Whose Authority? Perceptions of Science Education in Black and Latino Churches

Abstract

Recent scholarship argues that beliefs in biblical literalism might keep conservative Protestants out of STEM. Two of the groups that are most underrepresented in STEM, black Americans and Latinos, are also two of the most religious populations in the United States, and specifically overrepresented in theologically conservative Christian traditions. Yet, prior work also suggests that churches help promote positive educational outcomes. To interrogate the potential relationship between STEM educational aspirations and religious faith, we explore how black and Latino Christians perceive the potential impact of science education on religious faith. Analysis of 40 interviews reveals that both black Americans and Latinos have concerns about science teachers being biased. Yet, the groups differ in their assessment of the danger of anti-religious bias. Black Americans put confidence in the Christian community to incubate children from harm to their faith; therefore, they believe the effect of science education on religious faith is either neutral or positive. Latinos, however, raise concerns about the authority of science educators, rather than science curriculum. Overall, the results shift the conversation on conservative religion and science education from solely discussing content to exploring issues of bias and authority.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Data collection for this mixed-methods project consisted of 319 qualitative interviews, 248 participant observations, and a nationally representative survey of over 10,000 Americans regarding their views on the relationship between religion and science, completed between 2011–2015. Qualitative data was garnered from 23 religious congregations in two major U.S. cities and the research sites for the study included Evangelical, Mainline, and Catholic Christian congregations, Orthodox and Reform Jewish Synagogues, and Sunni Muslim Mosques. Religious communities in the study were selected based on a number of demographic factors, including socioeconomic status, racial composition, religious tradition, theological perspectives, geographic location, and age of congregants.

  2. 2.

    SB03, conducted 6/24/11, Female, Black, Baptist.

  3. 3.

    EL02, conducted 7/7/13, Female, Latina, Evangelical.

  4. 4.

    CL06, conducted 10/6/13, Male, Latino, Catholic.

  5. 5.

    CL03, conducted 9/7/13, Female, Latina, Catholic.

  6. 6.

    MB02, conducted 7/17/13, Female, Black, Baptist.

  7. 7.

    CL03, conducted 9/7/13, Female, Latina, Catholic.

  8. 8.

    MB01, conducted 7/12/13, Female, Black, Baptist.

  9. 9.

    SB04, conducted 6/27/11, Male, Black, Baptist.

  10. 10.

    SB05, conducted 7/6/11, Female, Black, Baptist.

  11. 11.

    MB05, conducted 7/18/13, Female, Black, Baptist.

  12. 12.

    MB15, conducted 11/10/13, Female, Black, Baptist.

  13. 13.

    EL07, conducted 11/3/13, Male, Latino, Evangelical.

  14. 14.

    EL05, conducted 9/13/13, Female, Latina, Evangelical.

  15. 15.

    EL09, conducted 11/15/13, Female, Latina, Evangelical.

  16. 16.

    EL06, conducted 9/20/13, Male, Latino, Evangelical.

  17. 17.

    MB15, conducted 11/10/13, Female, Black, Baptist.

  18. 18.

    MB06, conducted 7/18/13, Female, Black, Baptist.

  19. 19.

    SB02, conducted 6/22/11, Female, Black, Baptist.

  20. 20.

    SB09, conducted 7/24/11, Female, Black, Baptist.

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Acknowledgements

Research for this article was part of the Religious Understandings of Science Study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation (Grant 38817, Elaine Howard Ecklund, principal investigator).

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Correspondence to Daniel Bolger.

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Bolger, D., Ecklund, E.H. Whose Authority? Perceptions of Science Education in Black and Latino Churches. Rev Relig Res 60, 49–70 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-017-0313-6

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Keywords

  • Science
  • Education
  • Race
  • Churches
  • African Americans
  • Latinos