Elaine Howard Ecklund

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Elaine Howard Ecklund is the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Sociology and the Director of Graduate Studies at the Rice University Department of Sociology, director of the Religion and Public Life Program in Rice's Social Science Research Institute, and a Rice Scholar at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. Ecklund received a B.S. in Human Development and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Cornell University. Her research focuses on institutional change in the areas of religion, immigration, science, medicine, and gender. She has authored numerous research articles, as well as two books with Oxford University Press.[1]

Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think[edit]

Ecklund's 2010 book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think is a systematic study of what scientists actually think and feel about religion. In the course of her research, Ecklund surveyed nearly 1,700 scientists and interviewed 275 of them. Ecklund concluded that "Much of what we believe about the faith lives of elite scientists is wrong. The 'insurmountable hostility' between science and religion is a caricature, a thought-cliche, perhaps useful as a satire on groupthink, but hardly representative of reality." [2]

In her book she mentions her most recent finding that at least 50% of scientists consider themselves to have religious traditions. Some of Ecklund's other findings about scientists self descriptions:

  • 34% were atheist (12% of which also call themselves spiritual), 30% were agnostic, 27% had some belief in God (9% have doubts but affirm their belief, 5% have occasional belief, 8% believe in a higher power that is not a personal God), and 9% of scientists said they had no doubt of God's existence. While more atheistic than the rest of the U.S. population, the research demonstrates that about a third (36%) of these scientists maintain some belief in God, a considerably smaller proportion than the approximately 90% in the general American population.
  • Most scientists that did express some belief in God considered themselves "religious liberals".
  • Some atheist scientists still considered themselves "spiritual".
  • Religious scientists reported that their religious beliefs affected the way they think about the moral implications of their work, not the way they practice science.[2]

Ecklund explains that scientists who believe in God may live "closeted lives" to avoid discrimination. Others are what she calls “spiritual entrepreneurs,” seeking creative ways to work with the tensions between science and faith outside the constraints of traditional religion. The book centers on portraits of 10 representative men and women working in the natural and social sciences at top American research universities. Ecklund reveals how scientists—believers and skeptics alikes—are struggling to engage the increasing number of religious students in their classrooms. She argues that many are searching for "boundary pioneers" to cross the picket lines separating science and religion and overcome the "conflict thesis".


Jason Rosenhouse is Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University. Rosenhouse is critical of some of Ecklund's research summaries. In particular, he contests her claim that "As we journey from the personal to the public religious lives of scientists, we will meet the nearly 50 percent of elite scientists like Margaret who are religious in a traditional sense" (page 6, Ecklund, 2010). Rosenhouse says that "religious in a traditional sense" is never clearly defined. He suggests that she may be referring to her finding that 47% of scientists affiliate themselves with some religion, but says that calling them "religious in a traditional sense" is therefore misleading, because only 27% of scientists have any belief in a God, even though many more than that associate with religious cultures.[3]

Other work[edit]

In 2006, Ecklund published Korean American Evangelicals: New Models for Civic Life, an examination of the civic narratives, practices, and identities of second-generation Korean-American evangelicals. The book looks at how Korean Americans use religion to negotiate civic responsibility, as well as to create racial and ethnic identity. The work compares the views and activities of second generation Korean Americans in two different congregational settings, one ethnically Korean and the other multi-ethnic, and includes more than 100 in-depth interviews with Korean American members of these and seven other churches around the country. It also draws extensively on the secondary literature on immigrant religion, American civic life, and Korean American religion. The book was reviewed in several academic journals.[4]

Ecklund's completed research projects include the Religion among Academic Scientists (RAAS) study; the Religion, Immigration, Civic Engagement (RICE) study; and research on religion and medicine. Her ongoing projects focus on religion among scientists in international contexts, religious understandings of science, and ethics among scientists in international contexts.

Ecklund's current research project, Religion among Scientists in International Contexts (RASIC), is the first-ever cross-national study of religion and spirituality among scientists. The project is funded by a two million-dollar grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation. The study will begin with a survey of 10,000 biologists and physicists at different points in their careers at top universities and research institutes in the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Italy, France, India, Hong Kong, and Taiwan— nations that have very different approaches to the relationship between religious and state institutions, different levels of religiosity, and different commitments to scientific infrastructure—and be followed by qualitative interviews with 600 of these scientists.

She has also published nearly thirty articles in peer-reviewed social scientific and medical journals.[5] With an interest in translating academic research to a broader public, she has written blogs and essays for The Scientist, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Social Science Research Council, Science and Religion Today, The Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post and the Houston Chronicle.

Religion and Public Life Program[edit]

Ecklund serves as the director of the Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP) at Rice University. The RPLP pursues its mission to conduct research, train scholars and offer programs that advance dialogue about religion in the public sphere by bringing together scholars who study religion, religious leaders from different traditions, students and community members from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse religious perspectives. The RPLP facilitates conversations about religion not only within the academy, but between the academy and the broader public. A relatively new program, the RPLP was launched in 2010 as part of the Social Sciences Research Institute at Rice University.


Ecklund's work has been covered in USA Today,[6][7] The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nature, Discover Magazine,[8] The Washington Times,[9] Physics.org, Science and Theology News, Newsweek,[10] The Washington Post,[11] CNN.com, MSNBC.com, Chicago Public Radio, Houston Public Radio, Xinhua News,[12] and other national and international news media outlets.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.ehecklund.rice.edu/
  2. ^ a b http://blog.beliefnet.com/roddreher/2010/04/science-vs-religion-what-do-scientists-say.html
  3. ^ http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2010/05/scientists_and_religion.php
  4. ^ Reviewed in: The Christian Century v. 124 no. 23 (Nov. 13 2007) (non-academic magazine); American Journal of Sociology v. 113 no. 3 (Nov. 2007); Choice v. 45 no. 2 (Oct. 2007). The Journal of Religion v. 89 no. 4 (Oct. 2009). Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion v. 46 no. 3 (Sept. 2007). Interpretation (Richmond, Va.) v. 62 no. 1 (Jan. 2008). Sociology of Religion v. 70 no. 1 (Spr 2009). Social Forces v. 88 no. 2 (Dec. 2009). (information from Book Review Digest database, accessed 25 May 2010)
  5. ^ Ecklund CV, accessed 25 May 2010; similar findings obtained from searches on PsycINFO (10) and Pubmed (3), 25 May 2010.
  6. ^ USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/topics/topic/Michael+Behe?loc=interstitialskip |url= missing title (help). 
  7. ^ USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/topics/topic/Religion+and+beliefs/Holidays/Hanukkah |url= missing title (help). 
  8. ^ Chris Mooney (2010, May 7), Latest POI is Up: “Elaine Howard Ecklund–How Religious Are Scientists?”, Discover Magazine, Accessed 25 May 2010.
  9. ^ Anonymous (2005, Aug. 14), Scientists' spirituality surprises. The Washington Times, Accessed 25 May 2010.
  10. ^ Lisa Miller (2007, Jan. 27), Beliefwatch: Ivy League, Newsweek. Accessed 25 May 2010.
  11. ^ Wendy Cadge (2009, Dec. 7), Spirituality: Rx when medicine fails, Washington Post. Accessed 25 May 2010.
  12. ^ Gareth Dodd (2007, July 2), Study: upbringing why most scientists not religious, Xinhua News. Accessed 25 May 2010.

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