A $1.08 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation will allow Rice University researchers to study how people of different religious traditions perceive science and interact with the scientific world around them, and how scientists perceive people of faith.
The study will be led by Rice’s Elaine Howard Ecklund, an associate professor of sociology, director of the Social Sciences Research Institute’s Religion and Public Life Program and a Rice Scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy. The research will be conducted in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science Dialogue on Science Ethics and Religion Program, which will use the findings to conduct outreach with religious people and scientists.
“Much has been written about how science and religion relate to each other, and it will be interesting to see if the generalized media portrayal of science being in conflict with religion is really accurate,” said Dean of Social Sciences Lyn Ragsdale. “We’re extremely grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for their generous funding of this study.”
Using nationally representative survey data, participant observation and in-depth interviews, Ecklund will investigate religious people’s understanding of science at three levels of inquiry: the highest levels of religious authority, case-study congregations and individual religious people. The study will survey evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims.
“It’s very unusual as a scholar to have such a direct opportunity to utilize your research in such practical ways,” Ecklund said. “This grant will provide a great opportunity for us to conduct cutting-edge research about how these religious groups understand science and provide outreach and translation to individuals who might have some difficulties with some aspects of science.”
In addition to the dataset, the project will produce a series of 10 research articles, a book aimed at a general audience to advance the conversation beyond those in the scientific community and five op-ed articles accessible to a public audience, in addition to academic presentations and public lectures.
This is Ecklund’s third study on science and religion. She conducted her first study, “Religion Among Academic Scientists,” between 2005 and 2009 and examined approaches to religion and spirituality among natural and social scientists at elite universities in the United States. The research culminated in 15 academic articles and the book “Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think,” published by Oxford University Press. Her second study, “Religion Among Scientists in International Context,” is ongoing and is the first cross-national study of how scientists around the world view religion, ethics and gender.