Does higher education experience undermine faith — or enhance it?
There is also a positive relationship between education and religious participation. "The odds of attending religious services in the last 7 days increases by 15 percent for each year of education beyond 7 years of education," he writes. And the numbers are even greater for religious activities and religious volunteering. The likelihood a person will attend weekly religious activities increases 20 percent for each year of education beyond seventh grade. Each additional year of education is associated with a 23 percent increase in the odds of volunteering for a religious group.
Schwadel's study is the most recent addition to a growing body of work suggesting a positive relationship between education and faith. According to a 2002 study by Jeffery Jensen and Lene Arnett published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, college education has little effect on religious participation and belief among samples of young adults. Other studies have found that while religious participation declines during the college years, it increases as graduates marry and have families, said Mark Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the university of Texas at Austin.
The results of these studies have a lot to do with how religiosity is measured. "The relationship between education and religion rests on the measures we are looking at," said Campbell. "It is generally the case that educated people are less likely to be orthodox … but this doesn't seem to impact their behavior," he said. "Educated people are more likely to be religiously participatory."
Why this positive connection exists is not entirely clear. One explanation may be that educated people have the time and resources to worship. In America, church attendance is a "middle-class" activity, said Campbell. Middle-class people, who as a subsection of society are well educated, are better able to deal with the way religion encroaches on their time and financial resources, he said.
But propensity to believe may also be a function of education itself. As people get more education they learn more "sophisticated ways of thinking," said Campbell. Students can use the skills they acquire in college to come up with rational explanations for the things they are taught in church, he said. The list of scholars who went from atheists to believers includes C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Bowman suggests that stages of education and stages of faith may be linked. Children take everything they are taught at face value, but as they mature they naturally move away from "dogmatic faith to metaphorical ways of believing," he said. Education opens people up to humility, he argues, as they realize the universe is immense and the answers to questions may be beyond human beings' limited perspective. "We start to question the premises of our questions," said Bowman.
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