Religion and the academy

How religious or otherwise would you expect academics to be? An interesting article recently in the Huffington Post outlines the findings of a survey of US professors, in which they were asked to disclose their religious affiliations or beliefs. A total of 51.5 per cent indicated that they definitely or on balance believed in God, while 9.8 per cent declared themselves to be atheists. The author of the article felt this to be surprising, in the light of a general assumption that ‘those who occupy these elite places of learning would also shed the trappings of irrational religious belief.’

I am not aware of any study of religion in Irish or UK universities. I am inclined to suspect that religious belief amongst academics in this part of the world would be lower, but it might make an interesting subject matter for research.

Explore posts in the same categories: religion, university

8 Comments on “Religion and the academy”

  1. Jilly Says:

    I agree, I think it would be a much lower figure for both Ireland and the UK. But then both of those societies (yes including Ireland!) are much less religious generally than America, so that’s not surprising, I suppose.

    • Vincent Says:

      And you are far less likely to get the boot here if you expressed Atheist or Agnostic sentiments. These days anyway. But heaven help you if you decide on a non-PC approach though.

  2. kevin denny Says:

    It would be interesting to see the pattern across disciplines. My conjecture is that religious belief is higher amongst mathematicians & physicists than social scientists.
    Years ago I looked at some data on this, I think it was the World Values Survey. As far as I recall, engineers were a pretty God-less bunch.

    • Rachel Says:

      Kevin,
      Why would you expect more mathematicians and physicists to have religious beliefs than social scientists? Just curious. I don’t have any data but from personal experience I would guess the opposite.

      • kevin denny Says:

        Rachel, partly, based on a small non-random sample i.e. personal experience. I suppose my feeling is that social scientists are a skeptical bunch since in general they tend to see mankind at its worst. Its hard to imagine seeing the economy or society as evidence of God. Whereas in the sciences you get to see mostly the beauty of nature so that might lead to Theism.
        If you see scientists as ultra-rational and if you see religion as irrational then you might think the argument goes the other way. But, whatever about the second proposition, I am not at all convinced that scientists are that rational outside of their particular domain.


    • I’ll try to dig this out, but there is indeed survey evidence to support Kevin’s point. If I remember correctly, physicists are the academics with the highest percentage of religious beliefs, even higher than theologians, interestingly…

  3. Brian Says:

    Shocking …study returns contrarian findings! Has there even been a study in the history of frivolous studies that said “what you’d expect – yeah that’s about accurate!” Where are the years of follow up grants and cushy conference junkets in that racket? Also, in my opinion, it would be nigh on impossible to find someone who is both interested in determining the religiousness of academics and who doesn’t already have biased reasons for wanting to report on it. The article does not mention the selection criteria for the ‘representative sample’ of 1,500 academics. Cherries really are lovely this time of year.

    Physicists’ are open (often posthumously) to corruption by religious types who want to tie the very best of human intellect to belief in their invisible men in the sky. Faith by definition is ‘belief without evidence’, so any scientist who claims real faith is a phoney. Physicists often speak of a god concept, such as Stephen Hawking at the end of A Brief History of Time (…and then we will know the mind of god) but this is misinterpreted by the layman as belief in a personal god, like the Abrahamic god of the bible. This point of view is best explained by the following New Scientist article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19391-hawking-hasnt-changed-his-mind-about-god.html Hawking’s recent comments about personal gods leave no doubts as to his real feelings on the subject. Any survey that links physics to faith are likely to have fallen into this mistake.

    • kevin denny Says:

      Brian, you need to chill. You also need to know what you are talking about and its very doubtful that you do.
      Published research generally contains a mixture of things that you would expect and things that you would not. There is a certain bias towards novelty but if its too novel you will find it hard to get published. Getting grants takes a lot of work, most applications are unsuccessful and you don’t make a dime from them.
      I would not describe conferences as junkets. Hours spent in airports and economy seating with bad food and bad air, days spent away from my family & in the presence of a few hundred economists is not my idea of fun but professionally its something one needs to do. Yeah you get to see some nice places and some pretty boring ones too.
      Assuming the authors are honest, “representative” means exactly what it says: the joint distribution of the variables in the sample should not be different from that of the population. Where it is known not to be, one can always re-weight.
      The suggestion that you can’t find anyone working on this topic who isn’t biased is completely crass and groundless. The idea that any scientist who has religious faith is therefore a phoney is so idiotic as to be beneath contempt.


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