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WorldWhat are the challenges of being a religious scientist?

What are the challenges of being a religious scientist?

Virginia. You would be forgiven for assuming, based on popular notions and descriptions, that if someone is a scientist he would not be a religious person. Consider the popular television show “The Big Bang Theory,” about friends who almost all have advanced degrees in physics, biology, or neuroscience. The main character, Sheldon – a physicist who is often dismissive of religion – is contrasted with his devout Christian mother, who is uninterested in and ignorant about science.

Such stereotypes reinforce the idea that religion and science are not only distinct from each other, but also at odds with each other. Yet social scientists have found that most of the American public does not actually see religion and science as in conflict. When religion appears to reduce individuals’ acceptance of scientific ideas, it is usually not because of the facts. Rather, objections from religious individuals are often based on the ethical implications of that research, or the perceived role of scientists in policy making.

And many scientists are religious, rejecting notions that there is an inherent conflict between faith and science. Take Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health, who has been open about his Christian beliefs. On the other hand, religious people face challenges when working in science. These challenges have nothing to do with internal conflicts over orthodox issues such as the origin of human life.

Instead, religious scientists often cite hostility from their peers and a professional culture that creates challenges for other life goals such as family formation. I came to this conclusion after surveying more than 1,300 American graduate students in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology – one of several sociological studies I conducted to try to understand the social dynamics of religion and science. Is. The findings of this research are presented in my book, “The Faithful Scientist: Experiences of Anti-Religious Bias in Scientific Training,” published in October 2023.

imaginary atheism
According to my survey, 22% of graduate students in the sciences say they believe in God and 20% describe themselves as “very” or “moderately” religious. These percentages are similar to those seen in science faculty, but much lower than what is seen in the general American population. According to Pew Research Center surveys, about half of Americans say they believe in “the God described in the Bible”, while the other third believe in some kind of higher power. Gallup finds that 3 out of 4 Americans say religion is very or fairly important in their lives. The relatively non-religious composition of their peers and faculty can create challenges for religious graduate students.

Many of the religious students I spoke to described a culture in which it was assumed that everyone in the lab or classroom was an atheist and comments that were openly hostile toward religion or religious people were allowed. . A Christian graduate student in biology told me, “When I started graduate school I was really shocked… by the lack of respect from my fellow students as well as the professors. I still feel like I have to That part of life needs to be hidden. …I’m not willing to open up.” In fact, nearly two-thirds of students who identified as very religious or moderately religious agreed with this statement that “people in my subject have negative attitudes toward religion,” according to a survey I created and tested in my book. About 40% of those students also agreed that they “Hide” an idea or identity.

Family and career
Religious graduate students in the sciences also face more subtle cultural conflicts. The social sciences have highlighted many of the challenges academic scientists face in establishing and maintaining their family lives. For one thing, the demand for graduate school and pre-tenure positions is increasing, causing many academic scientists to delay having children and have fewer children than they would like. The highly competitive nature of academic jobs also means that scientists rarely have a say in where they live, making it difficult to rely on the support of grandparents and other extended family while raising a family. goes. All these dynamics become even more difficult if a scientist’s partner is also a scientist. These challenges are especially important for religious graduate students.

Several scholarly studies have shown that religion influences individuals’ attitudes and behavior when it comes to how many children they want to have. Indeed, the survey for my book found that 23% of science graduate students who consider themselves very religious already have at least one child. This compares with 12% among those who are moderately religious, 7% among those who are somewhat religious, and 6% among those who say they are not religious. More religious students also indicated a greater desire to have additional children in the future. These ideologies have an impact on career paths. My survey asked respondents to rate the importance of career, partnership, and fatherhood on a four-point scale. On average, religious students did not place less importance on career than their less religious peers, but they did place more importance on their family life.

benefits of religious diversity
Many people may dismiss these challenges because religion is not typically part of the conversation about supporting and increasing diversity in science. However, at a minimum, making derogatory comments or showing other forms of hostility toward a person’s religion—as many of my respondents said they experienced—may be a violation of anti-discrimination and harassment laws. What is more, the dimensions of diversity are not isolated from each other. Data collected for my book shows that female and black graduate students in the sciences are more likely to identify as religious than male and white students. For example, twenty-three percent of black students I surveyed identified as “very religious”, compared to 7.3% of white students.

Ignoring religion as a dimension of diversity has the potential to undermine efforts to support other forms of diversity in science. I would argue that religious diversity can also bring other benefits to the scientific community. Given the increasing importance of work-family issues among religious scientists, these individuals can be important agents in changing norms and policies that improve work-life balance for all scientists. Similarly, scientists who are religious may also serve as elders, or what sociologist Ellen Howard Eklund calls “bridge-builders” between the scientific and religious communities. In the short term, graduate programs in the sciences might consider how they approach and talk about religion, keeping in mind that perhaps 1 in 5 of their students is religious.

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