October 12, 2006
A hotbed of heathens
From a new paper on religion in academia by Neil Gross of Harvard University and Solon Simmons of George Mason University:
A common perception of the college or university professor is that she or he is an atheist who rejects religion in favor of science or critical inquiry. Although when asked to specify their current religious preference 31.2 percent of the professors we surveyed said “none,” responses to a question taken from the GSS [General Social Survey] suggest that more professors are believers than is usually recognized. Respondents were asked to select the statement that comes closest to expressing their views about God. Only 10.0 percent chose the statement, “I don’t believe in God,” while 13.4 percent chose the statement, “I don’t know whether there is a God, and I don’t believe there is any way to find out.” About 23.4 percent of respondents to our survey, in other words, are either atheists or agnostics. This figure is much higher than for the U.S. population as a whole. The same question was last asked on the GSS in 2000. At that time, only 2.8 percent of respondents said they didn’t believe in God, while 4.1 percent said they didn’t know if God existed and believed there was no way to find out.
… [The] figures vary considerably across types of institutions and disciplinary fields. As concerns institutions, our first finding – an unsurprising one – is that professors teaching in religiously-affiliated colleges and universities are more likely to be believers. Whereas about 50 percent of professors in non-religiously affiliated schools say either that they believe in God despite their doubts or that they have no doubts about God’s existence, this is true of 68.9 percent of professors in religiously-affiliated schools, who comprise 13.9 percent of those in our sample. A second finding – one consistent with prior research – is that professors at elite doctoral universities are much less religious than professors teaching in other kinds of institutions. 36.6 percent of respondents with appointments in elite doctoral schools are either atheists or agnostics, as compared to 15.2 percent of respondents teaching in community colleges, 22.7 percent of those teaching at BA granting institutions, and 23.5 percent of those teaching in non-elite doctoral granting universities.
There is also significant variation on this question by disciplinary field. Looking at the top 20 BA granting fields, we find that atheists and agnostics are more common in some disciplines than others. Psychology and biology have the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics, at about 61 percent. Not far behind is mechanical engineering, 50 percent of whose professors are atheists or agnostics. Behind that is economics, political science, and computer science, with about 40 percent of professors falling into this category each. At the other end of the spectrum, 63 percent of accounting professors, 56.8 percent of elementary education professors, 48.6 percent of professors of finance, 46.5 percent of marketing professors, 46.2 percent of art professors and professors of criminal justice, and 44.4 percent of professors of nursing say they have no doubt that God exists.
… Finally, we consider one aspect of the complex relationship between professorial religiosity and politics. […] Whereas 36.5 percent of professors who are not born-again Christians can be classified as strong Democrats, this is true of only 13.2 percent of born-again Christians. Likewise, whereas only 13.3 percent of non-born-again Christians in the professoriate are Republicans of any stripe, this is true of 57.6 percent of born-again Christians. While some liberal born-again Christians can be found in the professoriate, the vast majority appear to be conservatives, at least as measured by party affiliation. Looking at religious belief more generally, we find that 90.1 percent of Republican professors say they believe in God, as compared to 42.6 percent of non-Republicans. This suggests that what conservative political presence there is in academe is very often bound up with religion.
It also suggests a bold new Republican agenda for higher education: slaughter all the Democratic, unsaved psychology, biology and mechanical-engineering professors at America’s elite schools, and the rapture will be upon us. Or something like that.
You can also find the paper here.
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