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Study: 2 in 10 Atheist Scientists Are ‘Spiritual’

c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) More than 20 percent of atheist scientists consider themselves to be “spiritual,” according to a Rice University study.

The findings, to be published in the June issue of the journal Sociology of Religion, are based on in-depth interviews with 275 natural and social scientists from 21 of the nation’s top research universities.

Elaine Howard Ecklund, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at the Houston university, said the research shows that spirituality is not solely a pursuit of religious people.

“Spirituality pervades both the religious and atheist thought,” she said. “It’s not an either/or. This challenges the idea that scientists, and other groups we typically deem as secular, are devoid of those big `Why am I here?’ questions. They too have these basic human questions and a desire to find meaning.”


Ecklund and other researchers found that these “spiritual atheists” viewed not believing in God “as an act of strength, which for them makes spirituality more congruent with science than religion.”

These scientists view both spirituality and science as “meaning-making without faith,” the study authors said. They viewed spirituality as congruent with science but not with religion because a religious commitment requires acceptance of an absolute “absence of empirical evidence.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment bluebuss

    only in texas could you get “spiritual” atheists.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Curt Cameron

    Did Prof. Ecklund define “spiritual” for the scientists taking her poll? I always roll my eyes when I hear that term, because it seems to mean so many different things to different people. I think the word is pretty much meaningless.

    I get a tingly, emotional reaction when I listen to certain music. Is that spiritual? Many people would say that it is. The only reason that I don’t is that I avoid that word because it has no decent definition.

    If I wrote the headline to the article, it would be “A Minority of Scientists Describe Themselves With a Word That Has Positive Connotations But No Specific Definition.”


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    what does that mean?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    I think it means he doesn’t understand what the dictionary says about spiritual.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Vincent

    The dictionary defines spiritual as: “Relating to the spirit or soul and not to physical nature or matter.” Basically, someone who is spiritual is someone who is more concerned with the soul–which is his or her eternal, deathless identity–than with the body, which is finite and is simply matter.

    If scientists do not believe in the soul, and think that matter is all there is, then they are not spiritual.

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