What Faculty Think About Religion

Faculty at American colleges and universities are more religious than many of us believe-65 percent say they believe in God and 46 percent claim a personal relationship with God. Still, they are far less religious than the general population, some 93 percent of which believes in God, with 66 percent reporting a personal relationship. While 80 percent of the public identify themselves as Christian, the comparable percentage of faculty is much lower-56 percent-primarily because Evangelical Christians account for 33 percent of the general population but only 11 percent of college faculty. These numbers show up in “Religious Beliefs and Behavior of College Faculty,” a report by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Some 6,600 faculty were surveyed.

One of the strongest findings is that political ideology is highly associated with attendance at religious services. Those who go to services every week, or almost every week: 24 percent of liberals, 44 percent of moderates, and 66 percent of conservatives. Non-religious faculty tend to be the most negative about U.S. policies in the Middle East and most positive about the United Nations and institutions such as the International Court of Justice. The vast majority of faculty listed North Korea, followed by the U.S., as the greatest threats to international stability.

Among other findings:

* Faculty are twice as likely as the general public to identify themselves as liberal, and the edge for Democrats over Republicans among faculty is nearly 3 to 1.

* Surprisingly, about 84 percent of faculty think there are certain moral values that should apply across all cultures, societies and nations, a view disparaged by campus relativists.

* Of all campus groups, faculty feel most positively about Jews, with 73 percent saying that they have warm/favorable feelings and only 3 percent reporting cool/unfavorable feelings.

* One group drew a heavily unfavorable ratings among faculty: Evangelicals (30 percent warm/favorable rating, 53 percent cool/unfavorable). Indeed, the survey focused sharply on faculty hostility to conservative Christians, sometimes referring to Evangelicals and fundamentalists as if they were identical groups.

Does the faculty think religious groups should keep out of the political arena? Yes, if the religious group is fundamentalist Christians, but no, if the subject is Muslims. The survey says: “The idea of Muslim religious involvement in politics would seem to offend liberal sensibilities about religion and state. However, it does not.” The survey suggests that the teachers may be drawn to Muslims as underdogs. On the other hand, they may simply be applying double standards.

The survey writers say: Whatever the reason, the hostility faculty direct at so large a proportion of the general population in America is cause for questions. Conservative Christians have for some time been concerned about their children’s campus environment. These data certainly legitimize their concerns.”

Almost 60 percent of faculty said they believe students at their institution are reluctant to express their views because that might be contrary to faculty views (7 percent very often, 14 percent often, 38 percent occasionally). Authors of the survey call this finding “alarming” and say those surveyed “have identified a deep and wide breach in the promotion and protection of diversity and open debate.” The report wonders about the long-term impact of prejudice against Evangelicals on campus and says it “stands out prominently in institutions dedicated to liberalism, tolerance and academic freedom…Colleges and universities have some serious soul-searching to do about these findings.”

John Leo

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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