By analyzing data from the General Social Survey, sociologist Philip Schwadel of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that people tend to become more religious - by certain definitions - as they further their education. He found that with each additional year of education the likelihood of attending religious services increased 15 per cent. The likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9 per cent with each additional year of education an individual received. The caveat is that when these individuals attend to religious services, they're less likely to take scripture literally.

Mr Schwadel said that: 'With more years of education, you aren’t relatively more likely to say, "I don’t believe in God," but you are relatively more likely to say, "I believe in a higher power. The more educated a person is in their faith, the more cosmopolitan they are in their religious outlook. They’re worldly in the very best sense of the term. They rub shoulders with people of different kinds of faiths every day and as a result they have different visions of what it means to express your faith in the public square. They’re more open-minded, but here’s the thing: They’re no less faithful.'

The results showed that the well educated were against curbing the voices of religious leaders on societal issues and supported those leaders' rights to influence people's votes. But they are opposed to what may be perceived as religion being forced on secular society.'

COMMENT: I would be interested in finding out if those educated to a high level in scientific subjects, who specialise early on, are included in this group or is it just those who have studied subjects, at an advanced level, that encourage philosophical and creative engagement who reach such conclusions about the possibility of a divine element involved in our existence. I'm with John Henry Newman on this one - unless a university education is "catholic" it is no education at all. It is just learning a particular skill by rote. You may end up clever but your ability to think will be reduced to the same level as someone trained simply for a factory production line. My guess is that if scientists were given more opportunity to study the arts at an advanced level there would not be such a distinct correlation between science and atheism. There would be instead more agnosticism and whatifism and that, in my opinion, would be a very good thing in deed.



  1. I was an atheist when I did my degree, in Geology. I’d had some bad experiences, not least of the Christian Union, which was notorious for using a fake ‘questionnaire’ to get into your room, and then being impossible to get rid of. I joined the church subsequently, and then studied Theology.

  2. Hey, don’t you go stirring things, JCF! Both IT and Erp are highly intelligent people. No where do I say that all scientists are under-educated just as I don’t say that all artists are highly educated. It is perfectly possible to self-educate if you take the trouble. I was an example of that between leaving school at 16 and going to university in my mid thirties. In any case, most major breakthroughs in science have come from the minds of scientists with a catholic interest in knowledge.

  3. I have always thought that a classical “liberal arts” education is an education. High-specialization professional education courses are vo-tech (vocational-technical) education; in theory, law school and medical school are little different from auto mechanics courses or beauticians’ school, just different information being imparted at a much higher level of tuition…..

  4. First, I should point out that the survey is of the US population and second we haven’t seen the full report. Given that I have a few thoughts, more reading of the Bible with higher levels of education may just be because people with more education tend to read more anyway. The more educated may also be more supportive of people’s right to free speech which would include religious leaders. And more attendance at religious services could be for two reasons. One on the whole those with a higher education earn more and so don’t have to work as many hours. The poor may not have as much free time or have to work what shifts they can including Sunday mornings. Two in many places in the US a church affiliation is almost required to be socially acceptable and it provides useful networks. People may also go for the the music (a local church did a survey of its congregation to find out why they came and music was number 1 [Bach and anthems, though I think the Taiko drums were a bit much for most]).

    I suspect Dawkins is among the group who read the Bible frequently; I read the Bible frequently; it is useful for quotes. Doesn’t mean we believe in God. And most engineers and scientists I know, know much more about humanities than most humanities people know about science (albeit the scientists and engineers I know are often associated with either Stanford or Cambridge universities which does skew the results).

    The original press release from the University of Nebraska.

    It doesn’t look like the Pew Forum has done that particular analysis on its data.

  5. I simply feel that, being more educated, the possibility of a God is something you can’t write off as a universal truth. I respect those who say they’ll accept proof, but it has to be pretty strong, and until then, you believe, I don’t and that’s okay.

    I also find the so-called “Christianity” of very poorly-educated people – some with Ivy-League degrees – to be mere fetishism and deeply disturbing and destructive.

  6. Conversely, speaking from personal experience, a “classic”, evangelical Christian education can mute the thinking as well.

    I work with many, very bright students who happen to have the challenge of dyslexia impeding their progress in mastering decoding and spelling skills. This week, one such third grade student was wearing a T-shirt with the name of a local Christian school on it. Thinking that perhaps he was attending there, I asked him about it, and he made it very clear that in fact he did not. He went on to tell me that when he was in kindergarten at that particular school, he got in trouble for asking how the Children of Israel took chickens with them on the Exodus (He was told that god did not like that question.) and that in first grade, he was told that his questions made it clear he was not a Christian. The student told me that he stopped asking questions since he was worried about getting “banished,” but then looking back, he now wishes he had been.

    I told him he and I were going to get along just fine.

  7. What an excellent article. “Oh phew,” I think, “I’m not alone.” These days I’m calling my religious self ‘a gnostic agnostic’ or ‘a/gnostic’. I haven’t a clue about whether a Great Whatever exists … and something in the pulsing center of my chest insists that there’s a Something.

    I’m also allergic to institutional religion, but an Anglican boys’ choir buckles my knees; I live in awe of and gratitude for the example of Jesus, whether or not he actually existed in bodily form; I feel sure that evil is a human stain, not a divine one; I believe that goodness is inherent in every living / created (?) / evolved (?) thing, regardless of how we humans judge or maul it; a cat’s purr is one of God’s sweetest songs (if there is a God); I’ve spun once or twice like a dervish into the formless, essential Rhythm; I agree with Walt Whitman who wrote that ‘Either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle’ … and on those days when my sense of the miraculous seems shot down for good, I don’t know what keeps me alive, but I do know that It Is. Oh, MadPriest, I haven’t a clue, and I’ve got a Master’s-level education.


  8. Oh, everything is a miracle. There’s no doubt about that. That things exist rather than not exist is so staggeringly amazing that I refuse to doubt anything.