102 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
continuing high levels of religiosity in the United States (Greeley 1989;
Emerson and Hartman 2006) and in a number of other, structurally similar
societies, and of the degree to which battle lines in many geopolitical and
domestic struggles remain drawn around religion, has led to an outpouring of
theoretical and empirical work questioning and rethinking secularization
theory (e.g., Warner 1993; Casanova 1994; Chaves 1994; Yamane 1997; Berger
1999; Stark and Finke 2000; Chaves and Gorski 2001; Gorski 2003a; Smith
2003) and exploring the role of religion in arenas of modem social life long
thought destined for rationalization and an evacuation of the sacred.
One such arena is higher education. Although secularization theorists, clas-
sical and postclassical, disagreed as to the full set of mechanisms by which
modernization would bring about religious decline, most shared the view that
the growth of science and higher education represented one such mechanism.
For them, the breaking free of the European and American university from
church control in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not simply
an effect of already ongoing processes of secularization, or of more general ten-
dencies toward institutional differentiation, but was also an important contri-
butor to secularization inasmuch as the scientific worldview associated with the
university became the preeminent form of cultural authority to compete with
religion (Smith 2003). This interpretation was consistent with that offered by
many sociologists and historians of higher education in the 1950s and 1960s,
who depicted the turn of the twentieth-century American "academic revolu-
tion" (Jencks and Riesman 1968), involving the professionalization of the pro-
fessoriate and the institutionalization of academic freedom, as a triumph of
science and Enlightenment ideals over religious dogmatism (e.g., Hofstadter
and Metzger 1955; Veysey 1965; for discussion see Hart 1999; Smith 2003).
In light of the reformulations of secularization theory now taking place,
scholars have begun to reexamine the decoupling of higher education and reli-
gion. On the one hand, sociologists and historians have written revisionist his-
tories that show the dependence of the scientific revolution of the sixteenth
century on religious authority (Shapin 1996; also see Merton 1973), the degree
to which Protestant ideals continued to inform scientific investigation and the
curriculum in American universities in the early years of the twentieth century
(Marsden 1994), and that the decline of religious authority in American
higher education was not a matter of historical inevitability, but the result of
collective action by committed secularizers taking advantage of opportunities
to effect institutional change (Smith 2003). On the other hand, sociologists
studying the current American scene have ýnoted that while in general exposure
to higher education is associated with somewhat less-and less traditional
forms of-religiosity (Johnson 1997; but see Uecker, Regnerus, and Vaaler
2007), by no means is religion absent from college and university life.
Some authors bemoan the fact that only in religiously affiliated colleges and
universities can one find "God on the Quad" (Benne 2001; Riley 2005), but
others see evidence of the religious engagement of many American
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 103
undergraduates (Cherry, DeBerg, and Porterfield 2001), and even a growth of
"scholarship grounded in religion" in the humanities, social sciences, and other
fields (Hart 1999; Wolterstorff 2002:3; Schmalzbauer 2003.)
This paper extends the latter line of research by formulating a systematic
empirical answer to a related question: How religious are American college and
university professors in terms of their personal beliefs? Under the influence of
secularization theory, sociologists and others have long assumed that professors in
the modem era, as carriers of Enlightenment values and agents of secularization,
would themselves tend 'to be religious skeptics. Analyzing data from a new,
nationally representative survey of the American faculty, we show that more
extreme forms of the assumption of widespread religious skepticism are incorrect.
While atheism and agnosticism are much more common among professors than
within the U.S. population as a whole, religious skepticism represents a minority
position, even among professors teaching at elite research universities. We go on
to examine how belief in God, views of the Bible, spiritual identity, religious
orientation, and attendance at religious services are distributed across the profes-
sorial population, focusing especially on field- and institution-level differences.
Our aim in undertaking this largely descriptive endeavor is precisely to cast
doubt on assumptions of faculty atheism, not because we ourselves have any
interest in advancing a religious agenda, but because such assumptions have kept
a range of important sociological questions-about the processes and mechanisms
responsible for the distribution of religious views in academe, as well as about the
potential consequences of religiosity for teaching, research, and other faculty
attitudes--from being given the attention they deserve. We begin our discussion
by reviewing the literature on religion and the American professoriate; move on
to discuss our methods and findings; and conclude by considering the impli-
cations of our study for future research.
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE
Research on the religiosity of American professors has been limited. What
work has been done revolves around four themes: the growth of the research
university, changes in the ethno-religious composition of the professoriate,
secularism and intellectualism, and religion and contemporary campus life.
The CTrowth of the Research University
As many historians have noted, the growth of the American research uni-
versity around the turn of the twentieth century involved, inter alia, a severing
of ties between institutions of higher education and the religious denomina-
tions that had founded and supported them. "For the better part of a millen-
nium" before that, a close connection had existed between "Christianity and
higher education" (Marsden and Longfield 1992:4). Although the boom in
European university foundings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
104 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
coincided with the rise of the early modem state (Gorski 2003b) and saw state
authorities attempting to harness the institution for their own ends, "the state
never acquired exclusive jurisdiction in relation to the universities"
(Hammerstein 1995:122), where Church control remained entrenched, theol-
ogy was preferred to science, and students and faculty were expected to demon-
strate piety. The intellectual latitude offered to faculty members differed
between Catholic and Protestant institutions, but the theological character of
university life was such that the scientific revolution could only occur outside
the university. Protestantism placed particular stress on higher education as a
site for the elaboration of Reformation theology and the training of clergy
members, and this conception of the religious aims of the university was
carried by Puritan settlers to North America. The first of the colleges they
founded, Harvard, "served the interests of confessionalism" (Marsden 1994:40).
