Network for the Social Scientific Study of Science and Religion

Paul DiMaggio

Americans’ Understanding of the Relationship Between Science and Religion: Finding Common Ground

News reports on science and religion in the contemporary U.S. tend to view them as starkly opposed. Sociological research, however, suggests that Americans construe the relationship between them in several ways, only some of which are antagonistic.  There are hints that many Americans, including Evangelical Christians, are potentially open to dialogue and collaboration around issues of science and faith.  We are employing standard and cognitive survey methods to explore the diversity of views in the population, and cognitive ambivalence at the individual level, in order to illuminate possible paths to constructive interaction  In so doing, we will id­entify subsets of Americans with positive views of both science and religion vs. those who see science and religion as antagonistic; and individuals whose views of science are sufficiently ambivalent that they may be open to dialogue. We will survey a representative sample of Americans, including a significant number of African-American and Hispanic respondents (the latter in Spanish when appropriate), replicating some established survey  items and adding new items to reflect more recent developments in public conversations about both science and religion, as well as items tapping weakly institutionalized forms of belief at the boundaries of conventional religious and scientific thought.  Using recent advances in network survey methods, we will explore how and with whom Americans talk about science and religion, and how such conversations are associated with their attitudes. And we will employ cognitive survey methods, including an identity elicitation experiment and an Implicit Association Test (IAT), to probe latent attitudes toward science and religion.  To highlight diversity, we will use such methods as Latent Class Analysis, which identifies subsets of respondents who share distinctive positions on science and religion, and Relational Class Analysis, which identifies subsets of respondents who vary in their opinions but share distinctive construals of an issue domain.  To explore uncertainty or ambivalence at the individual level, we will identify respondents whose views are susceptible to experimental manip­ulation and whose IAT responses reveal incon­sistencies between explicit views (as tapped by survey items) and implicit orientations.