Dogmatism is a theory of cognition and personality associated primarily with the work of Milton Rokeach summarized in The Open and Closed Mind (1960). Its focus is upon the organization and structure of both belief and disbelief systems rather than upon their content. The widely used Dogmatism Scale allows assessment of Rokeach's major theoretical construct, dogmatism, along a continuum. High dogmatism (closed-mindedness) is characterized by a relatively closed cognitive system of beliefs organized around a core set of assumptions about authority conceived to be absolute. Low dogmatism (open-mindedness) is characterized by a more open cognitive system of beliefs organized around the assumption that authorities are relative rather than absolute.
Associated with the theory of dogmatism is the assumption that certain kinds of primitive beliefs make one especially prone to develop dogmatism. Especially important are the primitive beliefs that individuals are alone and helpless in a hostile and threatening world. This is assumed to give rise to a closed-minded system linking the more cognitive dimension of the theory to personality dimensions associated with psychodynamic theories. High dogmatism is assumed to be essentially the totality of a person's defensive reactions in the face of a threatening world.
The ability to measure dogmatism has made it a useful tool in a wide variety of empirical research. Dogmatism theory is intimately linked with the psychology of religion, as it proposes that religious beliefs can be characterized to the extent that they are held in a relatively open- or closed-minded manner. This is proposed as an advance over earlier research heavily influenced by the authoritarian personality tradition in which certain religious beliefs, particularly fundamentalism, were found to be linked to authoritarianism, a construct initially quite similar to dogmatism. However, while authoritarianism was confounded with belief content, particularly orthodox and conservative beliefs, dogmatism was proposed as focusing on the process of belief rather than its content. Authoritarianism was conceptually linked to conservative beliefs, while dogmatism, at least theoretically, was not. Hence, whether or not religious beliefs were held dogmatically was essentially conceived as an empirical issue. However, the persistent pattern of empirical research has tended to link dogmatism to more conservative and orthodox religious beliefs, particularly fundamentalism, just as earlier research linked authoritarianism to such beliefs. Dogmatism has seldom been found to be linked to liberal or heterodox religious beliefs.
Associated with dogmatism is the conditional acceptance and rejection of others based on belief content. Not surprisingly, dogmatism has been found to be related to a prejudice toward a variety of groups, particularly blacks and homosexuals. Dogmatism is also linked with antifeminist sentiments. Dogmatic beliefs, based on absolute authority, may only appear as prejudiced in that others who believe or behave in ways at odds with the absolute authority must be rejected. Thus empirical research linking dogmatism and prejudice must distinguish prejudice based on content of belief from prejudice based on process of belief. It is not what you believe that characterizes dogmatism as much as how you believe. This holds for the rejection of others as well. Rejection may occur for dogmatic or nondogmatic reasons.
Lee Kirkpatrick, Ralph Hood, and Gary Hartz (1991) tried to clarify the content vs. process aspects of dogmatism as it applies to religious beliefs and prejudice. They proposed that while dogmatism can theoretically be conceived independently of particular belief content, when the content of beliefs dictates a belief structure similar to dogmatism, there will be intercorrelations between religious beliefs such as fundamentalism and dogmatism for structural (process) reasons. This is particularly the case in the persistent empirical finding that certain conservative religious beliefs are associated with prejudice. However, when absolute authority is perceived to condemn others for the content of their beliefs or practices, processes operating within the dogmatic mind-set assure obedience, accounting for correlations between measures of prejudice and fundamentalism only when content is relevant to fundamentalist beliefs.
The fact that belief content and structure overlap in religious fundamentalism in a manner congruent with Rokeach's dogmatism theory suggests that from a postmodern perspective, fundamentalism simply is in a paradigm clash with those who would value more open cognitive systems based on relative and tentative acceptance of a variety of authorities. Fundamentalism's insistence that authority is absolute simply indicates a dogmatic structure that characterizes this one form of conservative Protestantism and is neither conceptually nor empirically true of the wide varieties of other forms of conservative religious beliefs that are neither empirically nor conceptually associated with dogmatism (Hood, 1983; Woodberry and Smith, 1998).
Hood, Ralph W., Jr. "Social Psychology and Religious Fundamentalism." In Rural Psychology, edited by Allen W. Childs and Gary B. Melton. 1983.
Kirkpatrick, Lee A., Ralph W. Hood, Jr., and Gary Hartz. "Fundamentalist Religion Conceptualized in Terms of Rokeach's Theory of the Open and Closed Mind: New Perspectives on Some Old Ideas." Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 3 (1991): 157–179.
Rokeach, Milton. The Open and Closed Mind. 1960.
Woodberry, Robert D., and Christian S. Smith. "Fundamentalism et al.: Conservative Protestants in America." American Sociological Review 24 (1998): 25–56.
Ralph W. Hood, Jr.