It is common to see science and religion portrayed as mutually exclusive and warring ways of viewing the world, but is that how actual scientists see it? For that matter, which cultural factors shape the attitudes of scientists toward religion? Could scientists help show us a way to build collaboration between scientific and religious communities, if such collaborations are even possible?
The book we’re looking at today, Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Really Think About Religion (Oxford University Press, 2019), aims to answer these questions and more. Scholars Elaine Howard Ecklund, David Johnson, Brandon Vaidyanathan, Kirstin Matthews, Steven Lewis, Robert Thomson Jr, and Di Di collaborated to complete the most comprehensive international study of scientists' attitudes toward religion ever undertaken, surveying more than 20,000 scientists and conducting in-depth interviews with over 600 of them. From this wealth of data, the authors extract the real story of the relationship between science and religion in the lives of scientists around the world. The book makes four key claims: there are more religious scientists then we might think; religion and science overlap in scientific work; scientists––even atheist scientists––see spirituality in science; and finally, the idea that religion and science must conflict is primarily an invention of the West. Throughout, the book couples nationally representative survey data with captivating stories of individual scientists, whose experiences highlight these important themes in the data. Secularity and Science leaves inaccurate assumptions about science and religion behind, offering a new, more nuanced understanding of how science and religion interact and how they can be integrated for the common good.
Elaine Howard Ecklund is the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology at Rice University, as well as founding director of the Religion and Public Life Program there. David Johnson is an assistant professor of higher education leadership at the University of Nevada Reno in the College of Education.
Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City.
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