González et al., 2008), measure of symbolic threat (González et al. 2008; Stephan, et al., 1999), measure of realistic threat (González et al., 2008), stereotype measure (González et al., 20048), perception of motivation to acculturate measure (Croucher, 2009), and measure of religiosity (Croucher, Turner, Anarbaeva, Oommen, & Borton, 2008). Surveys were originally prepared in English. After the instrument was written in English, native speakers of Spanish translated it. Bilingual speakers then back-translated it. All translations were compared to ensure accuracy (Cohen’s kappa). See Table 1 for the means, standard deviations, correlations, and alphas associated with the study variables by nation.

Intergroup Contact

Four items were used to measure intergroup contact (González et al., 2008), which was included in this study as a control variable. Two sample items include: “How many Muslim friends do you have?” and “Do you have contact with Muslim students or co-workers?” The first item was rated from (1) none to (4) only Muslim friends. The remaining three items were rated from (1) never to (4) often. The alpha for the scale was .70 in the González et al. (2008) study.

Symbolic Threat

Three items measured symbolic threat (González et al., 2008). The items were: “Spanish identity is being threatened because there are too many Muslims,” “Spanish norms and values are being threatened because of the presence of Muslims,” and “Muslims are a threat to Spanish culture.” Responses ranged from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree. A higher score indicated a stronger feeling of threat. The scale has shows high reliability of .89 (González et al., 2008).

Realistic Threat

To measure realistic threat, participants were given three statements that assessed the effects of Muslims on the economic situation in their nation. The statements include: “Because of the presence of Muslims, people have more difficulties finding a job,” “Because of the presence of Muslims, people have more difficulties finding a house,” and “Because of the presence of Muslims, unemployment in Spain will increase.” Responses ranged from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree. Higher scores indicate more threat. This assessment has also shown reliability, .80 (González et al., 2008).


Individuals were asked to what extent the following trait adjectives described Muslims: violent, dishonest, unintelligent, friendly (reverse-scored), arrogant, kind (reverse-scored), avaricious, and inferior. Responses ranged from (1) no, absolutely not, to (5) yes, certainly.The alpha for these traits was .83 in the original González et al. (2008) study.

Perception of Motivation to Acculturate

Participants were asked to respond to four statements modified from Croucher’s (2009) motivation to acculturate scale. Two sample statements are: “I think Muslims want to become Spanish” and “I think Muslims take appropriate steps to be Spanish.” The alpha for the original scale was .83.

Measure of Religiosity (MOR)

This scale has 25 items, and is a uni-dimensional measure of religiosity, or religiousness (Croucher et al., 2008). The MOR treats religiosity as a single construct.[1] The first ten items are on a 7-point scale ranging from never to very often. Sample items include: “I attend regularly scheduled religious services” and “I attend religious services held on religious holidays.” The remaining 15 items are on a 7-point scale ranging from not at all important to very important. Sample items include: “Religion is important when I choose what books to read,” and “Religion is important in who I vote for in elections for political offices.”In the original study, the Cronbach alpha for this scale was .99.

Table 1: Means, Standard Deviations, Correlations, and Alphas for all Study Variables

(1) Religiosity4.541.88.89-
(2) Realistic Threat2.*-
(3) Symbolic Threat1.96.72.85-.07.48**-
(4) Negative Stereotypes3.*.44**.37**-
(5) Perception of Motivation to Acculturate3.971.99.87-.21**-.41**-.40**-.82**-
(6) Intergroup Contact1.**.62**-.02-.07-

Note: * p < .05, **p < .01.



To test the hypothesis, Pearson product-moment correlations were conducted. The hypothesis proposes a negative relationship between threat and perception of immigrant motivation to acculturate. There were significant negative correlations for all three types of integrated threat (realistic threat, symbolic threat, and stereotypes) and perception of immigrant motivation to acculturate. The correlations for perception of immigrant acculturation motivation were (r = -.41, p < .01) for real threat, (r = -.40, p < .01) for symbolic threat, and (r = -.82, p < .01) for stereotypes.

Research Questions

To answer the research questions, multiple regression models were constructed. The first model for each regression included two demographic variables that influence perceptions of immigrant groups: age, and educational level of host culture member. Typically more educated individuals have lower levels of prejudice, are less likely to stereotypes, and less likely to fear immigrants; the relationship with age is a bit more complex. Young educated, and older educated individuals are more likely to have low levels of prejudice, fear, etc…, while older uneducated individuals are more likely to have higher levels of prejudice and fear (Allport & Ross, 1967; Croucher, 2009; Croucher & Cronn-Mills, 2011; Duckitt, 1992; González et al., 2008; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006; Stephan, Ybarra, & Bachman, 1999). Moreover, Croucher and Cronn-Mills (2011) and Croucher (2008) found older individuals with high religiosity are more likely to fear immigrants than young individuals with low religiosity; just as educated individuals with low religiosity are also less likely to be prejudicial than individuals with high religiosity and low levels of education. Thus, cross-products of age and religiosity, and education and religiosity were added in the final models of each regression to test the interactions of these variables.

