University Majors and Religion

There’s this interesting report circulating the internet about university majors and religiosity. Here is what the researchers found:

  • Being a humanities or a social science major has a statistically significant negative effect on religiosity — measured by either religious attendance and how important students consider the importance of religion in their lives. The impact appears to be strongest in the social sciences.
  • Students in education and business show an increase in religiosity over their time at college.
  • Majoring in the biological or physical sciences does not affect religious attendance of students, but majoring in the physical sciences does negatively relate to the way students view the importance of religion in their lives.

There’s also some evidence that religious involvement increases the likelihood of attending university or college and that it tends to move students towards higher status paths (versus vocational studies). Chad Orzel is upset that science isn’t leading to more atheists while Thoreau counters thusly:

“I think the problem with the theory is that religion as actually experienced by many people is not about miracles and strict codes written on pages. It is a combination of a personal thing and a social/cultural thing. You can explain all day long why somebody who does science should have no part of it, you can explain all day long that the words on the page are inconsistent with a scientist’s profession […] I think this is why majoring in science has less effect on religious belief than majoring in social science or humanities. Spending time studying social and cultural phenomena can change the way you view social and cultural practices, including your own. Studying science? Not so much. Of course, studying science might affect one’s views on miracles and the supernatural, but that’s not what it’s really about for many religious believers.”

I might add that to read the entire report you have to pay someone and while it might be interesting none of the bloggers I surveyed in reading about this actually sprung for it. In other words it’s anyone’s guess as to the methodology. Some have suggested that sciences might not affect religious involvement since students in those programs might self-select based on their pre-existing religious involvement (or lack thereof).

To riff on what Thoreau said, I wonder to what extent Christian apologists have missed the point by fretting that the natural sciences are undoing religious belief with Darwin this and Big Bang that. Certainly in practical terms the Kenneth Millers of the world are still stubbornly there while I’m a loss to think of an analogous high-profile Christian public intellectual with a great deal of respect for work in, say, anthropology or sociology among secular academics. Christians have made great inroads in secular philosophy departments in the past couple of decades and that is perhaps about as close as I can come.