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Completed Projects

Religious Understandings of Science (RUS)

Contrary to polarized media reports covering religious attitudes towards science, interview data from the Religious Understandings of Science study reveals that many religious people think that their faith can be harmonious with science and share narratives about the positive intersections between belief and science. Through the combined depth of personal interviews and the breadth of a survey and with the generous funding of the John Templeton Foundation, we explored how religious Americans think through complex scientific issues. This project involved observing religious services, as well as 319 personal interviews with religious people from a variety of traditions, including Catholics, Jews, Evangelicals, Muslims and Mainline Protestants. To complement these personal interviews, we conducted a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 Americans. We have begun and will continue to present our findings to academic scientists and suggest how they might more effectively communicate with religious communities. We will also provide the findings to congregations who participated in this study. This study is furthering productive conversation in the ongoing dialogue about science and religion. 

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Ethics among Scientists in International Context (EASIC)

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, RPLP researchers explored how scientists understand ethical issues in relation to science, with particular attention to the ways scientists’ perspectives on religion may or may not influence their ethical perspectives. To that end, researchers interviewed 211 physicists in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom about how they approach ethical issues associated with research integrity and the effects of industry financing. Led by Elaine Howard Ecklund (PI) and co-PIs Kirstin Matthews, Baker Institute Scholar and science policy specialist, and Steve Lewis, Baker Institute Scholar and Asia specialist, the study has enhanced our understanding of the interrelationships between religion, ethics, and science.

Religion among Academic Scientists (RAAS)

Science vs. Religion- RAASMost of what we believe about the faith lives of scientists is wrong…

So concluded RPLP director Elaine Howard Ecklund upon analyzing the data from RAAS, which examined approaches to religion and spirituality among natural and social scientists at elite universities in the United States. From 2005 to 2009, Ecklund surveyed 1,646 scientists at 21 research universities and, later, interviewed 275 of them in depth. The study found that some scientists see the realms of science and religion as completely distinct, while others see them as overlapping, even if only within certain niches. Different from the cold rationalists the public often imagines scientists to be, many scientists actively seek alternative sources of spirituality to further explore the purpose of their lives. The results of this study appear in the 2010 book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, published by Oxford University Press, chosen by Times Higher Education as an international book of the week, and named a book of the year on religion by the Huffington Post. Among the noteworthy and often surprising findings,

  • While 30% of scientists consider themselves atheists, a much larger percentage than in the general population, fewer than 6% of atheist scientists are working against religion.
  • Nearly half of scientists said they consider themselves religious.
  • One in five scientists is actively involved in a house of worship, attending services more than once a month.

Religion, Immigration, Civic Engagement (RICE)

No Human Being is Illegal- RICEReligion is an important part of the immigrant experience, as well as a central motivator of civic participation in the United States, yet little is known about whether religious participation strengthens the ability of new immigrants to contribute to American civic and political institutions. Scholars of immigrant religion focus mainly on the benefits religious communities provide to immigrants themselves, while neglecting the ways religion might help immigrants focus outward on helping those outside their own ethnic communities. 

Supported by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, the Religion, Immigration, Civic Engagement (RICE) study, conducted by Elaine Howard Ecklund and Michael O. Emerson, examined how various forms of religion and spirituality influence immigrant civic participation, such as voluntary association membership, community service, political participation, and various forms of collective action, as well as how religion and spirituality help shape civic identities. From 2007 to 2009, Ecklund and Emerson conducted 207 in-depth interviews with a random sample of first- and second-generation immigrants, as well as a group of native-born Americans (third generation or higher). A team of researchers across the country also conducted research at twelve immigrant ethnic organizations—some religious and others non-religious.

Religion and Medicine

Despite evidence that religious faith influences both clinicians’ practices and patients’ experience of illness, the relationship between medicine and religion has received scant scholarly attention, with religion often treated instrumentally as a means to better health outcomes. To promote deeper understanding of the relationship between religion and medicine, Elaine Howard Ecklund and sociologist Wendy Cadge of Brandeis University conducted a survey of 300 doctors (in the fields of pediatric oncology and pediatrics) who teach at research hospitals, as well as 30 in-depth interviews with physicians at these institutions. This research examined the categories that doctors develop for understanding the connections between medicine and religion in the context of their work and personal lives. Findings from this study, which have been disseminated in several sociology and medical journals, include the following:

  • Physicians’ perspectives on religion and spirituality are significantly influenced by the types of patients they treat. 
  • Physicians see religion and spirituality as most relevant in difficult medical decision-making situations, and in particular those made about end of life care. 
  • Physicians sometimes experience religion and spirituality as a barrier to medical care, as when certain religious groups decline treatments; other times religion and spirituality serve as a bridge to medical care, as when it helps patients and families make sense of illness and answer existential questions that medicine cannot address.