New Study Links Church Attendance, Views of the Bible With College Graduation


A study links congregations’ interpretations of the Bible with college degrees—especially for those who don’t take the Bible literally.

Christians who believe the Bible is literally the Word of God are, researchers know, less likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than their less religious peers. A new study goes a step further: even for those who don’t buy that everything from Genesis to Revelations actually happened, attending church with others who do still decreases the odds of graduating from college.

In the United States at least, religion plays a big role in both public and private life. Studies suggest that religion influences mental and physical health, political and civic engagement, and education. Yet there’s been a paucity of studies that go into detail about how a congregation’s beliefs, taken as a whole, affect the lives of its members, especially when it comes to education.

That’s something of a surprise, Samuel Stroope, Aaron Franzen, and Jeremy Uecker argue in the journal Sociological Perspectives. “Approximately 31 percent of Americans are biblical literalists,” they write. “Nevertheless, the effects of congregation-level biblical literalism on individual educational attainment—independent of individual religious affiliation, involvement, and beliefs—remain unexamined.”

Stroope, Franzen, and Uecker looked to data from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, which surveyed a total of roughly half a million people from across the country about their beliefs, church membership, education, and other variables. The team homed in on one particular survey question concerning views of the Bible: whether someone thought it was “the actual word of God … to be taken literally, word for word,” a set of fables and legends, or something inspired by God but not to be taken literally. Because the USCLS identified each survey-taker’s place of worship, the researchers could also compute the average beliefs across a congregation.

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Nathan Collins

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