The findings of a new study carried out by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the USA challenges the notion that modern education can lead to a dramatic fall in religious participation. This study (1) about to be published in the journal Review of Religious Research, actually found that in America, education actually bolstered people’s affiliation with the church, led people to apply religious practice in their day-to-day lives and also positively support the involvement of church leaders in various social issues.
This study, based on analysis of the response of thousands of respondents of a social survey, points out to towards a complex shift in our attitudes towards religion as a result of education. Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and one of the principal authors of this study explains : “The effects of education on religion are not simple increases or decreases. In many ways, effects will vary, based on how you define religion.”
-Isaac Bashevis Singer (American novelist)
What most educated people would not support, and this study confirms that, would be forcibly forcing religion down peoples’ throats, and interpret religious doctrines in an inflexible, forceful manner akin to fundamentalism. The use of religion to solve our day-to-day challenges of life and our difficulties is something that is universal and widespread, but for religion to continue in modern, educated and rational societies, people must be able to exercise a greater degree of personal freedom in individual interpretations of and the practices itself compared to our earlier generations.
As a classical illustration, although the study found that education led to a direct increase in the number of people studying the Bible ( up to 9% in one instance), it must be remembered that the Bible itself has been scrutinized openly in recent years as regards to its historical authenticity and comparative studies with other contemporary gospels which have remained marginalized or obscure, until the recent academic efforts to re-evaluate their significance have been made.
Modern educated practitioners of religion and are also perhaps open to the idea that religion has been misused and misinterpreted in the past by the very custodians of traditions they were supposed to provide leadership in. Challenging traditional religious authority on the basis of their failure to adhere to our contemporary norms of openness, fairness, liberalism and human rights is perhaps the direct result of education itself, freed from its theological and ecumenical shackles. And this perhaps applies to all religions worldwide, as education itself becomes more and more liberal and tradition free.
Could this represent a return to our religious the roots? In one sense yes, as a significant proportion of our religious insights are based upon our collective moral and altruistic instincts expressed in traditional religious participation. Perhaps education directly points out to us this direct heritage from our ancestors, while at the same time making us critical about those instances where shortsightedness and blindness towards progress in knowledge and social justice have obstructed our growth as a species.
Inherently perhaps, there is no such thing as a good thing or bad thing: only success or failure to apply concepts and viewpoints for greater or a universal good. Maybe true education exists just to implement that.
1 University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Education affects Americans’ religiosity — but not how you might think.” ScienceDaily, 9 Aug. 2011. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.
2 Philip Schwadel. The Effects of Education on Americans’ Religious Practices, Beliefs, and Affiliations. Review of Religious Research, 2011
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