Most faculty members were ministers, religious ideas pervaded the curriculum,
and many graduates went into the clergy. When population growth in the
eighteenth century necessitated the founding of additional schools, religious
factionalism set the blueprint, helping to account for the distinctive character
of Yale, Princeton, Brown, and other institutions. This pattern continued in
the first half of the nineteenth century, when a wave of private college found-
ings occurred (Brown 1995). The geographical spread of the population and
the needs of local elites for credentialing contributed here, but so too did the
emergence of new religious sects eager to train students in their doctrines and
ideals, though pressures for diminished sectarianism were also being felt with
calls for the establishment of state universities. Denominational differences
notwithstanding, "in nineteenth-century America, educational and theological
orthodoxy almost always went together" (Veysey 1965:25). Collegiate instruc-
tion prepared students to be good Christians and hence good citizens, and the
dominant ideas taught-centered around the moral philosophy of the Scottish
Enlighteners-partook of a "widely shared article of faith that science,
common sense, morality, and true religion were firmly allied" (Marsden
While analysts disagree as to the processes involved, the historical evidence
indicates that between about 1870 and 1910 this "article of faith" began to
crumble. On some accounts, Darwinism and the growth of the physical and
biological sciences after the Civil War-with the latter tied to the revving up
of American industrial capitalism and the needs of an increasingly complex,
urban society-precipitated a crisis of faith among some faculty members and
administrators. This was met by calls to reinstate academic piety, and some of
the demand for academic freedom that ensued may have stemmed from frustra-
tion over the efforts of religious authorities to stop the rising tide of science
(Hofstadter and Metzger 1955; Veysey 1965). For example, such frustration
underlay Andrew Dickson White's vision for Cornell University, founded in
1865 as an institution where scientific inquiry would never be forced to take a
backseat to religious verities. It is significant in this regard that when
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 105
American academic reformers brought back from Germany the organizational
plans and "epistemic culture" (Knorr-Cetina 1999) for founding research uni-
versities on American soil-not least the idea of academic freedom-they were
acting as agents of diffusion for a set of social practices forged during a period
that saw the secularization of German university life (Collins 1998). Their
program for reform was also tied to notions of professionalization. The only
way for science to advance, they believed, was for academic disciplines to
become "self-governing and largely closed communit[ies] of practitioners ...
which determine ... [their own] .. standards for entry, promotion, and dismis-
sal" (Menand 1997:205). This form of social organization, increasingly popular
in the upper tiers of the occupational structure in the second half of the nine-
teenth century (Larson 1977; Abbott 1988), did not demand that academicians
relinquish their religious beliefs, but did help solidify a distinction between reli-
gious and scientific/academic criteria for evaluating intellectual "merit" (Tsay
et al. 2003) that allowed religious considerations to be edged out of academic
Other scholars, however, have questioned this account, which depicts
academic secularization as an inevitable result of the growth of science.
Numbers (1998), for example, has argued that the American intellectual
elite of the nineteenth century did not find it so difficult to reconcile
Darwinism and faith. And Marsden has noted that many of the major
research universities started at the end of the century, such as the University
of Chicago, were founded on religious ideals. John D. Rockefeller, the uni-
versity's chief benefactor, was "a pious Baptist layman of a traditional sort"
who "saw a university as a way to serve both the church and the society on
a broad basis" (Marsden 1994:240). That "American Protestantism" at the
time "seemed to be taking on an activist methodistic hue, emphasizing prac-
tice over doctrinal traditionalism" (1994:244) meant that the university
could serve religious aims by emphasizing its role in community service, a
conception that freed up space for the hiring of faculty members with a
greater variety of religious views. Where Marsden views the institutionaliza-
tion of this "low church" conception of the university as responsible for the
even greater secularization of American higher education in the decades to
come insofar as it rendered "academic expressions of Christianity" "at best
superfluous and at worst scientific and unprofessional" (265), a different tack
is taken by Smith (2003), who uses ideas drawn from social movement
theory to highlight the processes of conflict and contestation by which those
who wished to secularize not just the university, but' all of the institutions of
public life, went about doing so in the Progressive era. Scholarship on the
academic revolution tells us little about the religious beliefs of individual
faculty members, but it does trace a long-term process of institutional change
by which religious and specifically Christian ideals, beliefs, and practices
became less important features of the official life of American'colleges and
universities (also see Burtchaell 1998).
106 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
The Changing Ethno-Religious Composition of the American Professoriate
A second area of research that speaks to the religiosity of American
professors concerns their changing ethno-religious background over the course
of the twentieth century. Hand in hand with what Hollinger (1996) calls the
"de-Christianization" of American higher education were increasing opportu-
nities for non-Protestants to enter the ranks of the faculty. Nineteenth- and
early-twentieth-century European immigration altered the religious compo-
sition of the population, bringing growing numbers of Catholics and Jews. A
network of Catholic colleges and universities had been founded in the
1800s, and although intergenerational mobility, particularly among
Irish-Americans, meant that some Catholics would aspire to enter elite colleges
and universities, spurning the perceived backwardness of Catholic institutions
(Gleason 1995), overall the proportion of Catholics who went to college
remained low, as did, partly in consequence, the number of Catholic faculty
members teaching in schools not controlled by the Church (McGreevy 2006).
Jewish-Americans, by contrast, set their sights on elite institutions, and applied
in such numbers as to constitute what was perceived to be a threat to the
Protestant academic establishment. In the first 30 years of the twentieth
century, elite schools imposed limits on the number of Jews they would admit at
both the undergraduate and graduate level (Karabel 2005), and few Jews were
permitted to enter faculty ranks. The effect of anti-Semitism in academe was
not simply to push many Jewish intellectuals into alternative venues for knowl-
edge production, such as journalism and literary criticism, but also to further
convince them that American society and its institutions needed to be radically
changed. This sentiment, fused with socialist traditions carried from the old
country (Cooney 1986), Depression-era radical politics, and the culture of bohe-
mian New York (Stansell 2000), led many Jewish intellectuals to embrace the
"cosmopolitan values" associated with "the broad Western tradition in the
humanities" (Cooney 1986:7, 14) that would lend them the intellectual means
to mount a critique of American culture. With immersion in Marx, Freud,
Nietzsche, and Darwin often came a championing of atheism and secularism.
After World War II, barriers to the entry of Catholics and Jews into
academe came down. This was a function not simply of the ideological difficul-
ties encountered by particularistic practices of social exclusion in the wake of
Nazism, but also of the expansion of the higher education system at the time, a
product of the influx of veterans into the student population, government and
private philanthropic investment in research in the context of the Cold War,
and a new emphasis on the importance of a college degree with the expansion
of white-collar work. As the need for faculty members outstripped supply,
groups previously excluded could make inroads, though opportunities for
women and people of color remained limited. "By the 1960s," McGreevy
(2006:199) reports, "Catholics entered graduate school at or modestly below
the percentage of Catholics in the population." Jews, for their part, could be
found enrolled in American colleges and universities at twice the rate of their
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE '107
non-Jewish counterparts, and by the time of the Carnegie Commission Survey
of Faculty Student Opinion in 1969 comprised 9.8 percent of the professorial
population and were "heavily represented on the faculties of Ivy League
schools and other elite private universities" (Ladd and Lipset 1975:150). The
prominence of Jewish academicians in the post-World War II era was enhanced
by the fact that so many eminent European scientists and scholars of Jewish
descent had been forced to flee to the United States. As a result of these
changes, by 1969 "one third .... of the faculty could be counted as having
non-Protestant origins" (Schuster and Finkelstein 2006:66). Catholic professors
tended to be concentrated in four-year colleges and in the humanities
(Schuster and Finkelstein 2006); under pressure to assimilate, they often kept
their academic work and their faith separate (McGreevy 2006; also see Alba
2006). Jewish academics were more likely to embrace not just secularism but
also atheism and leftist politics, to consider themselves intellectuals (Ladd and
Lipset 1975), and to throw themselves behind the universalistic ideals of
science (Hollinger 1996). Among Protestants, professors tended to be "drawn
disproportionately from those denominations that [were] ... more theologically
liberal and of higher socioeconomic status, including Presbyterianism,
Congregationalism, and Episcopalianism" (Finkelstein 1984:158), reflecting the
fact that young people from conservative Protestant denominations typically
did not aspire to high levels of educational attainment in secular institutions
or to pursue academic careers (Darnell and Sherkat 1997; but see Beyerlein
2004), and faced significant barriers to entry owing to their ideological predis-
positions and lower social class backgrounds.
