A political mismatch between professors and a large swath of the student population has been widely documented. This mismatch is salient within sociology, where left-leaning politics are mainstream and institutionalized. Further, extant research indicates that this political mismatch leads students outside of the left-leaning mainstream to perceive that their professors are politically biased and to have diminished classroom experiences. However, studies assessing the influence of students’ religiosity, a foundational element of conservatism, on perceptions of political bias and negative classroom experiences is lacking. In response, this study analyzes survey data from a diverse sample of undergraduate students enrolled in sociology courses to explore the connection between students’ religiosity and perceptions of and subsequent reactions to professors’ political bias. Our results suggest that religiosity affects perceptions of and reactions to professors’ biases through increased skepticism towards science and perceived ideological distance from professors. This process is found to be operant only among politically conservative and moderate students. The implications of our results for sociology are discussed.
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Gerth and Mills (1946, p. 146)
Linvill and Havice (2011) used religiosity as a demographic control variable, not as a theoretically important predictor of perceptions of bias.
We also recruited students enrolled in two sociology courses at a small comprehensive university in the Southeast. These recruitment efforts yielded a small number (n = 19) of respondents that are included in our sample. We estimated supplemental models after omitting these respondents and found that the substantive conclusions drawn from our analysis were not sensitive to these cases.
We also estimated a process model that included a measure of ideological distance created by taking the absolute value of the difference between students’ political ideology and their perceptions of the political ideologies of their professors. Substantive conclusions derived from this alternative specification of ideological distance were consistent with those from the analysis reported here.
In addition to the two indirect pathways that we posit and document there are five alternative indirect pathways linking religiosity to students’ reactions to instructor biases. The bias corrected confidence intervals around the coefficients for each of these indirect paths contained zero indicating that these alternative pathways were not statistically significant.
Students’ self-reported political ideology is measured with a single item that asked participants to report their ideology on a 5-point scale that ranged from extremely liberal (=1) to extremely conservative (=5) with neither liberal nor conservative (e.g., moderate) as the center attribute (=3).
We do not know from our data whether it is that religious and conservative students are more likely to encounter bias, detect bias, or perceive bias from their instructors, but it would be useful to find out in future research.
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The authors wish to thank David Merolla and Lawrence Nichols for helpful suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper. The authors are also grateful to their colleagues who encouraged their students to participate in this study.
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Wills, J.B., Brewster, Z.W. & Nowak, G.R. Students’ Religiosity and Perceptions of Professor Bias: Some Empirical Lessons for Sociologists. Am Soc 50, 136–153 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-018-9388-y
- Professor bias
- Political ideology
- Ideologica l distance
- Science distrust
- Sociology students