Inside Higher Ed and Sociology Continue To Ignore Nonbelievers

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There’s an article this week on Inside Higher Ed called Sociologists Get Religion.

I am again disappointed that the overlapping fields of higher education and sociology continue to ignore nonbelievers and the concept of atheism.

The article is about how religion is becoming a focal point of sociological study, which is fine and all. Here are some of the key points:

• The most important general sociological journals have been publishing a modestly growing number of articles about religion over the period studied.
• The articles show “a strong program” emerging on the role of religion in society. At the beginning of the period studied, religion was rarely the independent variable in the research, but by the end of the period, more than half of the articles had religion as the independent variable.
For most of the period studied, there was an upward trend in positive findings about the role of religion and a downward trend in negative findings. The last five years have seen an increase in negative findings.
American sociology’s study of religion is dominated by religion in the United States and Christianity, with relatively little work on non-Christian religions or the Christian faith of non-Americans.
• Private funding has increased significantly for sociological research on religion, notably from several foundations.
A positive correlation was found between receiving outside funding and positive findings about religion, although to the surprise of the authors, the strongest correlation was not from private sources of funds but from public sources. (The authors do not have a definitive theory on the source of this correlation and suggest it as a topic for further research.)

So, research has looked for and found positive findings for religion. It has generally only been focused on one kind of religion and is oblivious to nonreligion. And funding sources affect more positive results.

Fancy that, people will pay to hear nice things about religion!

What’s worse is the article ends by featuring the Templeton Foundation, known for supporting research (including, quite unsurprisingly, Astin’s research on spirituality in higher education) that has nice things to say about religion:

Christopher Stawski, program officer in human sciences at the Templeton Foundation, explained that group’s goals this way: “The foundation supports a variety of research projects in the social sciences in order to better understand concepts that Sir John Templeton understood to be spiritual, such as forgiveness, generosity, love, purpose, and wisdom. In sponsoring this research, we are committed to rigorous standards of peer review and to asking questions that transcend any particular religious tradition.”

This is just wrong. There is no credible basis for the assumption that forgiveness, generosity, love, purpose, and wisdom are spiritual. It’s nice that Sir John believed that, but it’s flawed reasoning. I’m not spiritual, and I can experience all of those concepts in profound ways, and so can many others.

If we look for them in the spiritual lens and only in the spiritual lens, we’ll only see them in the spiritual lens and it’ll reinforce our support of the spiritual lens. That’s circular reasoning and religious privilege, and it disgusts me.

HELLO!!!! I’m an atheist in higher education!!! Is anyone else out there?

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There are 4 Comments to "Inside Higher Ed and Sociology Continue To Ignore Nonbelievers"

  • Yeah, unfortunately, none of the reporter types really want to go for the jugular on the influence of religious nutjobs on sociology. I’m lucky to be a full professor, because under the current conditions—where 75% of the tenured sociologists are committed conservative Christians—a person with my interests (the negative effects of fundamentalism and the positive influence of secularism) would have a hard time making tenure. My recent paper in Social Science Research showing the enormous verbal deficits between fundies and secular people is probably the best paper I’ve written in my career, and it was rejected at 5 other journals based on low-ball reviews from Christianist sociologists.

  • ZackFord says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing!

  • Ian says:

    Zack, there are others out there, but they are few and far between. My work–I’m a fifth-year graduate student–explores subjective identity among the non-religious. In particular, I’m interested in refining survey measures of non-religiosity, which I find to be terribly underdeveloped, both in terms of attention given and methods used. Precious little attention has been given to non-religion, particularly in the United States, which is why our knowledge of the non-religious seems limited to non-affiliation (i.e., the “nones”).

    That said, Darren’s observation has me worried about my prospects. I think my next project will examine how religion makes everything in life so much better.

  • ZackFord says:

    Well, Ian, I’m sure you’d get a LOT of monetary support for that study.

    Thanks for your work studying the non-religious! We’ve got a paradigm to challenge!

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