Diversification of the American faculty continued in the 1970s, 1980s, and
1990s. The most significant change involved the growing number of women
and people of color. From 1969 to 1998, the "proportion of women among the
full-time faculty .... doubled" (Schuster and Finkelstein 2006:51), though the
feminization of the academic labor force has been greater in lower tier than in
elite institutions, and greater in the,humanities and social sciences than in the
physical and engineering sciences. As for people of color, they now comprise
about 14.5 percent of the professoriate overall, and'about 19.8 percent of the
most recent entering cohorts (Schuster and Finkelstein 2006:53-4), with
Asian Americans faring better than African Americans, Latinos, and others. It
is impossible to tell what effect these changes have had, if any, on the religious
orientation of the professoriate, given the heterogeneity of the groups involved,
but the trend in recent decades has been one of continuing erosion of
Protestant numerical dominance.' Between 1969 and 1984, the proportion of
professors who described themselves as having no religious identity increased
from 19 to 30.5 percent, the proportion who described themselves as having a
'Another notable trend is the increased rate at which evangelicals appear to be enter-
ing the academy (Lindsay 2006).
108 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
Protestant background decreased from 67.7 to 62.5 percent, the proportion
stating their current religious identity as Protestant decreased from 49.6 to 41.2
percent, the proportion of those currently identifying themselves as Jews or
Catholics held steady, and the proportion who gave their religious identity as
"other" increased slightly (Schuster and Finkelstein 2006:460).
Religion and the Intellectuals
A third literature that speaks to the religiosity-or lack of religiosity-of
the professoriate is the sociology of intellectuals (see Kurzman and Owens
2002). In the 1960s and 1970s, as the sociology of knowledge underwent a
growth spurt (Camic 2001), much attention was devoted to understanding
intellectuals and their role in contemporary society. In this scholarship, the
intellectual was often defined in part by his alleged opposition to religious
authority. Shils (1972:16), for example, followed Durkheim and Weber in
arguing that "intellectual work arose from religious preoccupations." Yet in
Shils's view, because intellectual life outside the church tends to follow an
autonomous logic, intellectuals eventually come to "reject... the prevailing
system of cultural values" (7). While increasingly incorporated into the insti-
tutional structures of modem society with the growth of the state and industry,
intellectuals thus inevitably come into "conflict with other traditions of defer-
ence toward ecclesiastical and temporal authorities" (18), making them flash-
points for religious and political struggle. The assumption that the modem
intellectual tends to be irreligious also characterized research on the growth of
a "new class" of knowledge workers in the post-World War II era (for discus-
sion, see King and Szel6nyi 2004). Originating in the Soviet orbit, where the
technical intelligentsia played key roles in planning the socialist economy
(Konr6d and Szel6nyi 1979), the notion of the New Class soon became a point
around which much discussion of the class structure in the capitalist West was
also centered. Analysts typically assumed that members of the New Class,
including professors, would have little use for religion. Bell (1973), for
example, who doubted that the New Class was really a class at all, argued that
the emergence of a service sector economy empowered knowledge workers,
whose ranks were rapidly expanding, over against both business elites and
members of the working class. Although knowledge workers-professors,
scientists, engineers, computer programmers, and the like-might differ in
their political views depending on their institutional locations, Bell speculated
that they would come to hold certain cultural attitudes in common as the com-
munalistic ethos of science to which they were exposed aligned them against
those espousing more individualistic, market-based conceptions of society.
They were also, in his view, destined to be atheists or agnostics, for "a techno-
cratic mind-view," with "its emphasis on the logical, practical, problem-solving,
instrumental, orderly, and disciplined approach to objectives ... is a world-view
quite opposed to the traditional and customary religious, esthetic, and intuitive
modes" (349). The same assumption was made by Gouldner (1979), for whom
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 109
the cultural orientation common among the intelligentsia-a "culture of
critical discourse" defined as universalistic, rational, and secular-was a means
to New Class dominance, a form of knowledge that could serve as a basis for
Research on the Religiosity of the American College and University
A fourth and final area of research relevant to this study concerns the role
of religion in contemporary American college and university life. On one side,
many of those who have studied long-term processes of secularization are criti-
cal of what they see as the absence of religious perspectives in American
higher education today-in the curriculum, in student culture, and in faculty
research. Marsden and Longfield (1992), for example, claim that religion in the
university "has moved from near the center ... to the incidental periphery,"
and that there is now "a definite bias against any perceptible religiously
informed perspectives getting a hearing in the university classroom" (33).
Benne (2001) concurs, arguing that while a few schools are still genuinely
committed to Christian values, most faculty members are "trained in.ý.. graduate
schools that... imbibed heavily the Enlightenment faith" and socialized into
academic disciplines characterized by "methodological atheism" where "religion
as an independent variable in any human action" is "ignored" (28). As a result,
today "secularized faculty factions... guard the public educational space from
incursion by those who attempt to bring religious, perspectives to bear" (29;
also see Sommerville 2006).
