National Public Radio presents an interesting story regarding the experience of religious conservatives in academia. There’s some interesting survey data, and one laugh-out-loud moment:
When Elaine Howard Ecklund began asking top scientists whether they believe in God, she got a surprise. Ecklund, an assistant professor at Rice University and author of the book Science Vs. Religion, polled 1,700 scientists at elite universities. Contrary to the stereotype that most scientists are atheists, she says, nearly half of them say they are religious. But when she did follow up interviews, she found they practice a “closeted faith.”
“They just do not want to bring up that they are religious in an academic discussion. There’s somewhat of almost a culture of suppression surrounding discussions of religion at these kinds of academic institutions,” Ecklund says.
She says the scientists worried that their colleagues would believe they were politically conservative — or worse, subscribed to the theory of intelligent design. Ecklund says they all insisted on anonymity.
Without seeing the poll, it’s impossible to say for sure, but the interesting thing here is that there’s no indication that the half of respondents who say they’re “religious” are actually conservative or orthodox believers. They may all be Reform Jews or members of the United Church of Christ. It sounds as if the prejudice isn’t against conservative religious, but those who claim faith of any kind, at least if the NPR report is accurate. But the next item nails it down a bit better:
And it appears that climate may extend beyond science departments. A poll of 1,200 academics by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research found that more than half said they have unfavorable feelings toward evangelical Christians.
Aryeh Weinberg, who co-authored the study, says one reason for this is that there are relatively few evangelicals in academia.
I guess it’s easier to dislike those with whom you have nothing to do, and know little about.
“The question is, why? Do they self-select out, and if they do, why are they self-selecting out? Are they actually not hired? Are they trying to get hired but not getting hired? Are they getting hired then being forced out, not getting tenure?” Weinberg asks.
I expect the answer to her questions is, “all of the above.” As to why evangelicals self-select out, it only makes sense that most people do not want to jump into a work environment where they know most of their colleagues will dislike them simply because they are traditionally religious. The level of vitriol–often ignorant, often personal–aimed at evangelicals on college campuses is not something a lot of people would willingly subject themselves to if they had alternative.
Next came the LOL:
Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Columbia University and an Episcopal priest, disagrees.
“I haven’t encountered that hostility at all,” Balmer says. “I’ve been a visiting professor at places like Emory and Northwestern and Yale and Princeton and other places. And I simply have not encountered that sort of hostility to my claims of faith or my professions of faith.”
Of course Balmer has never experienced hostility. His outspoken political liberalism, combined with his revisionist Episcopalianism, make him a completely non-controversial, non-threatening trophy prof (“look, see, we don’t discriminate against religious academics!”) The fact that he has repeatedly attacked evangelicals in print makes him just that much more presentable within the monolithic university.
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