Saturday, October 28, 2006

How Religious Are America's College and University Professors?

Razib at Gene Expression points out an interesting working paper by a couple of sociology professors called How Religious Are America's College and University Professors? (.pdf)

Here is what professors believe:

I don’t believe in God. 10%
I don’t know whether there is a God, and I don’t
believe there is any way to find out.
I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe
in a Higher Power of some kind.
I find myself believing in God some of the time,
but not at others.
While I have my doubts, I feel that I do believe
in God.
I know God really exists and I have no doubts
about it.

To sum up, 23.4% are atheists or agnostics, 19% are Deists, 16.9% are theists with doubts, and 35.7% are theists with no doubts. Professors are significantly less religious than the general population, but more than half are traditional theists and almost another fifth are Deists.

Some other interesting tidbits:

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. And whereas about 40 percent of community college professors and professors at four year schools say they have no doubt God exists, this is true for only about 20.4 percent of professors at elite doctoral institutions. Contrary to popular opinion, atheists and agnostics do not comprise a majority of professors even at elite schools, but they are present in much larger numbers there than in other types of institutions.

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. We caution, however, that some of these differences may be a function of the differential distribution of these fields across types of institutions.

Only 6.1 percent of respondents to our survey said the Bible is the "actual word of God," with 51.6 percent describing it as "an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts." About 42 percent of respondents are of the view that the Bible is "the inspired word of God." Here again differences are evident by type of institution, with community college professors three times as likely to subscribe to the "actual word of God" position, and 72.9 percent of professors at elite doctoral universities taking the "ancient book of fables" view.

We also asked respondents to weigh in on the controversy over intelligent design. Our question asked respondents how much they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "The theory of intelligent design IS a serious scientific alternative to the Darwinian theory of evolution." Overall, 84.1 percent of professors surveyed disagreed with the statement, with 75.3 percent registering strong disagreement. Agreement was strongest at community colleges, where 30.6 percent of professors see intelligent design as a serious scientific alternative, and weakest at elite doctoral universities, where just 5.6 percent of professors do.

Finally, although our research suggests that professorial religiosity has been previously underestimated, it is clear that on the whole, and measured various ways, professors are less religious than the general U.S. population. Insofar as this is so, and in the context of growing pressures on young people to go to college and the ongoing political mobilization of conservative Christians, we should expect continued conflict in the years to come between the forces of religious conservatism and the institution of the American university, with some such conflict taking place within the university itself as conservative professors, some emboldened by their religious views, mount a campaign for institutional change. 80 percent of Americans think colleges and universities welcome students of faith – but 20 percent do not, and there is evidence that this is a mobilized 20 percent. Theoretical frameworks must be developed to help us make sense of this situation, and to identify the steps that can be taken, if any, to keep the conflict from derailing the vital educational and research missions served by America’s colleges and universities.

Not too many surprises. Professors at elite schools are much less religious while those at community colleges are much more religious, those in more scientific fields are less religious, hardly any believe the Bible is the "actual word of God," and most believe "Intelligent Design" is not scientific.

I was surprised by how religious professors of accounting are as compared to other fields. 63% say they have no doubt God exists -- what's up with that?


Billie Jean said...

That's really interesting, thanks for posting it.


Anonymous said...

I was surprised by how religious professors of accounting are as compared to other fields. 63% say they have no doubt God exists -- what's up with that?

I have two possible suggestions

(1) Small sample size
(2) Accounting professors don't work in a field that would lead them to look at the world in a way that would show an absence of a divine - science looks at what should be God-given stuff (bodies, physics) and see a natural world, historians see a God-less history, while accountants look at a 100% man-made system what one would not expect to see God in, so the lack of God isn't as shocking

Orthoprax said...


Accounting isn't exactly known as a stimulating field. Think about it. What kind of people go for accounting in the first place?

Ezzie said...

Orthoprax - You're a fool.