On the other side, a number of scholars have described the contemporary
period as having witnessed a renewed interest in religion in American higher
education. Wolterstorff (2002) notes that while one can speak of the seculari-
zation of American higher education in the sense of disestablishment from reli-
gious institutions, one can equally see a "failure of secularization" (249) insofar
as religion has now been offloaded onto thriving "para-university organizations"
like Hillel that offer students ample opportunity to lead religious lives. Wolfe
(1997:B4) observes that "a vigorous round of criticism of the modem university
has been touched off by critics who, arguing in the name of religion, insist that
secularization has gone too far." Schmalzbauer (2003), :drawing on interviews
with professors and journalists who are part of this critical contingent, suggests
we may be witnessing a "deprivatization of religion" in various arenas of public
life, with increasing numbers of professionals "more open to individual acts of
religious self-expression than has been recognized" (10), a function not simply
of the efflorescence of American religion and spirituality in the closing decades
of the twentieth century, but also of "broad changes in higher education"-
specifically the growth of multiculturalism and postmodemism-that "have
helped to create a climate that is more conducive to the expression of religious
viewpoints in 'professional life" (75). Cherry, DeBerg, and Porterfield, (2001)
share the'view that critics of godless American academe have overstated their
case. They find from case study research on four schools that charges of
110 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
secularization and the marginalization of religion fail to attend to "the protean
flexibility that has characterized American religion as a whole throughout the
nation's history" (5). Opportunities exist for students to engage in mainstream
forms of religious worship, they find, while also observing-employing the
language of Wuthnow (1998)-that many college students are now "spiritual
seekers" rather than "religious dwellers," and that "if the definition of religion"
is extended to "include ... spirituality" then "opportunities for undergraduates
to practice religion" must be seen as "widely available" (275). Taking a differ-
ent tack, Sherkat (2007), reviewing evidence from surveys of college students,
argues that students are more religious today than in previous decades-more
likely to believe in God, more likely to attend religious services, and more
likely to belong to conservative Protestant denominations--developments he
sees as related to the increasing tendency of religious youth to opt into the
college experience. (For a review of the evidence suggesting that religion may
be increasingly important in American higher education in general, see
Schmalzbauer and Mahoney 2007.)
This research aside, much scholarship on the state of religion in American
higher education today is essayistic, anecdotal, and explicitly normative. A few
empirical studies directly on the topic of professorial religiosity have been
carried out. These studies build on the pioneering contributions of Leuba
(1916), who surveyed natural scientists early in the twentieth century and
found that 58 percent were religious skeptics. Reviewing several such studies
carried out in the 1960s and 1970s, Finkelstein reported in 1984 that "sociol-
ogists have persistently confirmed that professors, other scientists, and artists
are, as a group, significantly less religious than other professionals and the
general public" (159); that this is a function of selection effects more than pro-
fessional socialization; that "as one ascends the institutional prestige hierarchy,
religiosity decreases significantly" (162); and that "faculty teaching in pro-
fessional and applied fields" tend to be much more religious than "those housed
in colleges of arts and sciences" (162). Larson and Witham (1998), replicating
Leuba's study, likewise found high levels of religious skepticism among natural
scientists who were members of the National Academy of Sciences-only
7 percent expressed belief in a personal God. By contrast, Stark and Finke
(2000), critics of secularization theory, resuscitate data from the Carnegie faculty
survey of 1969 to argue that there is no "fundamental incompatibility between
scientific and religious worldviews" (53). Their analysis of the data shows that in
the physical and life sciences, 55 percent of professors were "religious persons,"
42 percent attended religious services regularly, and about a third were religious
conservatives. It was in the social sciences that religious skeptics were more
common. Stark and Finke account for these disciplinary differences by invoking
Wuthnow (1985), who speculates that those scientific fields that are most
anxious about their scientific status have the most need to engage in "boundary
work" (Gieryn 1999) that separates them off from the rest of society, with
professions of unbelief representing one form such boundary work can take.
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 111
More recently, Ecklund and Scheitle (2007) surveyed 1646 natural and
social scientists from 21 elite research universities to assess their levels of religi-
osity. Thirty-four percent of their respondents said they did not believe in
God, and 30 percent said they did not know if God exists and that there is no
way to find out. Unlike Stark and Finke, Ecklund and Scheitle find few differ-
ences in religiosity between natural and social scientists. They also find that
being raised in a religious household is one of the strongest predictors of being
religious as a professor, suggesting-in line with Finkelstein's earlier review of
the evidence-that selection processes, not professional socialization, may
account for the lower religiosity of 'professors overall. Approaching the topic
from a different angle, Lindholm and Astin (2006), analyzing survey data from
a sample of 37,827 faculty respondents in 2004-5, report that 82 percent of
faculty members score at either a high or medium level on a composite measure
of spirituality. However, their study included few measures of traditional reli-
gious belief. So how religious are today's professors when more traditional
measures are examined and looking not just at elite scientists-a relatively
small slice of the professorial population-but at the professoriate as a whole?
To answer this question, we analyze data from the Politics of the American
Professoriate study, a survey we carried out in the spring of 2006 of full-time
college and university professors teaching in U.S. institutions. The study was
designed to assess the social and political attitudes of professors on a wide
range of topics, and included several questions about religion. The study
focused on professors teaching in fields where undergraduate degrees are
awarded. Given the large number of such fields and our desire to have enough
cases in each to make meaningful comparisons, we drew two-thirds of our
sample from the 20 largest disciplinary fields, as measured by the number of
bachelors degrees awarded in 2004, with the remaining third drawn randomly
from all fields. To construct our sample, we first randomly sampled from the
National Center for Education Statistics' (NCES) dataset on degree com-
pletions, locating a college or university where either bachelors or associates
degrees in the relevant field were awarded. We then selected one faculty
member at random from the closest matching department or program, and sent
letters and emails to secure participation in the study, which entailed filling
out an online questionnaire. We stratified our sample to ensure adequate rep-
resentation of faculty members teaching at community colleges, four-year col-
leges and universities, nonelite PhD granting institutions, and elite doctoral
universities (defined conventionally as those in the top 50 in the latest U.S.
News and World Report ranking), and achieved a 51 percent response rate, with
1471 valid cases. (In the analyses that follow, we restrict our sample to pro-
fessors with full-time appointments, which reduces 1the sample size to 1417;
112 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
missing data result in further limitations in the regression analyses specifically.)
In a regression model predicting response to the survey, institution type was
not a significant variable. To better assess response bias, we conducted short
phone interviews with a random sample of 100 nonresponders. The mean
response to our key political attitudes question among nonresponders was about
the same as the mean response among survey participants, suggesting no signifi-
cant response bias along political lines (nonresponders were slightly more
conservative than responders, but the differences were small). We also asked
nonresponders about the frequency of their attendance at religious services.
Nonresponders were less likely than responders to report attending services
once or twice a year or less (30.6 percent ýas compared to 46.1 percent), and
more likely to report attending services about every week or more (38.6
percent as compared to 30.4 percent). The figures we report below on the reli-
giosity of American professors may thus underestimate actual levels of religious
Once collected, the data were weighted to even out the effects of over-
sampling certain fields and institutions. We believe our sample to be an
approximate representation of the more than 630,000 professors teaching full-
time in U.S. colleges and universities, with the important caveat that, as noted
above, professors were only eligible to be sampled if they taught in departments
or programs offering undergraduate degrees. Professors of law and medicine-
including the many physical and biological scientists working in medical
schools-and those teaching in other professional fields were not purposively
sampled (though professors of business were, as many business schools offer
To measure professorial religiosity, we examine respondents' belief in God;
whether on religious matters they think of themselves as progressives, moder-
ates, or traditionalists; their self-identification as born-again Christians or
"(spiritual persons"; their views of the Bible; the religious faith, if any, with
which they identify; and their reported frequency of attendance at religious ser-
vices. To maximize construct validity, we drew questions on belief in God,
views of the Bible, and attendance directly from the General Social Survey
(GSS). The question on religious faith was taken from the annual faculty
survey carried out by the Higher Education Research Institute at the
University of California, Los Angeles.
