Network for the Social Scientific Study of Science and Religion

Shiri Noy and Timothy O’Brien

Religious Identities, Beliefs, and the Moral Meanings of Science                 and Religion in the United States

Although science and religion are often portrayed to be incompatible ways of knowing, there is mounting evidence that the perception of conflict is relatively rare among the public and it is limited to a narrow range of issues. Moreover, recent studies suggest that where there is perceived conflict, the tension is based on moral not epistemological issues. What is not well known is the extent of the moral conflict among the public or the breadth of issues it affects. The goal of this project is to advance sociological knowledge about the social and cultural factors associated with the acceptance and rejection of science as an aid to think about moral issues and to understand human experience and the natural world. To do so, we will collect new data on public perceptions of the moral dimensions of science and religion. The rationale for this project is that new data are needed to keep pace with recent theoretical and conceptual advances in the sociology of science and religion. The research will be completed in three phases. First, we will construct a survey instrument that combines new measures of the moral meanings of science and religion with existing measures of perceptions of science and religion. Second, we will administer the survey to a national probability sample of US adults. Third, we will analyze the resulting data set using statistical techniques. This project is original because it brings new theoretical insights to bear on an old sociological problem area, namely, the relationship between science, religion, and society. More specifically, this project provides an empirical sociological examination of how religious identities and beliefs relate to perceptions of science and religion in areas where they each claim cultural authority. The outcome of this project will be to advance knowledge about the social and cultural forces that shape the acceptance and rejection of science as a frame for viewing moral issues. Additionally, data and findings from this project will promote further scholarship in the sociology of science and religion and allow for the refinement of theory on the scope and source of conflict between science and religion.