In a previous article, I wrote about my concern with Christian organizations employing the Intercultural Development Inventory for two reasons, the undermining of the image of God and the undermining of objective moral values.

Since then, I came across a list of all 50 of the IDI questions in a dissertation’s appendix. I had the opportunity to analyze all the questions rather than just the ones mentioned in academic articles. I was surprised at how many questions concerned polarization, the second part of the continuum in a monocultural/ethnocentric mindset. According to the IDI website, “Polarization can take the form of Defense (‘My cultural practices are superior to other cultural practices’) or Reversal (‘Other cultures are better than mine’).”[1] Polarization, according to the IDI creators, is assuming that a value in one culture can be superior or less superior than a value in another. Thus to score highly for ‘polarization’ indicates that one is hostile to or, at least, insufficiently supportive of, institutional diversity.

I counted 15 polarization items. To avoid litigation, I can list only one that has been previously published: “Our culture’s way of life should be a model for the rest of the world,” but I will provide a typical frame for multiple questions below.

In the continuum on which the IDI is based, polarization is considered to be “monoculturalism” or “ethnocentrism.” Milton Bennett sees ethnocentrism as the following: “the tenets of one’s own culture are experienced as central to reality in some way.”[2] Recall that reality from a constructivist viewpoint isn’t fixed: according to Bennett, “our perspective constructs the reality we describe.”[3] In my previous article, I explained that for Bennett and the owner of IDI LLC, Mitchell R. Hammer, all values are constructed as part of reality. Bennett states the following: “Groups of people do not ‘have’ values—they collectively assign goodness and badness to ways of being. In other words, we should use the verb form ‘to value’ rather than the static noun ‘value.’”[4]

But how does this assumption affect test takers of the IDI? It appears to me that if they don’t want their score to reflect polarization, they must disagree with a question that would suggest that any value is better represented in another culture, whether another or their own. Multiple questions for polarization have a frame like the following:

My culture group(s) is less (or more) _[fill in with a value]_ than other culture groups.

I’ll set up a hypothetical situation by using the frame to make my own IDI item.

My culture group(s) is less egalitarian than other culture groups.

By selecting a value—egalitarianism—I’ve made the question more specific than “Our culture’s way of life should be a model for the rest of the world.” However, it is not specific enough. In the introduction to the assessment, culture is defined.

Each of us has a worldview that is related to participation in one or more culture groups. These groups are typically defined by national and/or ethnic boundaries, but they may also represent other affiliations. In the IDI, terms such as “our culture” or “my culture” refer to the culture group(s) to which you feel you “belong” the most. The terms “other cultures,” “people from different cultures,” or “different cultures” refer to groups to which you do not feel you belong. Try to think about the other culture groups with which you are familiar. Please avoid considering cultures that you know only from media. Respond to each item in the IDI in terms of the specific culture groups with which you have had the most contact or experience.

This description implies that my interaction with differing specific cultures should affect my answer. As a former tutor of English Language Learners, I have worked with individuals from Somalia and the Middle East. I believe in general that my culture in the United States is more egalitarian than those cultures. On the other hand, if I worked with women from northern European nations I might be aware that, while my own nation does not provide paid family leave or much in the way of support for new mothers and families, their countries of origin do. So I might say that my culture is less egalitarian than those cultures. However, by indicating that I judge one culture to better exemplify egalitarianism than another, I will be marked by the IDI for polarization.

For Bennett and Mitchell, values cannot be compared across cultures. In their minds, I must mark “disagree” to any question comparing how different cultures exemplify a given value. If I do not, I will be regarded as needing further training or as being hostile to attempts to promote diversity within my institution. Bennett would want to control my language so that I talked neutrally of differing gender roles across cultures, not as though one culture is more egalitarian than other. He insists that his framework is not relativistic in that you simply are “withholding judgment” but not “suspending it altogether.”[5]

The opening of the IDI also states “There are no right or wrong answers, nor ‘good’ or ‘bad’ response.” The irony of this comment in light of the questions (not to mention, it’s a continuum!) is glaring. A major goal of the continuum is for the test takers to embrace moral relativism in order to be judged to be sufficiently inclusive.

Christian organizations should not be using the IDI.

  1. “IDI General Information: The Intercultural Development Continuum, “ accessed Dec. 3, 2021,,denigrating%20one’s%20own%20culture%20group.
  2. Milton J. Bennett, Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication: Paradigms, Principles, & Practices, 2nd ed. (Boston: Intercultural Press, an imprint of Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2013), 88.
  3. Bennett, Basic Concepts, 41.
  4. Bennett, Basic Concepts, 79.
  5. Bennett, Basic Concepts, 79.
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Posted by Heather Peterson

Dr. Heather Peterson is Associate Professor of English and Literature at the University of Northwestern—Saint Paul, Minnesota.

One Comment

  1. It seems like there’s something missing between the penultimate and ultimate paragraphs. The conclusion does not necessarily follow from what precedes it, unless being a “Christian” precludes one from describing intercultural differences in an objective, fact-based way.

    This view expressed by the author is illustrative of the tendency of white evangelicals to assume that Scripture must set forth specific details about the right way to function moment by moment in our social environment. Thus, any difference in conduct between two people or groups of people necessarily means that at least one of the two is engaging in an unbiblical practice.

    In reality, Scripture is provides no specific guidance on most pressing social and political issues, but sometimes applies general ethical guidelines that are to be used in conjunction with godly wisdom. By mistakenly assuming that Scripture must necessarily speak on a range of contemporary social and political issues, white evangelicals just end up reading in their own social and political preferences into the Bible’s silence.

    That tendency is bad enough, as it often makes people blind to the fact that they’re basically worshiping a God remade in the image of their own social or political tribe. This author takes it a step further by suggesting that one’s blindness to such idolatry is a necessary element of what it means to be “Christian.”

    Again, the Protestant mainline has its issues. But at least people are typically conscious of their own social idiosyncrasies and recognize that those who live differently are not necessarily offending God in some way.


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