College does not make you less religious, just less ignorant

Rick Santorum has been flogging the idea that college makes you less religious. Sorry, I personally wish it were so, but studies and polls are mixed at best. In fact, by some metrics they show just the opposite:

(TPM) — A study published 2007 in the journal Social Forces — which PBS reports that Santorum’s claim is based on, although his spokesman didn’t respond to TPM’s request for confirmation — finds that Americans who don’t go to college experience a steeper decline in their religiosity than those who do. “Contrary to our own and others’ expectations, however, young adults who never enrolled in college are presently the least religious young Americans,” the journal concluded, noting that “64 percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution have curbed their attendance habits. Yet, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.”

Going to college does correct some widely held, easily debunked fundamenatlist beliefs, like creationism, or climate change denialism (I’d be willing to bet women’s health and the Occupay Wall Street also fare well among college educated respondants). So we can see why the Teaparty crowd might view education as a threat or try to pretend it’s an attack on religion: education confers resistance to both conservative fundamentalism and their political agenda.


  1. says

    Santorum is essentially admitting outright that the best way to ensure people remain religious is to keep them ignorant. Sadly his fanbase will eat it up without realizing he’s calling them all ignorant.

  2. magistramarla says

    My husband and I graduated from a large Catholic university. I don’t know if it has changed after thirty years, but at that time, the Jesuits taught us to think for ourselves and to question everything, including our beliefs. My husband, the science major, got a very good grounding in science, including evolution, at that school. We have certainly found that our educations did give us resistance to conservative fundamentalism.

  3. says

    It’s funny that you should say that college corrects climate change denialism. I’ve learned, to my horror, that almost all of my fellow engineers (of all disciplines) are climate change doubters. (I live in Australia.) My theory is that it is because they only learn physics in as much as it allows them to do their jobs. They’re not interested in learning new physics, so they don’t keep up with the science beyond the narrow focus of their jobs.

  4. says


    One of my best friends is a Carmelite who teaches microbio at a smaller once-Catholic college, and judging from him this is still true. Really nice guy: the only way you can tell that he’s deeply religious (apart, perhaps, for the niceness) is that his Latin is much better than mine. :-)

  5. StevoR says

    @ ^ Gregory : Yes. There are some extremely knowlegdeable and intelligent religious people – theymay be wrong on particular topics ie . gods exstence but they do have alot of knowlgede about taht and have convinced themselves fairly cleverly and capably.

    C.S. lewis is one example of an non-ignorant Christian, “sophisticated” non-fundamentalist theologians are a class of others. Bishop something or other Spong springs tomind frex.


    Rick Santorum = Every Child Left Behind!
    – Shamelessly stolen from tonights / last nights (just seen but late night /early morn here in Oz) Letterman show & quoted for truth.

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