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/appi.ps.58.9.1193
This work by Tom Rees is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.