Allen S. Maller

Is secular education good for the Jewish religion?

If you think that more educated people are less religious; the facts indicate that you are wrong.

A University of Nebraska study challenges that age-old notion with findings that show education actually has a positive effect on Americans’ churchgoing habits, their devotional practices, and their emphasis on religion in daily life.

The work, published in the journal Review of Religious Research three years ago, analyzed a nationwide sample of thousands of respondents to the General Social Survey. According to Philip Schwadel, author of the study. “The effects of education on religion are not simple increases or decreases. In many ways effects vary based on how you define religion.”

For example, the study found higher levels of education eroded Christian Americans’ viewpoints that their specific religion is the “one true faith” and that the Bible is the literal word of God. That is good news for Jews because almost all Jews share these beliefs and have suffered in past centuries from those who believed their religion is the one true faith.

The research also found that disaffiliating, or dropping religion altogether, was not a popular option for highly educated Americans. The study is unique, Schwadel said, because it examines education’s effects on religion in the various ways that Americans are religious — from their different beliefs, their varied ways of participating and the nature of their affiliations with specific denominations.

For example, another recently published study found that when it comes to religious retention rates; highly educated groups like Hindus at 80 percent and American Jews at 75 percent are at the top. Behind the Jews are Evangelical Christians at 65 percent; Mormons, 64 percent; Catholics, 59 percent; and mainline Protestants, 45 percent.

Most Jews will be not only surprised, but shocked, to read these figures. An even more shocking figure, also from the Pew Religion in America 2014 study, is that seventeen percent of American Jews say they were raised in another religion. Six percent say they were raised unaffiliated, 4 percent as mainline Protestant, 3 percent as Catholic, and 2 percent each as Evangelical and in some other religion. These ‘new Jews’ number about three quarters of a million out of almost six million Jews in the U.S.

The University of Nebraska study also found that: Education had a strong and positive effect on religious participation. With each additional year of education, the odds of attending religious services increased 15 percent.

Increases in education were associated with reading the Bible. With each additional year of education, the odds of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9 percent.

“The results suggest that highly educated Americans are not opposed to religion — even religious leaders stating political opinions,” Schwadel said. “But they are opposed to what may be perceived as religion being forced on secular society.”

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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