To assess how religiosity is distributed within the professorial population,
we first present a number of cross-tabulations, and then fit multivariate models
2Tables showing sample demographics are available from the authors.
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 113
to determine whether initially evident variation holds up when other factors
are introduced (the multivariate models examine five of the dependent vari-
ables listed above.) Our goal in the regression models is not to maximally
explain variation on the dependent variables--something that would require
both a full-fledged theory of professorial religiosity and access to more detailed
data than we possess on our respondents' experiences with religion over the life
course-but is simply to map the distribution of religiosity within the professor-
ial population more definitively. We consider in this regard a number of
institution-level variables drawn from the same NCES dataset that we used as
the basis for our sample: whether the respondent teaches at an elite doctoral
granting university or at some other kind of institution; whether the respon-
dent's school is religiously affiliated; whether it is public or private; the region
of the country in which it is located; and the population density of the sur-
rounding community. We also examine differences by field, looking first at
variation in religiosity between social and physical or biological scientists,3 and
then at more fine-grained field differences. At the individual level, we consider
the respondent's age, race, sex, Latino origin, marital .status, family income,
whether the respondent has a doctorate, 'whether the respondent is 'a
"senior"--associate or full-professor, whether the respondent says that he or
she is more oriented toward research than toward teaching or service, and, as a
measure of social class background, whether the respondent's father received a
bachelors degree or higher.
Table 1 reports the figures for professors' belief in God. When asked
whether they believe, 9.8 percent of our respondents chose 'the statement, "I
don't believe in God," while 13.1 percent chose the statement, "I don't
know whether there is a God, and I don't believe there is any way to find
out."4 In surveys of the general U.S. population, only 3 percent of
Americans identify themselves as atheists and 4.1 percent as agnostics
(Edgell, Gerteis, and Hartmann 2006), so our findings indicate that religious
skepticism is more than three times more common among professors than
among Americans overall. Yet skepticism is by no means the most common
we rely on the NCES classification of disciplinary fields. Social science includes
anthropology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science, sociology, and
a number of interdisciplinary fields. We also include psychology in this category. For the
biological and physical sciences, we include all those fields designated as such by the
4These and other descriptive statistics are slightly different than we have
where because in this paper we do not exclude item nonresponse.
114 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
TABLE 1 College and University Professors' Belief in God
Belief in God Frequency Percent
I don't believe in God 138 9.8
I don't know whether there is a God 186 13.1
I do believe in a higher power 271 19.2
I find myself believing in God some of the time 61 4.3
While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God 235 16.6
I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it 495 34.9
No answer 32 2.2
Politics of the American Professoriate Survey, 2006. Column does not add to 100
because of rounding.
stance toward religion among professors. Just over a fifth are skeptics, whereas
religious believers-those who chose the statement, "While I have doubts, I
feel that I do believe in God," along with those who selected "I know God
really exists and I have no doubts about itC-together comprise 51.5 percent
of all professors.
These figures vary across types of institutions (though we do not represent
these differences in tabular form). Not surprisingly, professors in religiously
affiliated colleges and universities-who comprise 14 percent of our sample,
and whose jobs often require affirmations of faith are more likely to be believ-
ers. Whereas about half of professors in nonreligiously affiliated schools say
either that they believe in God despite their doubts or that they have no
doubts about God's existence, this is true of 68.9 percent of professors in reli-
giously affiliated schools. Consistent with previous research, we also find-at
least looking at the bivariate distributions-that professors at elite doctoral uni-
versities are less likely to be believers than are professors teaching in other
kinds of institutions. 36.5 percent of respondents with appointments in elite
doctoral schools are either atheists or agnostics, 5 as compared to 15.3 percent
of respondents teaching in community colleges, 22.0 percent of those teaching
at BA granting institutions, and 22.7 percent of those teaching in nonelite
doctoral granting universities. And whereas about 44.5 percent of community
college professors and 38.5 percent of professors at four-year schools say they
have no doubt God exists, the same is true for only about 20.4 percent of pro-
fessors teaching at elite doctoral universities.
The figure here for atheists and agnostics at elite schools is much lower than that
reported by Ecklund and Scheitle, which we assume is a function of the fact that our
sample includes a wider array of professors.
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 115
Atheists and agnostics also appear to be more common in some disciplines
than others. Table 2 displays the distribution of belief in God for professors in
the 20 largest disciplinary fields in order of their aggregate levels of religious
belief. In line with Finkelstein's (1984) earlier review of the evidence, we find
that the most religious fields are applied ones outside the traditional liberal arts
core, whose instructors may come closer to resembling the general population
in terms of attitudes and values. Sixty-three percent of accounting professors,
56.8 percent of elementary education professors, 48.6 percent of professors of
finance, 46.5 percent of marketing professors, 45.0 percent of art professors,
and 44.4 percent of professors of criminal justice and of nursing say they have
no doubt that God exists. At the other extreme, psychology and mechanical
engineering have the highest proportion of atheists, while 60.8 percent of biol-
ogists are either atheists or agnostics.
In Table 3, we report belief in God sorted by type of discipline, aggregating
up from specific disciplinary affiliations to examine broad disciplinary areas.
Atheists are somewhat more common in the social sciences than in the phys-
ical or biological sciences or humanities, while more than twice as many
agnostics can be found in the physical or biological sciences than in any other
area. When atheists and agnostics are combined into one category, it is among
physical and biological scientists that religious skepticism is the most common.
Professors in the health sciences-which in our sample means mostly professors
of nursing-are the most likely to be confirmed believers, with professors in
otherwise classified fields the second highest group in terms of levels of reli-
gious belief. There are relatively few professors of the agricultural sciences in
our sample, but we list them separately because of the interesting finding that
three quarters claim not to believe in God per se, but in a higher power of
In Table 4, we move on to consider the overall religious orientation of our
respondents. Among professors who are religious, what proportion think of
themselves as religious progressives, moderates, or traditionalists, and how are
these orientations distributed across institutional location and disciplinary area?
Here we find that self-identified religious progressives-presumably those who
are affiliated with a faith tradition but have relatively loose doctrinal commit-
ments and believe that religion must change and adapt to meet new social and
historical circumstances--comprise about 38.6 percent of religious American
academics. Self-identified traditionalists comprise about 19 percent, while reli-
gious moderates represent the modal category, at 42.4 percent. Religious pro-
gressives-along with religious traditionalists-can most commonly be found at
community colleges, while most religiously inclined professors at elite and
nonelite PhD granting institutions consider themselves religious moderates.
