A $2 million grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation will enable Rice University researchers to conduct the first cross-national study of how scientists around the world view religion and science.
Approximately 10,000 biologists and physicists will be surveyed in six countries that have very different approaches to the relationship between religious and state institutions, different levels of religiosity and different levels of scientific infrastructure.
“Researchers have pondered whether an increase in global science will lead to global secularization,” said Rice President David Leebron. “We’re very grateful to the Templeton World Charity Foundation for this generous grant that will allow our faculty to explore this issue across nations.”
“With seemingly constant developments in the areas of science and religion, these two subjects have taken an important role on the global stage,” said Elaine Howard Ecklund, a Rice associate professor of sociology who is heading the study. “Our research team can think of no better way to discover how the international science community negotiates religion than to go straight to the source and study scientists themselves.”
Ecklund, who is also director of the Rice Social Sciences Research Institute’s Religion and Public Life Program and a Rice Scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, will collaborate with Kirstin Matthews, a fellow in science and technology policy at the Baker Institute and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and the Wiess School of Natural Sciences at Rice. Steven Lewis, the C.V. Starr Transnational China Fellow at the Baker Institute and associate director of the Rice’s Chao Center for Asian Studies, will also direct the study.
The study will begin with a survey of 10,000 biologists and physicists at different points in their careers at top universities and research institutes in the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy, France and China. The researchers will then conduct follow-up qualitative interviews with 600 of these scientists. Through these two methods, the study will determine how scientists in different national contexts understand the relationship of science and religion (and, where relevant, spirituality) and how religion and spirituality influence their research agendas, daily interactions with students, and ethical decisions and discussions.
In addition to the dataset, the project will produce a series of articles and a book aimed at a general audience to advance the conversation beyond those in the scientific community.
Ecklund also hopes that the project will improve public policy efforts to increase productive dialogue between scientists and religious communities by uncovering similarities and differences in how they perceive the proper relationship between science, religion and spirituality.
This is Ecklund’s second study on how scientists negotiate religion. Her previous study, “Religion Among Academic Scientists,” took place between 2005 and 2009 and examined approaches to religion and spirituality among natural and social scientists at elite universities in the United States. Her study findings resulted in the book “Science Vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think,” published by Oxford University Press.