To answer RQ1, a multiple regression model was generated with perception of immigrant motivation to acculturate as the criterion variable, age and education as control variables, religiosity as the predictor variable, and the cross-products of age and religiosity, and education and religiosity. In model 1, age and education were entered into the model (R2adj = .00). In model 2, religiosity was added to the model (R2adj = .03, p < .05, b = -.21). Model 2 was a significant improvement over model 1 (ΔF = 8.98, p = .01). In model 3, the cross products of age and religiosity and education and religiosity were entered into the model (R2adj= .04, p < .05). This model however, was not a significant improvement over model 2 (ΔF = 2.45, p = ns); therefore, model 2 was retained for final analysis. Age and education were not significant predictors of perception of immigrant motivation to acculturate. See Table 2 for full regression results.

Table 2: Regression model for Perception of Immigrant Motivation to Acculturate

RegressorModel 1Model 2Model 3
Educational Level.01.05-.11
F .153.10*2.87*

Note: * p < .05, **p < .01.

To answer RQ2, three multiple regressions were created using a type of threat as the criterion variable in each regression and religiosity as the predictor variable. Age and education were added as control variables in the first model to test the effects of these demographic controls. Intergroup contact was added as a control variable in the second model to test its effect. Research has shown intergroup contact can affect levels of prejudice between groups. Religiosity was added in the third model. Cross-products of age and religiosity, and education and religiosity were added in the fourth model. Regression results are presented in Tables 3-5.

In predicting realistic threats, in model 1 age and education were added (R2adj = .00). In model 2, intergroup contact (b = .26, p < .01) was added (R2adj= .05, ΔF = 13.74, p = .01). Model 2 was a significant improvement over model 1, showing intergroup contact to have a significant effect on perception of realistic threat from immigrants. In model 3, religiosity (b = -.13) was added to the model (R2adj = .06, ΔF = 3.36, p = .ns). Thus, model 3 was not a significant improvement over model 1. In model 4, cross-products of age and religiosity, and education and religiosity were added (R2adj= .07, ΔF = 1.53, p = .ns). Therefore, model 2 was retained for final analysis. See Table 3 for the full regression results.

Table 3: Regression Model for Realistic Threat

RegressorModel 1Model 2Model 3Model 4
Educational Level.04.00-.03.23
Intergroup Contact.26**.26**.25**

Note: * p < .05, **p < .01.

To predict symbolic threat, age and education were added to model 1(R2adj = .00). In model 2, intergroup contact was added (R2adj = .39). In model 2, intergroup contact (b = .64, p < .001) was added to the model (R2adj= .39, ΔF = 131.90, p = .001). Model 2 was a significant improvement over model 1, showing intergroup contact to have a significant effect on perception of symbolic threat from immigrants. In model 3, religiosity was added to the model (R2adj= .40, ΔF = 2.25, p = .ns). Model 3 was not a significant improvement over model 2. In model 4, cross-products of age and religiosity, and education and religiosity were added (R2adj= .42, ΔF = 2.05, p = .ns). Thus, model 2 was retained for final analysis. See Table 4 for the full regression results.

Table 4: Regression Model for Symbolic Threat

RegressorModel 1Model 2Model 3Model 4
Educational Level.03-.08-.01.17
Intergroup Contact.64***.64***.63***

Note: * p < .05, **p < .01, *** p < .001.

To predict negative stereotypes, age and education were added to model 1 (R2adj = .00). In model 2, intergroup contact (b = -.04, p = ns) was added (R2adj= .00, ΔF = .01, p = .ns). Model 2 was not a significant improvement over model 1. In model 3, religiosity was added, (R2adj= .02, ΔF = 1.15, p = .ns). This model was also not an improvement over the previous model. In model 4, cross-products of age and religiosity, and education and religiosity were added (R2adj= .05, ΔF = 2.79, p = .ns). Thus, model 1 was the final model retained for analysis. See Table 5 for the full regression results.

Table 5: Regression Model for Negative Stereotypes

RegressorModel 1Model 2Model 3Model 4
Educational Level.05.06.08-.20
Intergroup Contact-.04-.04-.02

Note: * p < .05, **p < .01.

Religiosity was a statistically significant predictor of perception of immigrant motivation to culturally adapt (b = -.21, R2adj = .03) (RQ1). However, as Tables 3-5 reveal, religiosity was not a significant predictor of threat from Muslim immigrants in Spain. However, what is interesting to find is that contrary to previous findings and for example decades of work in intergroup communication based on intergroup contact theory and the contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954; Allport & Ross, 1967), increased contact with Muslim immigrants leads to increased feelings of a realistic threat (b = .26) and of a symbolic threat (b = .64).