Looking at disciplinary differences, we see that religious progressives are more
than twice as common in the social sciences and humanities than in any other
field, that physical and biological scientists are the most likely to consider
themselves religious moderates, and that, relative to other kinds of professors,
116 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
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118 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
TABLE 4 Religious Orientation by Institution Type and by Discipline
Progressive Moderate Traditionalist religious answer
Two-year 37.8 13.4 23.9 19.3 5.5
Four-year 19.5 31.2 6.7 36.7 5.9
Nonelite doctoral 18.6 26.3 4.8 43.7 6.6
Elite doctoral 23.9 26.3 11.8 31.8 6.2
Total, religious only 38.6 42.4 19.0
Physical and biological 13.0 32.2 5.2 37.4 12.2
Social sciences 32.5 23.0 4.8 34.9 4.8
Humanities 35.0 20.7 6.6 31.7 6.1
Computer science and 11.3 39.6 17.0 28.9 3.1
Health 12.0 36.1 36.1 12.0 3.6
Business 13.5 32.3 18.8 26.0 9.4
Other 23.2 22.4 13.5 34.5 6.5
Politics of the American Professoriate Survey, 2006. Sample sizes differ in the subtables
based on item nonresponse on the dependent variables. Rows may not add to 100 because
physical and biological scientists, social scientists, and humanists are the least
likely to consider themselves traditionalists.
Table 5 reports the religious affiliations of professors in our survey. More or
less consistent with the figures on nonbelief, 31.2 percent of our respondents
describe themselves as not religious. The percent that can be classified as
Protestant is 37.9, 15.9 percent are Roman Catholic, and 5.4 percent identify
as Jewish. The remainder are scattered among other faiths. At elite, PhD grant-
ing schools, 13.1 percent of professors are Jewish. Compared with other studies,
our survey probably underestimates the number of Jews in academe. This is so
because our religious identification question asked respondents about their
current religious preference. Because Judaism is both a religious tradition and
an ethnic identity-and given the historical connections between Jewish intel-
lectualism and atheism-an unknown number of respondents of Jewish descent
may have described themselves as "not religious."
Overall, 18.6 percent of respondents to our survey said the term
"born-again Christian" describes them at least slightly well. Cross-tabulations
show that professors who consider themselves born-again are extremely rare at
elite doctoral institutions, composing only about 1 percent of professors at
such schools, but they are not uncommon among community college professors
and professors teaching at four-year schools; there they represent 18.6 and
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN, PROFESSORIATE 119
TABLE 5 Religious Affiliation of U.S. College and University Professors
None 437 31.2
Roman Catholic 222 15.9
Other Christian 125 9.0
Methodist 82 5.9
Jewish 75 5.4
Lutheran 68 4.9
Baptist 59 4.2
Episcopalian 52 3.7
United Church of Christ/Congregationalist 44 3.1
Presbyterian 41 2.9
Unitarian/Universalist 41 2.9
Muslim 37 2.6
Buddhist 31 2.2
Other religion 29 2.1
Church of Christ 18 1.3
Mormon 12 0.8
Eastern Orthodox 9 0.7
Hindu 9 0.6
Quaker 8 0.6
Seventh Day Adventist 1 0.1
Politics of the American Professoriate Survey, 2006. Column does not add to 100
because of rounding.
24.6 percent of professors, respectively. Nor are born-again Christians only to
be found at religiously affiliated institutions, though they are present in greater
numbers there. The percent of professors at secular schools that describe
themselves as born-again Christians is 16.8, as compared to 29.5 percent at
religiously affiliated schools. About 45.9 percent of the self-identified religious
traditionalists in academe are born-again Christians.
Although we do not report the figures in tables, three other descriptive
findings are worth mentioning. The first concerns views of the Bible. Not sur-
prisingly, given the textual and historical focus of many American academi-
cians, only 5.7 percent of respondents say the Bible is the "actual word of
God," with 48.3 percent describing it as "an ancient book of fables, legends,
history, and moral precepts." About 39.5 percent of respondents are of the
view that the Bible is "the inspired word of God." Roughly 7 percent refused to
answer this question. Here again differences are evident by type of institution,
with community college professors three times more likely than others to sub-
scribe to the "actual word of God" position, and 72 percent of professors at
elite doctoral universities taking the "ancient book of fables" view. Second, we
find that half of American professors-49.9 percent-say that the term
120 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
"spiritual person" describes them at least moderately well. This finding points
to somewhat less faculty spirituality than that reported by Lindholm and Astin
(2006), whose composite measure included one self-identification item.
A third finding is that although the professoriate is, on the whole, much
less religious than the general population, a significant proportion of professors
report regular attendance at religious services. Figures from the 2004 GSS
suggest that about just under half of Americans attend religious services once a
month or more. The comparable figure among respondents to our survey is
39.5 percent. Professors at four-year institutions attend such services the most
frequently, with 44.9 percent saying they do so once a month or more, com-
pared with 26.9 percent of professors at elite doctoral schools.
These cross-tabulations are suggestive of interesting patterns in the distri-
bution of religious belief and practice in academe, but how much of the vari-
ation observable in the bivariate distributions holds up when other, potentially
confounding factors are examined? We answer this question by fitting five
multivariate models using ordinal logistic regression, each focusing on a differ-
ent dependent variable and examining a variety of possible individual- and
institutional-level correlates of religiosity. The models examine belief in God,
views of the Bible, overall religious orientation, frequency of attendance at reli-
gious services, and spiritual self-identification; for all these variables, response
categories are treated as ordinal. The results are shown in Table 6. Of particu-
lar interest given the cross-tabulations is the apparent status gradient in
professorial religiosity, according to which professors at more prestigious,
research-oriented institutions are both less religious overall and less traditiona-
listic in their religious orientations, and the finding that while atheism is
slightly more common among social scientists, religious skepticism-
encompassing both atheism and agnosticism-is most prevalent among
physical and biological scientists.
With respect to the status gradient, which we operationalize in these
models with a dummy variable for elite, PhD-granting schools, 6 we find that it
disappears entirely when measures are introduced of whether respondents con-
sider themselves oriented primarily toward the research enterprise, or of
whether they hold doctoral degrees. These characteristics of respondents,
especially research orientation, are much more common among professors
teaching at elite schools, and our models suggest it is these characteristics-
and not institutional prestige per se-that account for the diminished religios-
ity, and less traditional religiosity, of professors teaching at elite institutions.
Those who are oriented primarily toward research are less likely to believe in
We obtained the same results using different measures of status, including those that
measured the exclusivity of schools at the undergraduate level.
