Field of Science

Psychologists are the least religious of American Professors

Fifty percent of professors of psychology at US universities and colleges do not believe in any god, and another 11% are agnostic. That makes them the least religious of a pretty heathen bunch.

The data come from Politics of the American Professoriate study, a survey carried out in the spring of 2006 and published yesterday in the journal Sociology of Religion. The researchers, Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, surveyed nearly 1500 full-time college and university professors teaching in U.S. institutions.

The results are reminiscent of a 2007 survey which found that psychiatrists were the least religious of physicians. It seems that there's something about studying how the mind works that makes people skeptical of the God delusion!

Gross and Simmons looked into the link between academic field and religion in some detail. Here's what they concluded

With other factors controlled, biologists and psychologists—relative to professors outside the top 20 fields—are less likely to believe in God and less likely to hold traditional views of the Bible; professors of communications, English, and history are less likely to hold traditional views of the Bible; sociologists are less likely to have a traditionalistic religious orientation overall; and professors of accounting, finance, and nursing tend to be more religious.

Lord knows why mechanical engineers are so irreligious!

Another factor that separates nonreligious professors from the religious is whether they actively engage in research, or just teach.
Those who are oriented primarily toward research are less likely to believe in God, less likely to have a traditionalistic view of the Bible, less likely to attend religious services, more likely to describe their overall religious orientation as "not religious," and less likely to consider themselves spiritual persons.
That might either be because they consciously reject religion as a result of their commitment to science, or it might be because religious people choose other careers.

Regardless, one thing this survey does is further demonstrate that academics are less religious than the general population. Overall, 9.8% said they don't believe in any god, and 13.1% said they didn't know.

Which is about three times the proportion of atheists and 'don't knows' as found in the general population!

Gross, N., & Simmons, S. (2009). The Religiosity of American College and University Professors Sociology of Religion DOI: 10.1093/socrel/srp026

Curlin, F., Odell, S., Lawrence, R., Chin, M., Lantos, J., Meador, K., & Koenig, H. (2007). The Relationship Between Psychiatry and Religion Among U.S. Physicians Psychiatric Services, 58 (9), 1193-1198 DOI: 10.1176/

Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Tom Rees is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.


  1. I'd be very curious to know the numbers for philosophy lecturers. It certainly seems to me that outside of religious universities, theist philosophers are very rare indeed. So much so that meeting one is something noteworthy. I would certainly hazard that philosophers should turn out to be even less religious than psychologists - unless those denominational universities manage to lift the numbers of the religious.

    As for engineers, I have no idea why they are as irreligious as they are, I do know that one of the most vociferously atheist people I know is an engineer (he thinks my own stance is wishy-washy because I see a difference between superstition and religion). But that would be mere anecdote...

  2. What's really unnerving is that there are *no* reporting professors of elementary education that are not believers... at least not enough to show up on this graph. So much for separation of church and state.

  3. I have met maybe three explicitly theist philosophy professors in thirty years. And one of them was insane (used to exorcise his students).

    But I have met many who held to a view that was "higher power" style theism; maybe 20%

  4. It's a bit odd that they missed out philosophers, and also professors of medicine. No explanation given.

  5. My subjective perception is that believers are rare in both physics and philosophy departments, so I echo previous comments that it would be interesting to have that data.

  6. Good to know that nearly all elementary educators are religious. Keep those children devout, before they even know what they're talking about.

  7. Why are there a significant number of mechanical engineers that do not believe in God while so many electrical engineers seem to believe in a God? Does mechanical engineering attract free thinkers who are likely to become atheists, or is the mechanical engineering curriculum encouraging the type of thinking that results in eventual de-conversion?

  8. Professors are not representative of the population at large because most religious people would either avoid such a profession or be discriminated against by universities and kept out.

    I'm not surprised that shrinks are the least religious MDs as most of them are a bit nutty to say the least.

  9. An education in human behavior (psychology) obviously opens ones eyes as to how ridiculous religion actually is.


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