"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

This picks up where my previous post left off.  There I responded to a claim by Richard Dawkins, who insisted that more education will surely lead to less religion.  I found eight peer reviewed research papers testifying to a positive relationship between religiosity and education.  By any standard, eight papers is a lot, and sufficient to prove firmly that Dawkins’ claim is completely untrue.  But since one can never have too much fun crushing this sort of nonsense, here are some more.

Glanville, J. L., Sikkink, D. and Hernández, E. I., RELIGIOUS INVOLVEMENT AND EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES: The Role of Social Capital and Extracurricular Participation (2008) The Sociological Quarterly, 49: 105–137

Using structural equation models to analyze data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we examine the potential role of social capital and extracurricular participation in mediating the relationship between religious participation and academic achievement, dropping out of high school, and attachment to school. We find that religious attendance promotes higher intergenerational closure, friendship networks with higher educational resources and norms, and extracurricular participation.

Mark D. Regnerus, Shaping Schooling Success: Religious Socialization and Educational Outcomes in Metropolitan Public Schools. (Sept. 2000) Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 363-370

This paper analyzes religious socialization as it relates to schooling success. I propose and test a multilevel model of involvement in church activities as providing integration and motivation toward schooling success among metropolitan U.S. public high school sophomores. Results indicate that respondents’ participation in church activities is related to heightened educational expectations, and that these more intensely religious students score higher on standardized math/reading tests, even while controlling for variables that often show religious effects to be spurious.

Donahue, M. J. and Benson, P. L., Religion and the Well-Being of Adolescents. Journal of Social Issues (1995) 51: page 145–160

A literature review of the relation between religiousness and adolescent well-being is presented, along with new analyses from a large adolescent data base. It is found that the average level of religiousness of U.S. adolescents has not declined recently, although it does appear to decrease on average across the years of adolescence. African Americans are more religious than whites, and girls are more religious than boys. Religiousness is positively associated with prosocial values and behavior, and negatively related to suicide ideation and attempts, substance abuse, premature sexual involvement, and delinquency. It is unrelated to self-esteem. These results are found to be robust after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics.

Students who held a strong “Christian worldview” and whose families attended religious services scored higher academically than those who did not report religious involvement.

Smith, C., Theorizing Religious Effects Among American Adolescents. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2003), 42: pages 17–30

The influence of church attendance and favorable perceptions of religion on “positive school attitudes” is evident from childhood, through late adolescence, and into college.

William Jeynes, The Effect of Religious Commitment on the Academic Achievement of Urban and Other Children, Education and Urban Society (2003) 36, no. 44, pages 44-62

Table 1 indicates that veryreligious children achieve at higher levels academicallythan their less religious counterparts in the cases of both the total and urban samples. Using the Basic I Model, veryreligious students outperform less religious students on all the measures of academic achievement.

Sandra L. Hanson & Alan L. Ginsburg, Gaining Ground: Values and High School Success. American Educational Research Journal (1988) 25, no. 3 pages 334-65.

One analysis of tenth grade students found that, for both black and white students, the impact of pro-social values was stronger than the effect of socioeconomic status on reading and math proficiency (44 percent greater for white students and 51 percent greater for black students). Their study consisted of a national sample of 30,000 10th-grade students from the “High School and Beyond” surveys of 1980 and 1982.  The study also showed that holding religious values was associated with higher math scores for black students.

Carl L. Bankston & Min Zhou, The Ethnic Church, Ethnic Identification, and the Social Adjustment of Vietnamese Adolescents. Review of Religious Research (1996) 38, no. 1

Among Vietnamese immigrants, frequent religious attendance correlates to adolescents placing a greater importance on attending college, earning good grades, and avoiding substance abuse.

Conclusion: We have now seen sixteen peer-reviewed studies, all of which document a positive connection between religion and education.  The evidence is overwhelming: Dawkins is wrong.  His beliefs are precisely the opposite of the truth, as they are on so many issues.  To put the final nail in the coffin, we should note a few facts about the evidence presented above.

First, the evidence is good evidence by scholarly standards.  It comes from real academic journals, and comes from many scholars who are prestigious in their fields.  These studies were properly conducted.  The sample sizes were large, in the thousands or tens of thousands in many cases.

Second, the results are robust.  We have seen that the positive relationship between religiosity and education holds in many places.  It holds for people from countries as diverse as the United States, the Netherlands, and Vietnam.  It holds for all races and all social classes.  It holds for those in early childhood, the high school years, the college years, and beyond.  It holds for many different measures of education, from grades to attendance to test scores to graduation rates.


Comments on: "Religion and Education: Let’s Hammer Dawkins Some More" (2)

  1. Great blog. I came to you from ProfMondo’s blog. I am a great Chesterton fan myself and am also someone who has been educated for the majority of my student years in Catholic schools (and by the Jesuits specifically in High School and College). However, I think a comment on your postings reacting to Dawkins is in order. I actually don’t see your listing of any of these peer-reviewed articles as really contesting the fundamental claim of Dawkins. In fact, the idea that religiosity in early years is positively correlated to higher educational achievement doesn’t really answer the idea that as one becomes more educated into adulthood, religiosity tends to wane. I actually think that both are probably true, and that what you are using as evidence against Dawkins is actually evidence of something entirely different. You are essentially comparing apples to oranges.

    It actually makes much sense to me that impressionable young people, when inculcated with the authority structure that often comes with being raised in a more religious context/household, would demonstrate higher academic achievement in terms of the usual ways we measure achievement at such early ages: disciplined absorption and retention of data with minimal emphasis on independent critical thinking. Contrast this with how we measure academic achievement as we move up the educational ladder, and it also makes sense to me that the higher orders of knowledge production, research, and critical inquiry that should start in high school and continue through undergraduate college (and perhaps graduate schooling) would call into greater question not only the validity of religious orthodoxy but also the daily practice of religion.

    I think what Dawkins is observing is not how religion correlates to early educational achievement but actually how continued educational achievement correlates to one’s views about religion and one’s own religiosity. In the latter case, the evidence is pretty well-documented that as individuals obtain more and higher levels of education, their religiosity tends to decline. This doesn’t diminish at all the truth of what the literature you cite is demonstrating. You and Dawkins are just talking about different things.

  2. Thank you for the intelligent comment. I agree it’s possible that results may be different in different demographic groups, and perhaps there’s a negative association between religion and education in some age groups, although at least a couple of the studies I listed does cover college students. However, what Dawkins said was that education was a “weapon” against religion, and he put no qualifiers on that. To prove him wrong it’s only necessary to find some groups where there’s a positive association between the two. As we can see, there are many such groups.

    If there actually were studies documenting a negative trend in religiosity resulting from higher education, I’d be happy to read them.

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