American Sociological Association

Traditional, Modern, and Post-Secular Perspectives on Science and Religion in the United States

Using General Social Survey data, we examine perspectives on science and religion in the United States. Latent class analysis reveals three groups based on knowledge and attitudes about science, religiosity, and preferences for certain religious interpretations of the world. The traditional perspective (43 percent) is marked by a preference for religion compared to science; the modern perspective (36 percent) holds the opposite view. A third perspective, which we call post-secular (21 percent), views both science and religion favorably. However, when faced with competing accounts of events such as creation and evolution, post-seculars root their views in religion rather than in mainstream science. Regression models indicate that perspectives on science and religion do not simply mirror other denominational or ideological differences. Furthermore, religio-scientific perspectives shape attitudes about political issues where scientific and some religious communities diverge, including on abortion rights and stem cell research. Overall, most individuals favor either scientific or religious ways of understanding, but many scientifically inclined individuals prefer certain religious accounts. This suggests that public divisions related to science and religion are cultural and epistemological. This article underscores the complexity of the boundary between reason and faith and highlights the roots of political conflict in perspectives on science and religion in the United States.


Timothy L. O’Brien and Shiri Noy





Starting Page


Ending Page