Study sees link between education and views of heaven

August 4, 2011

c. 2011 USA Today

(RNS) The old wisdom: The more educated you are, the less likely you
will be religious. But a new study says education doesn't drive people
away from God -- it gives them a more liberal attitude about who's going
to heaven.

Each year of education ups the odds by 15 percent that people will
say there's "truth in more than one religion," says University of
Nebraska-Lincoln professor Philip Schwadel in an article for the Review
of Religious Research. Schwadel, an associate professor of sociology,
looked at 1,800 U.S. adults' reported religious beliefs and practices
and their education.

People change their perspective because, as people move through high
school and college, they acquire an ever-wider range of friendships,
including people with different beliefs than their own, Schwadel says.

"People don't want to say their friends are going to hell," he says.

For each additional year of education beyond seventh grade,
Americans are:

-- 15 percent more likely to have attended religious services in the
past week.

-- 14 percent more likely to say they believe in a "higher power"
than in a personal God. "More than 90 percent believe in some sort of
divinity," Schwadel says.

-- 13 percent more likely to switch to a mainline Protestant
denomination that is "less strict, less likely to impose rules of
behavior on your daily life" than their childhood religion.

-- 13 percent less likely to say the Bible is the "actual word of
God." The educated, like most folks in general, tend to say the Bible is
the "inspired word" of God, Schwadel says.

Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist blogger at Patheos.com, is
skeptical, saying this "raises an eyebrow at everything I've always
heard that the more educated you are, the less religious you are. But it
must depend on how you define religion."

Schwadel's findings dovetail with findings by Barry Kosmin of
Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., a co-author of the American
Religious Identification Survey statistics on religious beliefs and the
behavior of people with master's degrees, doctorates and professional
degrees.

It turns out that on Sunday mornings, "the educated elite look a lot
like the rest of America," Kosmin says -- just as likely to believe in a
personal God or higher power.