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 121
TABLE 6 Coefficients from Ordinal Logistic Regression Models for Five Religious
Belief Variables (robust,standard errors in parentheses)
Meaning of Religious Belief in Church Spiritual
the Bible Orientation God Attendance Identity
Elite PhD 0.125 0.411 0.041 S0.222 -0.053
school -(0.532) -(0.414) -(0.373) -(0.307) "-(0.321)
Senior 0.433 -0.02 -0.093 -0.196 0.543
professor - (0.255) - (0.293) -(0.4) 7 (0.274) -(0.299)
Doctorate - 0.482 -0.843 -0.481 -0.084 ,-0.546
-(0.281) (0.313)** -(0.374) - (0.281) -(0.31)
Male -0.457 0.016 -0.177 ,-0.07 -0.403
- (0.248) -(0.253) "-(0.286) -(0.211) -(0.23)
White -0.496 -0.654 - 0.685 - 0.983 -0.385
-(0.462) -(0.342) -(0.374) (0.364)**-(0.362)
Latino -0.138 0.61 0.562 0.494 0.026
-(0.927) -(0.527) -(0.591) - (0.284) -(0.411)
Age -0.028 - 0.003 0.006 0.018 -0.017
(0.013)* - (0.014) -(0.017) -(0.014) -(0.014)
Married 0.697 0.554 0.513 0.801 0.443
(0.281)* (0.260)* -(0.301) (0.259)** -(0.229)
Population 0.116 0.081 0.039 0.047 0.129
density*** - (0.065) - (0.065) - (0.071) - (0.074) (0.059)*
Northeast -0.959 -0.49 -0.833 -0.417 0-.364
(0.341)** -(0.316) (0.342)* -(0.264) -(0.26)
Midwest - 0.049 -0.491 -0.514 -0.227 -0.056
- (0.333) -(0.305) -(0.333) -(0.288) ,-(0.332)
West -0.805 -0.46 -0.413 -0.27 -0.187
(0.358)* - (0.322) -(0.414) -(0.3) -(0.338)
Religiously 0.282 0.449 0.564 0.755 0.568
affiliation -(0.344) -(0.297) -(0.319) (0.300)*- (0.254)*
Private 0.348 0.155 0.169 0.153 -0.03
institution - (0.323) -(0.279) -(0.306) - (0.291) - (0.245)
Social scientist -0.107 -0.186 -0.209 -0.073 -0.242,
- (0.408) - (0.284) -(0.32) -(0.26) - (0.333)
Phys/bio. 0.264 0.104 -0.453 - 0.494 -0.328
scientist - (0.399) - (0.363) - (0.293) - (0.389) "-(0.329)
Research -1.131 -1.371 -0.813 -1.107 -0.964
orientation (0.357)** (0.288)** (0.269)** (0.233)** (0.305)**
Family income -0.001 0.001 -0.002 - 0.004 -0.005
-(0.002) - (0.002)'! -(0.002) (0.002)* (0.002)**
Father college - 0.662 -0.146 -0.016 0.05 0.079
(0.261)* -(0.226) -7 (0.25) -(0.216) - (0.224)
Sample size 1318 1322 1377 1397 1390
Politics of the American Professoriate Survey, 2006.
*p < .05, **p < .01, ***Coded from Urban to Rural.
122 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
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.
Professors who hold doctorates, for their part, are less likely to have traditiona-
listic religious orientations. These findings tell us nothing about whether biases
against religiosity-against religious colleagues, students, and groups-may be
more in evidence at elite research schools, as conservative critics of the
academy have alleged, but they do suggest that the diminished religiosity of
professors there is a function primarily of selection on nonreligious character-
istics. Professors who, regardless of their institutional location, are oriented
mainly toward research and hold doctoral degrees in their fields could be less
religious because they are more committed to the scientific enterprise or to
rational humanistic inquiry and consciously reject religion as incompatible, or
they could be more thoroughly socialized into the culture of academe-which
is secular in orientation despite the personal religiosity of the majority of the
faculty overall-and be enacting normative social identities that make less
space for religious commitment. Alternatively, given that modem 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. Whichever
explanation is correct, it is important to place the finding in its proper context:
on the one hand, only about a quarter of professors in our sample say that they
are oriented primarily toward research; on the other hand, 31.3 percent of such
professors are nonetheless religious believers.
As far as differences by field go, our multivariate findings are consistent
with those of Ecklund and Scheitle: we find no systematic differences in religi-
osity, on any of our five measures, between social scientists, physical and bio-
logical scientists, and other kinds of professors. 7 Examination of an alternative
model (not shown) that excludes variables for social science and the biological
and physical sciences and includes dummy variables for the 20 largest disciplin-
ary fields in which bachelors degrees are awarded reveals that what differences
do exist by field are exclusively at the disciplinary level. With other factors
controlled, biologists and psychologists-relative to professors outside the top
20 fields-are less likely to believe in God and less likely to hold traditional
views of the Bible; professors of communications, English, and history are less
likely to hold traditional views of the Bible; sociologists are less likely to have
a traditionalistic religious orientation overall; and professors of accounting,
earlier versions of this paper, we reported that social scientists tend to be less
religious than their counterparts in the natural sciences. This finding turns out to have
been an artifact of using unweighted data in the regression analysis. For discussion of the
merits of using weighted or unweighted data for regression, see Winship and Radbill
(1994). Given the complex sampling design, we have concluded that consistently weighting
the data yields the most unbiased estimators.
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 123
finance, and nursing tend to be more religious. Boundary work and defense of
intellectual jurisdiction of the kind flagged by Stark and Finke could be at play
here, as scientists in fields like biology who have been embroiled in intense
conflicts with creationists experience social pressures to tamp down their own
religiosity, and as scholars in fields like English and history whose intellectual
capital requires them to insist on the historicity of all texts come to think of
traditional religiosity as, among other things, in tension with their professional
expertise. But such boundary work is not obviously related to defense of the
scientific nature of the social sciences.
Other findings are worth noting as well. In terms of other institutional
variables, teaching in a religiously affiliated college or university is positively
associated with all five measures of religiosity, but the only of these associations
to attain statistical significance are those pertaining to attendance at religious
services and spiritual self-conception. The pubic/private distinction does not
matter. Region and type of community in which the institution is located do:
teaching in the Northeast is negatively associated with belief in God and with
holding traditional views of the Bible. Type of community is also significant:
professors teaching in schools in less populated areas are more inclined to con-
sider themselves spiritual persons. Our data do not allow us to determine
whether selection processes or accommodation to local norms do the most to
explain these patterns. I
A number of sociodemogmphic factors are also linked to variation in pro-
fessorial religiosity. Younger professors tend to have less traditionalistic views of
the Bible; white professors tend to attend religious services less frequently than
their nonwhite counterparts; and professors who are married are more likely to
be religious on three of our five measures. Modest social class associations are
also evident. Professors with higher family incomes attend religious services
somewhat less frequently than those who earn less money and are less likely to
consider themselves spiritual persons, while professors whose fathers completed
a bachelors degree or more tend to hold less traditional Biblical views.