JA - I'd say that Anon is probably close to correct. When people are stupidly told that "Life [particularly the human body] is so complex, it must be Goddidit", then discover that science can show most of the structures that it's built on, God is diminished in their eyes. Accountants don't view the world that way to begin with, so there's none of that diminishing view.

theriacs said...

Maybe b/c of accountants are dealing with numbers.

Wonder how the mathematicians answered.

HA said...

This is a highly subjective issue and the survey was conducted in an objective manner. Not enough options has been provided to choose from.

asher said...

Conseratives have been arguing for years that college is the highest bastion of secular thought. O'Reilly's book about the Culture Wars pegged this and other instances.

When we have people going to yeshiva for 12 years we can say they have been religiously brainwashed. But when they attend school for 20 years with secular teachers and ideas, we can't say they have been secularly brainwashed, can we?

I imagine this survey of college professors did not include Yeshiva University, Life Chiropractic College or Bob Johnson University.

As far as accounting professors being believers, this may point out the value of this survey.

Jewish Atheist said...


When we have people going to yeshiva for 12 years we can say they have been religiously brainwashed. But when they attend school for 20 years with secular teachers and ideas, we can't say they have been secularly brainwashed, can we?

The majority of the teachers are religious, so how could it be secular brainwashing?

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Interesting data, JA. As often, I'm struck by how much conservative Christians exaggerate when they claim to be a vulnerable, persecuted group.

Orthoprax said...


Did I hit a sore spot? Are you an accountant? ;-)

Orthoprax said...

Hehe, checked your profile. That you are!

Orthoprax said...

My point was that you may have a selection differential in terms of who goes for accounting rather than an educational differential in terms of how accountants study different things.

What kind of people generally go for accounting?

Ezzie said...

Accountants are generally very skilled mathematicians. They usually place extremely high in logical, mathematical, and clerical type tests. (When we were in HS, we took a 6-part - I believe Myers-Briggs - test that gauged what our skills were. I aced Logic, Math, and Clerical, got a couple wrong in two of the others, and messed up Mechanical and got like a 90. Ah well.) Interestingly, those skills are generally best suited to esoteric discussions; the difference is that once all the options have been weighed, the mathematician/accountant will take the most logical conclusion. They won't keep going in circles when no more information is being added. It's "inefficient" and a huge waste of time.

It's one of the reasons that accounting will likely never become a Master's degree. It's simply adding nothing but time and expense to learn nothing new. It makes people feel better (I have a Masters!) or superior (you don't!), but it's basically worthless.

Ezzie said...

Oh, and OP - I was kind of kidding. It was just a dumb comment.

asher said...

Okay..let me try this again...

If a kid attends yeshiva for 12 years of his life we can say he's been religiously brainwashed.

If a kid attends public school for 12 years, can we say he's been secularly brainwashed.

If not, why not?

Jewish Atheist said...

Yeshivas often forbid their students from reading secular books outside of school, using the internet, or even watching t.v. Public schools place no restrictions on what the student learns outside school.

r10b said...

Public schools place no restrictions on what the student learns outside school.

And outside of school the average school-aged child is exposed to what? 16 hours of Billy Graham Crusades?

The evidence clearly states that professors at elite universities are far more capable of understanding Truth than their booger-picking counterparts at the nation's community colleges.

I personally would prefer it if everybody in the US was as erudite and cosmopolitan as our intelligencia; of course this would create a dearth of available personnel for your local public safety agencies, food service facilities, and retail outlets. On the up side, the Sunday noon-ish traffic jams between the Baptist churches and Bob Evans would be a thing of the past. On the other hand, this may be counter-acted by the stream of traffic exiting the Uniterian Universalists lots heading for Whole Foods. Can you imagine the lines at Starbucks? And the cost of used Volvos would skyrocket!

Mmmm. I may reconsider. Maybe it's better to have the dumb shits around after all.

asher said...

Yes R10b,

According to John Kerry, they all wind up in iraq.