Postmodernism versus Religion

The Education Life supplement of last Sunday’s New York Times contained a little blurb that claimed college students who majored in the humanities and social sciences were apt to become less religiously observant after college. According to the Times, you may credit or blame postmodernism because it stresses that truth is relative rather than absolute. Small solace, as far as I am concerned.

The research, by Miles Kimball, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, was supported by the Templeton Foundation, but the link to the final report gave an error. The study is described in somewhat more detail by a press release emitted by the University of Michigan. I could find no link to the study on Kimball’s home page.

According to the press release, Kimball and his colleagues studied a cohort of people who had graduated from high school between 1976 and 1996. They asked questions regarding attendance at religious services, the importance of religion, and how religious organizations benefit the country. They found that humanities and social science majors generally became less religious, physical and biological science majors remained unchanged, and education majors apt to become more religiously observant.

Kimball commented, “Education majors are clearly safe havens for the religious. Highly religious people seem to prefer education majors, tend to stay in that major, and tend to become more religious by the time they graduate.” If he is right, it is not good news for those who want to keep religion out of the public schools.

The Times article also provided an interesting comparison. Define the difference in religious observance between the Bible Belt and the rest of the country as 100. On that scale, the effect of majoring in a given subject is given by

Social science, -47
Humanities, -28
Physical science/math, -24
Engineering, -14
Biology, -13
No college, 0
Business, +2
Other, +10
Vocational, +16
Education, +23

The progression from the sciences to the humanities, incidentally, is roughly consistent with what we reported earlier.