Is There an Academic Bias against Religion? Appears so, at Least against Conservative Christians.

By George Yancey

The question of academic bias has been one many people have argued about for decades. Some have pointed out that people in the sciences are more likely to be politically liberal and irreligious and that this overrepresentation is proof of this bias. Others argued that this political and religious disparity is due to the fact that political conservatives and the highly religious are less interested in a scientific occupation. While there may be a different level of scientific interest between progressives and conservatives this does not mean that scientific bias is a myth. Indeed, some of my recent work confirms that it is not a myth.

In my book Compromising Scholarship I surveyed scientists in several disciplines (Political Science, Anthropology, History, Physics, Chemistry, Experimental Biology, English Language, Non-English Language, Philosophy and Sociology). I asked them whether it would affect their hiring decision if they found out that an applicant was of a given political or religious orientation. I found some evidence that being a Republican would negatively affect a scientist’s willingness to hire someone. For physic scholars, only 10 percent were less likely to hire someone if they found out that the applicant is a Republican, but for anthropologists this percentage was 32.3. It was even worse for conservative Christians. A range of 21.8 percent (of experimental biologists) to 58.8 percent (of anthropologists) were less willing to hire someone if they found out that he or she is an evangelical. For fundamentalists the range was 36.4 percent (of experimental biologists) to 71.4 percent (of English professors) being were less willing to hire a fundamentalist.

As a scholar it is disturbing that so many fellow academics prejudge a possible scientist based on their political or religious beliefs. In reality those qualities should not matter as it concerns a person’s scientific abilities. We have to wonder how it shapes our scientific endeavors when such political and religious barriers exist. Even those who are not Republicans or conservative Christians should be dismayed at the ideas that may not be explored or the talent that may be wasted.

It is probably asking for the impossible to expect academics to leave their political and religious biases behind when they do their work. But if there is bias in who professors will hire then it is also quite possible that there is bias in other aspects in how scholars do their work. Too often those who argue that academic bias is a myth forget that all humans have biases. They are not doing scholars a favor when they make assertions that bias does not exists in academia. Ignoring the evidence of academic bias robs scholars of the ability to deal with their biases. It is reasonable to ask scientists to remember that they have biases and that they need to be careful about how their biases affect their judgment. Such caution can only improve the social atmosphere that academics operate in.

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  • just some guy

    This is such an interesting and important topic. Thanks for your work.
    Just out of curiosity, did you ask about non-Christian affiliated religions? If so, how did the bias against conservative Christians compare with the numbers concerning Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, Hindus, Orthodox Jews, etc?

    • George Yancey

      Actually I found little bias against any of those other groups. There was some bias against Mormons and surprisingly almost none agaist Muslims. My speculation is that aspects about conservative Christianity seems more threatening to many academics than other religions.

  • buddyglass

    To what extent does the principle that “ideas have consequences” excuse some of this discrimination? For instance, suppose I’m a Physics department chair considering a candidate who is a fundamentalist “young earth” Christian. This candidate buttresses that belief with a bunch of “science” that I consider to be utter crap. I might decline to hire this candidate not because of the his fundamentalist Christian beliefs per se, but because of what they reveal about his ability to discern bad science from good and. Or, possibly, what they say about his ability to “think about the world rationally”.

    • George Yancey

      True. If I was on a hiring committee and the candidate stated that his/her theory about society is that God determines everything then I would hesitate to hire that person. You can believe that but as a sociologist that can not be your guiding principle. However, the only new information given to the respondents was the group membership. I would like to assume that if someone presents his/her research and understanding of the discipline well that his/her religion would not inhibit being hired. Unfortnately merely knowing that someone is with the wrong church makes it more difficult for them to be hired.

  • http://RankinFile( Stephen Rankin

    I read your book, Dr. Yancey. Thank you for tackling a difficult and contentious topic.

    • George Yancey

      Thanks for the kind words.

  • Debra

    The most troublesome aspect of the bias was the set of assumptions professors held about what I believe and, importantly, why. Second was the presumption of many professors of my anti-intellectualism, and the attending surprise I encountered when it became obvious to my professors that their presumption was in error.

  • George Yancey

    I had a similar sitation when I was teaching sociology of religion and the professors were worried that I would start preaching to the students. Remarkably they were not worried about me being biased in my race/ethnicity course although I am black. It is those hidden assumptions that I think is behind many of my results.