On the whole, though, what is notable about the multivariate models is
how little of the variation these standard field, institution, and sociodemo-
graphic variables account for: the R s for a linear regression specification of the
five models are 0.20, 0.17, 0.15, 0.15, and 0.21, respectively. These numbers,
while within the range of acceptability for social science regressions, leave the
lion's share of professorial religiosity unexplained. This suggests that researchers
seeking to explain why some professors are more religious than others may
want to concentrate their attention not primarily on those sociodemographic
factors that correlate with religiosity in the general population, or on the most
obvious dimensions of institutional variation in academe. Rather, researchers
should focus on processes by which, at different historical junctures, those from
religious backgrounds-who may be more inclined to retain their religious
upbringing throughout their lives, regardless of their career choices-come to
124 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
be selectively incorporated into or steered out of different kinds of academic
Our goal in this paper was to provide a systematic empirical answer to the
question of how religious are America's college and university professors. We
found that they are more religious than is commonly assumed: less than a
quarter could be classified as complete nonbelievers. What are the implications
of this finding?
First, a modification is in order to common ways of conceptualizing
academic secularization. To be sure, religion is no longer central to the official
life of most nonreligiously affiliated colleges and universities, and on many
campuses there is overt hostility among some professors toward attempts at
integrating the study of religion into the college curriculum, or toward going
too far to accommodate students' religious views if these conflict with the
demands of science or higher learning. But even at elite schools, there are
more professors who are religious than who are nonbelievers, which suggests
that in academe-as in American society more generally--secularization has
entailed more the privatization of religious belief (Casanova 1994) and its
retreat from the public square (notwithstanding the political mobilization of
conservative Christians over the past quarter century) than its elimination. To
the extent this is so, models of academic secularization should be revised.
Consistent with the position taken by Smith (2003), we believe that more
explanatory emphasis should be placed on understanding the processes of
contestation-as shaped by larger structural and institutional forces-by which
research and teaching in the college and university setting came to be defined
(and continue to be defined) as secular affairs than on understanding how the
putative influx of nonreligious faculty members into the university, in the
middle years of the twentieth century and beyond, altered its climate with
respect to religion, as emphasized in discussions by Benne (2001), Hollinger
(1996), and Marsden and Longfield (1992). Some such influx no doubt played
some role in giving the American university its present secular hue-and
indeed, as indicated above, we think that explaining variation in faculty religi-
osity requires attending to processes of selective incorporation of religious and
nonreligious groups and personnel. But the hypothesis that the university is a
secular institution because of the irreligious tendencies of the faculty does not
withstand empirical scrutiny: it is a secular institution despite the fact that most of
its key personnel are themselves religious believers. This also means, consistent with
the claims of Ecklund and Scheitle (2007) and Schmalzbauer (2003), that an
important and neglected topic for the sociology of academic life is to under-
stand how the many professors who are religious straddle their religious and
scientific or intellectual value commitments: the nature of the epistemic
RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PROFESSORIATE 125
cultures they inhabit that allow them to do so, the practices they have learned
to keep the two strands of their identity separate, and the ways in which they
may attempt to bring them together and thereby be influenced in their work
lives by their personal religiosity. These are important matters in their own
right, but they also have broader sociological significance, for answering them
may yield insight into the social mechanisms by which higher education has a
secularizing effect on students, one of its key effects vis-a"-vis the social system.
In light of our findings, one such mechanism that might be hypothesized to
exist-that students become more secular as their atheist professors call into
question the value of religion-seems implausible asý a broad generalization. If
anything, our finding that the most secular professors are those focused primar-
ily on research-a minority of all professors-would suggest that the bulk of
the teaching function in American colleges and universities is being carried
out by academicians who are personally sympathetic to religion, albeit not in
its most traditional forms.
Second, our findings call into question the long-standing idea among the-
orists and sociologists of knowledge that intellectuals, broadly construed, com-
prise an ideologically cohesive group in society and tend naturally to be
antagonistic toward religion. True, nonbelief is much more common within
academe than in American'society as a whole. But the idea, proposed by Bell
and others, that the worldview of the intelligentsia is necessarily in tension
with a religious worldview, is plainly wrong. What our' findings help to high-
light is how heterogeneous the American professoriate is, encompassing every-
one from physicists teaching at elite research universities in the Northeast to
humanists teaching at regional liberal arts colleges in the Midwest to professors
of business offering instruction at community colleges in the South. This het-
erogeneity reflects the sprawling and decentralized nature of American higher
education today, and in light of it, it would be shocking if professors all came
down on the same side on a matter as fundamental as religion. With respect to
religion, at least, our findings suggest the time may be at hand to replace loose
discussion of "the intellectuals" and their inherent tendencies with a more
nuanced and empirically informed awareness of how many different types of
knowledge-producers and knowledge-disseminators currently occupy the insti-
tutional space of the American college and university, and of what the distinc-
tive dispositions of each may be.
Third and finally, our findings raise a number of intriguing puzzles about
the distribution of religious belief in academe. We have noted that professors
who are more oriented toward research, who hold doctorates, or who are
located in specific disciplinary fields like biology or psychology, tend to be less
religious, while those in applied fields like nursing and accounting tend to be
more so-and we have suggested some possible reasons for these patterns-but
the topic warrants much more sustained theoretical and empirical investi-
gation. This will especially seem to be the case for those who are of the view
(as we are) that a professor's personal religious commitments, or lack thereof,
126 SOCIOLOGY OF RELIGION
may be systematically related to her or his other sociologically relevant attri-
butes or behaviors, such as political attitudes, theoretical choices, or pedagogi-
cal practices, so that to be able to more adequately explain the distribution of
faculty religiosity is to gain fundamental knowledge about professors qua
social actors. In this regard, longitudinal studies that followed cohorts of young
adults, varying in their religiosity, as some were drawn into academic careers,
would be especially helpful; so too would be cross-national and historical
research that examined faculty religious views and their distribution in a
number of different settings so as to shine light on the social mechanisms and
processes uniquely operative in the American case, as well as on those operat-
ive wherever modem university institutions can be found. Whatever the
outcome of these and other lines of future investigation, we have shown that
religious believers are more common in the ranks of the American faculty than
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TITLE: The Religiosity of American College and University
SOURCE: Sociol Relig 70 no2 Summ 2009
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