Study examines profs’ faith and politics

DALLAS – College professors aren’t all godless heathens, but they are more secular than the general population, according to a new study. And the more elite the institution, the more secular the professors are likely to be.

The study was done by two sociologists, Neil Gross of Harvard University and Solon Simmons of George Mason University. They contacted 1,471 professors at religious and secular colleges and asked about politics and faith.

The purpose of their report, released on the Internet, was to assess the observation by many religious conservatives that America’s universities are “a haven largely freed from religious perspectives.”

Among the notable results:

Almost a third answered “none” when asked their religion – more than twice the percentage found in the general population.

Science professors were the least religious. Accounting professors were the most religious.

More than half the professors at places other than so-called “elite” universities said they absolutely believed in God. About a third of the professors at elite schools took that position. (The study used the U.S. News and World Report rankings to define elite institutions.)

About 30 percent of community college professors considered intelligent design as a serious scientific alternative. Fewer than 6 percent of professors at elite universities took that position.

In a much larger survey, released by the University of California, Los Angeles, earlier this year, more than 80 percent of professors said they were “spiritual.”

The studies indicate that spirituality affects how professors teach and interact with the world, said Jennifer A. Lindholm, the UCLA project director.

Her study concluded that the more spiritual professors were more likely to use cooperative learning techniques in the classroom; to use their scholarship to address community needs; and to encourage students to perform community service.