The findings from this study reveal the following. First, the study demonstrates that Spanish Catholics who perceive a threat from Muslim immigrants believe Muslim immigrants are not willing to adapt to Spanish culture see Tables 1 and 2). Second, Spanish Catholics with high religiosity show less interest in having contact with Muslim immigrants than Spaniards with low religiosity. Third, Spaniards who feel threaten by immigrants are less likely to believe Muslim wish to adapt and are therefore less willing to welcome them to Spain. Fourth, the results show that education and age did not have a significant effect on levels of threat or perception of Muslims willingness to adapt to Spanish culture. However, a surprising finding is that the more contact Spaniards with high and low religiosity have with Muslims does not lead to a decreased perception of threat from Muslim immigrants.

Data collection for this study took place in 2012 while Spain was in the midst of an economic crisis (Encarnacíon, 2008; Instituto National de Estadística, 2012). Economic crises, such as massive unemployment, rising inflation, and rising anti-immigrant rhetoric adversely affect relationships between immigrant groups and dominant cultures (Citrin et al., 1997). The economic situation in Spain has affected how members of the dominant culture perceive and interact with immigrants (Bad news days, 2010; Tremlett, 2012). Therefore, the results of this study should be interpreted in this present economic and political situation.

The significance of religious identity in Spain must be considered. Spaniards who are highly religious are more likely to disbelieve Muslim immigrants’ are motivated to adapt to Spanish society. High levels of religiosity are positively correlated with higher levels of realistic threat (r = .12) and negative stereotyping (r = .11). In the Spanish context, Muslim immigrants represent a threat to the Spanish Catholic religious identity. Therefore, as Spanish Catholics observe more and more Muslims immigrating to Spain, Catholics feel their Catholic identity as increasingly under threat. Giles and Johnson’s (1981) ethnolinguistic identity theory (ELIT) offers an explanation for this phenomenon. ELIT explains how within a social group, ingroup dependence, boundaries, and other societal forces shape the vitality and strength of the ingroup members’ identity (Abrams, O’Connor, & Giles, 2002). When that group is threatened, the identity is more likely to strengthen in response to the external threats; such a strengthening is occurring with Catholics in Spain.

Increased feelings of symbolic and real threat from Muslims run counter to the fundamental principles of the contact hypothesis, which proposes increased contact between groups should lead to lower levels of prejudice and higher levels of tolerance and understanding (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew, 1997). A potential explanation for this result is the operationalization of intergroup contact (González et al., 2008). Both quantity and quality of intergroup contact is essential to reducing prejudice between groups (Pettigrew, 1997; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). The measure used for this study focused more on quantity of intergroup contact, and not on quality. Thus, increased quantity of intergroup contact is related to heightened symbolic and real threat toward Muslims. This is an interesting finding as it reveals that increased contact between groups may not always be a good thing, it really might be quality over quantity of contact that truly affects perceptions of others (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Therefore, the quality and or kinds of interactions between Muslims and Catholics in Spain should also be explored more in-depth.


This research extends our understanding of integrated threat research. The majority of research on integrated threat has considered the impact of Muslim immigration on Northern European nations. Moreover, this research has not specifically looked at immigration in a nation experiencing an economic crisis to Spain’s extent. The results of this study demonstrate that during a time of economic crisis, a nation with a relatively small, but growing Muslim immigrant population will indeed feel threatened.

This research also extends our understanding of cultural adaptation. The overwhelming majority of work on cultural adaptation considers the perceptions/feelings of the immigrant group. This research furthers our knowledge of how the dominant culture perceives the cultural adaptation process. The perception of the dominant culture is an integral part of the process (Kim, 1988, 2001).

In conclusion, this study explored the relationships between threat, perception of immigrant motivation to culturally adapt, and religiosity in regards to Muslim immigrants in Spain. These data suggest that among Spanish Catholics, increased threat is correlated with a decreased perception of Muslim immigrant motivation to culturally adapt to Spain, and that highly religious Catholics are less likely to think Muslims are motivated to adapt to Spain. Finally, increased intergroup contact between the two groups is positively correlated with increased symbolic threat and negative stereotypes. This research is a significant contribution to ITT, intergroup contact, and cultural adaptation literature as it highlights the intricate relationship between Muslim immigrants and the dominant culture in many European nations.


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About the Authors

Stephen M Croucher (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma, 2006) is a Professor of Intercultural Communication at the University of Jyväskylä. He researches immigrant cultural adaptation, identity formation/negotiation within Europe, and conflict management/conceptualization.

Flora Galy Badenas is a Master's Student in the Intercultural Master's Program in the Department of Communication at the University of Jyväskylä. Her research focuses on issues of sexual/gender identity in the workplace.

Maria Ruotsalainen is a Master's Student in the Digital Culture Master's Program at the University of Jyväskylä. Her research focuses on Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.

Authors’ Address

Stephen M. Croucher
University of Jyväskylä
Pitkäkatu 1A
Building Z. P.O. Box 35
Finland 40014

[1] Croucher et al. (2008) found during scale development that many of the individuals they interviewed and surveyed discussed separating intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity as a very Western and segmented view of religion. Thus, the MOR treats religiosity as a single construct with four factors (media, religious institutions, daily decisions, and sexual activities) that can be combined for one macro-religiosity variable.