Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Bête Noire of Religiosity

I just received an interesting article from the University of Michigan about a study on the changes in religiosity of students by major. Humanities majors, it seems, are likely to become less religious than they were before the entered college. Science majors remain about the same. Education majors become more religious. The article states:
“Our results suggest that it is postmodernism, not science, that is the bête noir of religiosity. One reason may be that the key ideas of postmodernism are newer than the key scientific ideas that challenge religion. For example, religions have had 150 years to develop resistance or tolerance for the late 19th century idea of evolution, but much less time to develop resistance or tolerance for the key ideas of postmodernism, which gained great strength over the course of the 20th century.”
For some reason, this idea just tickles me. All that work that the religious right is putting in on combating ideas of science, primarily evolution, and their real threat is postmodernism, "a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language" (Wikipedia) and, apparently, religion.

Of course this makes sense. Postmodernism is a strong challenge to the idea of absolute truth and absolute good and evil. And we see it creeping into our society in lots of ways. But when one undertakes formal academic study that includes postmodern theory, it definitely challenges religious assumptions.

On another track from the article, it does worry me that education is the haven of the very religious. These are the people going on to teach in our schools, folks. No wonder we're always having religious indoctrination creeping into our schools in defiance of the separation of church and state.


Joel said...

This is interesting, especially because from my experience the most, how should I say, fervent christian churches in America are INCREDIBLY post modern. Non-demoninationalism? Church advertisements on billboards? Tweeting sermons? Picking a Church that's "right for you"? Personal relationship with God? Interpreting the bible yourself? None of this would have been considered without the huge influence of postmodern thought.

Maybe it's not postmodernism as a whole, but just the part about more access to information.

Then again, I could be all wrong.

Caroline said...

Thought you would enjoy reading that article, Cindy. I found it quite fascinating and scary, too. Guess I need a definition of post-modernism to comment further thougn.

Caroline said...

I had to look up post-modernism/ modernist in Wikipedia before I responded, to make sure that I correctly understood its meaning and implications. What the study actually showed was that "College students who major in the social sciences and humanities are likely to become less religious". The researchers made the leap to their statement about postmodernism. But that leap is sound. And social science and humanities students today would be most likely studying post-modernism thoughts, theories, the like. And definitely they would be learning critical thinking and deconstructivism. Which are the biggest (to me) factors in assessing that leap. I'm not sure, however, contrary to Joel, that most fervent Christian churches actually use critical thinking methods or deconstructivism, i.e. that they are "incredibly post modern". In fact, I think that they don't and are not. Perhaps Joel is confusing post-modernism thinking and the use of current technology produced under the influence of post-modernism. Not exactly the same thing.

Steve Caldwell said...

Rev. Cyn,

Related to this study is the "Salem hypothesis":

"It was proposed by a fellow named Bruce Salem who noticed that, in arguments with creationists, if the fellow on the other side claimed to have personal scientific authority, it almost always turned out to be because he had an engineering degree. The hypothesis predicted situations astonishingly well — in the bubbling ferment of talk.origins, there were always new creationists popping up, pompously declaiming that they were scientists and they knew that evolution was false, and subsequent discussion would reveal that yes, indeed, they were the proud recipient of an engineering degree.

... Of course, it doesn't say that engineers are all creationists: it says that creationists with advanced degrees are often engineers, a completely different thing altogether."


The Wikipedia article goes on to state that a disproportionate share of engineers seems to have a mindset that inclines them to entertain the quintessential right-wing features of "monism" (why argue when there is one best solution) – and of "simplism" (if only people were rational, remedies would be simple). The article also notes that engineers are the most religious of all academics.

Peter Morrison said...

I just have to comment that the scepticism and deconstructive analysis that exemplify post-modernism are merely extensions of modernism. Therefore I have to maintain that there is no such thing as post-modernism.