Sunday, May 20, 2007
This is an interesting study by Gary A. Tobin and Aryeh K. Weinberg. It surveys the faculty members at elite and nonelite colleges and universities across the country.
Some of the findings are hardly news: Faculty members are less religious than the population at large. But the differences are actually just a bit less striking than I would have guessed. For example, "[a]mong faculty, 46% asserted that they have a personal relationship with God, 19% answered that they have no relationship but believe in God, 19% said they do not, and 17% preferred not to answer. Within the public, 66% answered that they have a personal relationship with God, 27% answered that they have no personal relationship but believe in God, only 4% said they do not, and 3% chose not to answer."
"While 80% of the public self-identify as Christian, only 56% of faculty self-identify in the same way." The difference appears to be mainly a result of a dearth of Evangelical Christians, who account for 33% of the public and only 11% of college faculty. Catholics were 18% of college faculty and 24% of the public; Jews were 5% of college faculty, but only 2% of the public. Unitarians are 3% of college faculty, but (I believe) a miniscule part of the public.
The big surprise to me is how closely correlated religious belief is to seemingly unrelated foreign policy issues. Respondants were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "Supporting institutions like the International Court of Justice is the right policy." The group that most agreed with the statement was ... (drumroll please) ... Atheists/No Religion (80% agreed/8% disagreed). Next came Jews (73% agreed/9% disagreed), Non-Evangelical Christians (67% agreed/18% disagreed), and Catholics (59% agreed/22% disagreed. The outlier was the Evangelical Christian category (bless them)(39% agreed/42% DISAGREED).
There were lots of questions like that. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement "America has made a contribution to the world by expanding freedom to more and more people," only 54% of Atheists/No Religion faculty members agreed and as many as 34% disagreed. Among Evangelical Christian faculty members, 87% agreed and 12% disagreed.
Fully 42% of those in the Atheist/No Religion category agreed with the statement "The United States is one of the two countries posing the greatest threat to international stability." Only 10% of those in the (underrepresented) Evangelical Christian category agreed.
It's not obvious to me why atheists should be as strongly critical of American foreign policy as they apparently are (although I can think of some possible explanations). I'll leave the speculation to someone else for now.