Education & religion reconsidered

It has long been said that the level of a person’s religious commitment goes down proportionately to how much education that person has received.  But now it turns out that church attendance and Bible reading actually increases with education.  And so does theological liberalism:

People tend to become less religious as they become more educated, right? Not necessarily, according to a new study.

After analyzing data from a large national survey, University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel found that people actually tend to become more religious – by some definitions, at least – as they further their education.

“It all falls down to what you consider to be religious,” said Schwadel, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “If it’s simply attending religious services, then no. Highly educated people are not less religious; in fact, they’re more religious.”

“But if it’s saying the Bible is the literal word of God and saying that only one religion is the true religion, then they are less religious,” he continued.

Schwadel used data from the highly regarded General Social Survey, a cumulative and nationally representative survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago biannually since 1972.

Social scientists rely heavily on the “gold standard” General Social Survey, which provides cumulative data collected regularly between 1972 and 2010.

His study will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal Review of Religious Research.

Schwadel found that with each additional year of education:

– The likelihood of attending religious services increased 15%.

– The likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9%.

– The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination – Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist – increased by 13%.

via Study: More educated tend to be more religious, by some measures – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

So what do we make of that?

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Signalling. The socioeconomic process by which an individual displays membership or desired membership in a group.

  • SKPeterson

    Signalling. The socioeconomic process by which an individual displays membership or desired membership in a group.

  • George

    What is there to do? The gospel is foolishness to the world. Let it always remain so.

  • George

    What is there to do? The gospel is foolishness to the world. Let it always remain so.

  • Michael Z.

    C.S.Lewis wrote about how Pseudo-Intellectuals like to get inside the “inner ring”. That might explain why more educated people attend religious services more, its a social standing thing.

  • Michael Z.

    C.S.Lewis wrote about how Pseudo-Intellectuals like to get inside the “inner ring”. That might explain why more educated people attend religious services more, its a social standing thing.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    I think the answers so far have been rather uncharitable. I certainly did not get “signalling” from all that. I do think what you have is socilogists coming to grips with the fact that you don’t have to be a fundamentalist to be religious or christian. The more educated are also more inclined to take a critical look at their beliefs, hence actually bothering to read the book others merely praise as being innerrant, and finding out what it actually says.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    I think the answers so far have been rather uncharitable. I certainly did not get “signalling” from all that. I do think what you have is socilogists coming to grips with the fact that you don’t have to be a fundamentalist to be religious or christian. The more educated are also more inclined to take a critical look at their beliefs, hence actually bothering to read the book others merely praise as being innerrant, and finding out what it actually says.

  • SKPeterson

    Bror @4 – I would hold that signalling does apply with point 3 from Schwadel – “The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination – Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist – increased by 13%.”

    I don’t believe it is uncharitable to say that people will often self-select themselves or self-identify with groups to which they desire to belong and accommodate their views or take on the trappings of the desirable group. It is merely a recognition of human motivation and incentives.

    A critical reading of Scripture and increased attendance could just as easily result in moving toward a more conservative religious affiliation. However, as education increases one moves into the academic realm which is, as other sociological studies have shown, dominated by those with left-liberal social and political views. These studies have also revealed that there exists a fairly high bias by members of this group towards those who are “different” socially and politically. This bias results in excluding potential members of the community (not hiring conservatives, denying tenure, social ostracization). One way people in this demographic can signal their (desired) membership “in the in group” is by their church membership, where the sociopolitical leanings of the dominant in group are affirmed. This is not to say that these theological beliefs are not real or seriously held, but they are implicitly affirmed within the left-liberal sociopolitical, academic community, if not expressly so.

  • SKPeterson

    Bror @4 – I would hold that signalling does apply with point 3 from Schwadel – “The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination – Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist – increased by 13%.”

    I don’t believe it is uncharitable to say that people will often self-select themselves or self-identify with groups to which they desire to belong and accommodate their views or take on the trappings of the desirable group. It is merely a recognition of human motivation and incentives.

    A critical reading of Scripture and increased attendance could just as easily result in moving toward a more conservative religious affiliation. However, as education increases one moves into the academic realm which is, as other sociological studies have shown, dominated by those with left-liberal social and political views. These studies have also revealed that there exists a fairly high bias by members of this group towards those who are “different” socially and politically. This bias results in excluding potential members of the community (not hiring conservatives, denying tenure, social ostracization). One way people in this demographic can signal their (desired) membership “in the in group” is by their church membership, where the sociopolitical leanings of the dominant in group are affirmed. This is not to say that these theological beliefs are not real or seriously held, but they are implicitly affirmed within the left-liberal sociopolitical, academic community, if not expressly so.

  • PJE

    There’s definitely some multicollinearity in the data, as I think the 15% increase in attending services coincides more strongly with age and having kids. When I was in college, I never attended church. When I graduated and had kids, I started regularly attending again. Is that because I was more educated? Nope.

  • PJE

    There’s definitely some multicollinearity in the data, as I think the 15% increase in attending services coincides more strongly with age and having kids. When I was in college, I never attended church. When I graduated and had kids, I started regularly attending again. Is that because I was more educated? Nope.

  • fws

    what bror says

  • fws

    what bror says

  • helen

    When the press includes “Lutheran” in the “mainline church bodies” where it never used to be, they mean the liberal elca.
    Conservative Lutherans, Orthodox Presbyterians (and now, Anglicans who are fed up with the Episcopal church) don’t count in that list.

  • helen

    When the press includes “Lutheran” in the “mainline church bodies” where it never used to be, they mean the liberal elca.
    Conservative Lutherans, Orthodox Presbyterians (and now, Anglicans who are fed up with the Episcopal church) don’t count in that list.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Looks to me that it is the women affecting the results. More women are now educated, and women are more likely churchgoers/believers. Something like 60% of folks now in college are women. Too bad it doesn’t show men and women separately. That would be interesting.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Looks to me that it is the women affecting the results. More women are now educated, and women are more likely churchgoers/believers. Something like 60% of folks now in college are women. Too bad it doesn’t show men and women separately. That would be interesting.


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