By Christopher Jones

It has long been asserted by many advocates of secularism that religiosity is most common amongst ignorant and uneducated people. As people become more educated, it is argued, they become less religious. Likewise, when societies become more and more educated, they will become less religious.

A recently published study in the journal Sociology of Religion provides mixed support for this hypothesis. Stating that their aim is to “to cast doubt on assumptions of faculty atheism,” sociologists Neill Gross and Solon Simmons conducted a survey of 1,417 full-time college professors.

According to this survey, the religious views of professors breaks down as follows:

Atheist 9.8%
Agnostic 13.1%
Nonspecific Higher Power 19.2%
“I find myself believing in God some of the time” 4.3%
“While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God” 16.6%
Belief in God 34.9%
No Answer 2.2%

While this survey finds that 51.5% of professors believe in God, it also found disparities by institution. Not surprisingly, professors in religiously affiliated schools are most likely to be theists. On the other hand, 36.5% of professors in elite doctoral universities are atheists or agnostics.

When it comes to academic disciplines, professors in the health sciences were most likely to be theists, with 76.% expressing a belief in God. In a separate questionnaire, a full 36.1% of health sciences professors describe their religious beliefs as  “traditionalist” while another 36.1% describe themselves as “moderate.” Only 12% describe themselves as not religious. This conforms closely with the (probably very incomplete) list of Christian faculty at UNC compiled by Beacons on the Hill, which lists 38 Christian faculty in the medical fields. Business professors also scored high when it comes to holding traditional or moderate theistic views, and business professors are also heavily represented in the Beacons on the Hill list.

Professors in the computer science and engineering fields also place highly with 50% professing theism. This is also interesting in light of the Salem Conjecture, which claims that engineers appear more likely to be creationists than those in other scientific fields.

Gross and Simmons also found that professors oriented primarily towards research were “less likely to believe in God, less likely to have a traditionalistic view of the Bible, less likely to attend religious services, more likely to describe their overall religious orientation as ‘not religious,’ and less likely to consider themselves spiritual persons.” They advance several possibilities as explanations for this, including institutional bias in hiring. However, given that religious professors are common in the health, business and engineering fields, I wonder if there is something else at work here. Are religious people more culturally inclined to pursue careers in these fields? Anecdotal evidence from my time at UNC tends me to believe this may be the case. Gross and Simmons consider the possibility that “given that modern academic and scientific knowledge has been defined as a secular domain, deeply religious intellectuals may be less inclined to devote themselves to its advance, and more inclined to see teaching or service as their academic calling.”

It’s an interesting concept that Christians in America today may be more inclined towards practical fields and away from high academic intellectualism. As to why this may be, watch this space in the coming weeks as we delve into the modern trend of anti-intellectualism in the American church.