Review of Religious Research

, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 161–182 | Cite as

The Effects of Education on Americans’ Religious Practices, Beliefs, and Affiliations

  • Philip SchwadelEmail author
Original Paper


I challenge the scholarly contention that increases in education uniformly lead to declines in religious participation, belief, and affiliation. I argue that education influences strategies of action, and these strategies of action are relevant to some religious beliefs and activities but not others. Analysis of survey data shows that (1) education negatively affects exclusivist religious viewpoints and biblical literalism but not belief in God or the afterlife; (2) education positively affects religious participation, devotional activities, and emphasizing the importance of religion in daily life; (3) education positively affects switching religious affiliations, particularly to a mainline Protestant denomination, but not disaffiliation; (4) education is positively associated with questioning the role of religion in secular society but not with support for curbing the public opinions of religious leaders; and (5) the effects of education on religious beliefs and participation vary across religious traditions. Education does influence Americans’ religious beliefs and activities, but the effects of education on religion are complex.


Education Social class Culture Religious tradition 



Philip Schwadel would like to thank Elaine Howard Ecklund, Roger Finke, Phil Jenkins, John McCarthy, Julia McQuillan, Helen Moore, Kristen Olson, Alan Sica, and the editor and reviewers of Review of Religious Research for their comments and advice.


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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyThe University of Nebraska—LincolnLincolnUSA

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