On page 215 of her new book America By Heart, Sarah Palin takes a swipe at the godless professoriate:
Most of those who write for the mainstream media and teach at universities and law schools don’t share the religious faith of their fellow Americans. They seem to regard people who believe in God and regularly attend their church or synagogue as alien beings, people who are ‘largely poor, uneducated and easy to command,’ as the Washington Post once famously put it.
I can’t vouch for those nasty mainstream media writers, but a 2006 survey of 1,417 professors, published last year in the journal Sociology of Religion, found that a majority actually believe in God. Just over 50 percent of professors surveyed either believe in God without reservation or believe despite harboring some doubts. Another 19 percent believe in a higher power and 4 percent believe in God “some of the time.”
So, by my math, nearly 74 percent of professors have at least some belief in God or in a higher power and would therefore be unlikely to regard other people who also believe in God as “alien beings.”
Now, it’s certainly true that there is a higher percentage of atheists teaching on college campuses than you’ll find in the general population. About 10 percent of professors are self-proclaimed atheists — and interestingly, professions of faith vary widely from discipline to discipline. While 63 percent of accounting professors have no doubt about God’s existence, only 13 percent of psychologists are sure there’s a man (or a woman) upstairs.
But the atheists are still vastly outnumbered even in faculty lounges.
So unless Sarah Palin has access to a contradictory survey which for some reason she doesn’t cite, her claim that most professors don’t “share the religious faith of their fellow Americans” is wrong. And it’s kind of unfortunate, too, because it advances a thoughtless caricature of American professors: They’re the turtle-necked know-it-alls who look down through their half-glasses at good, honest people of faith. I have no doubt that you could track down some professors who fit that description, but they appear to be the exception.
Also, who’s to say that those 10 percent of atheist professors necessarily have a negative, condescending view of people who believe in God? Just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean you’re Richard Dawkins. The irony in all of this is that while Sarah Palin is scolding professors for supposedly judging their fellow Americans, she’s the one trafficking in stereotypes.
(The abstract for the paper, titled “The Religiosity of American College and University Professors,” is here. The authors are Neil Gross and Solon Simmons. I’ve reprinted the relevant table from the paper below.)
College and University Professors’ Belief in God
I don’t believe in God: 9.8
I don’t know whether there is a God: 13.1
I do believe in a higher power: 19.2
I find myself believing in God some of the time: 4.3
While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God: 16.6
I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it: 34.9
No answer: 2.2