Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are 'spiritual', study finds

Date:
May 5, 2011
Source:
Rice University
Summary:
More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are spiritual, according to new research. Though the general public marries spirituality and religion, the study found that spirituality is a separate idea -- one that more closely aligns with scientific discovery -- for "spiritual atheist" scientists.

More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are spiritual, according to new research from Rice University. Though the general public marries spirituality and religion, the study found that spirituality is a separate idea -- one that more closely aligns with scientific discovery -- for "spiritual atheist" scientists.

Related Articles


The research will be published in the June issue of Sociology of Religion.

Through in-depth interviews with 275 natural and social scientists at elite universities, the Rice researchers found that 72 of the scientists said they have a spirituality that is consistent with science, although they are not formally religious.

"Our results show that scientists hold religion and spirituality as being qualitatively different kinds of constructs," said Elaine Howard Ecklund, assistant professor of sociology at Rice and lead author of the study. "These spiritual atheist scientists are seeking a core sense of truth through spirituality -- one that is generated by and consistent with the work they do as scientists."

For example, these scientists see both science and spirituality as "meaning-making without faith" and as an individual quest for meaning that can never be final. According to the research, they find spirituality congruent with science and separate from religion, because of that quest; where spirituality is open to a scientific journey, religion requires buying into an absolute "absence of empirical evidence."

"There's spirituality among even the most secular scientists," Ecklund said. "Spirituality pervades both the religious and atheist thought. It's not an either/or. This challenges the idea that scientists, and other groups we typically deem as secular, are devoid of those big 'Why am I here?' questions. They too have these basic human questions and a desire to find meaning."

Ecklund co-authored the study with Elizabeth Long, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Rice. In their analysis of the 275 interviews, they discovered that the terms scientists most used to describe religion included "organized, communal, unified and collective." The set of terms used to describe spirituality include "individual, personal and personally constructed." All of the respondents who used collective or individual terms attributed the collective terms to religion and the individual terms to spirituality.

"While the data indicate that spirituality is mainly an individual pursuit for academic scientists, it is not individualistic in the classic sense of making them more focused on themselves," said Ecklund, director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice. "In their sense of things, being spiritual motivates them to provide help for others, and it redirects the ways in which they think about and do their work as scientists."

Ecklund and Long noted that the spiritual scientists saw boundaries between themselves and their nonspiritual colleagues because their spirituality facilitated engagement with the world around them. Such engagement, according to the spiritual scientists, generated a different approach to research and teaching: While nonspiritual colleagues might focus on their own research at the expense of student interaction, spiritual scientists' sense of spirituality provides nonnegotiable reasons for making sure that they help struggling students succeed.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rice University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. H. Ecklund, E. Long. Scientists and Spirituality. Sociology of Religion, 2011; DOI: 10.1093/socrel/srr003

Cite This Page:

Rice University. "More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are 'spiritual', study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110505124039.htm>.
Rice University. (2011, May 5). More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are 'spiritual', study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110505124039.htm
Rice University. "More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are 'spiritual', study finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110505124039.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, January 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Binge-Watching TV Linked To Loneliness

Binge-Watching TV Linked To Loneliness

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) Researchers at University of Texas at Austin found a link between binge-watching TV shows and feelings of loneliness and depression. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Signs You Might Be The Passive Aggressive Friend

Signs You Might Be The Passive Aggressive Friend

BuzzFeed (Jan. 28, 2015) "No, I&apos;m not mad. Why, are you mad?" Video provided by BuzzFeed
Powered by NewsLook.com
City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

The Toronto Star (Jan. 27, 2015) Model schools are rethinking how they engage with the community to help enhance the lives of the students and their parents. Video provided by The Toronto Star
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Rooftop Comedy (Jan. 26, 2015) A man in Texas saved every penny he found for 65 years, and this week he finally cashed them in. Bank tellers at Prosperity Bank in Slaton, Texas were shocked when Ira Keys arrived at their bank with over 500 pounds of loose pennies stored in coffee cans. After more than an hour of sorting and counting, it turned out the 81 year-old was in possession of 81,600 pennies, or $816. And he&apos;s got more at home! Video provided by Rooftop Comedy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins