Network for the Social Scientific Study of Science and Religion

Esmeralda Sanchez Salazar

How Congregational Participation Shapes the Science Education Outcomes of Latino Youth

This project examines how religious affiliation, beliefs, and practices shape perceptions of and actual science education outcomes of Latino youth. Latinos represent a growing segment of the U.S. population with relatively high levels of religious adherence alongside very low representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors and occupations. Prior research on the relationship between religion and science education suggests two broad sets of findings: a positive relationship between religious participation and general educational achievement and a negative relationship between religious affiliation and pursuit of STEM related degrees or occupations for some groups, such as conservative Protestants and Pentecostals. However, few studies have explored if these relationships persist among Latinos who are increasingly shifting toward conservative Protestant and Pentecostal movements. This project uses quantitative and qualitative data to explore the following questions: 1) What are the behaviors and attitudes toward science education among Latinos in different religious traditions? 2) What is the relationship between religious affiliation and Latino youth’s STEM achievement and how does this relationship differ across different Christian traditions (e.g., Pentecostal, evangelical, and Catholic)? 3) How do Latino faith leaders influence Latino youth and their parents’ STEM aspirations? This dissertation uses local administrative data to examine the association between religious affiliation and Latino youths’ STEM advanced course-taking patterns and STEM college aspirations. Using three case studies of predominantly Latino congregations in Houston (Pentecostal, evangelical and Catholic), this dissertation further explores whether and how contextual religious dynamics (e.g., clergy messages, parental religious adherence) may shape Latino youths’ interest in advanced high school level science courses and STEM related majors. Overall, this project examines how religious participation and beliefs are related to religion and science by exploring how congregational affiliation shapes how Latinos gather information about science, their attitudes toward science education, the extent to which Latinos are exposed to science in their congregations and explores the ways religious leaders may influence STEM aspirations.