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Study sees link between education and views of heaven

The old wisdom: The more educated you are, the less likely you will be religious. But a new study says that, rather than driving people away from God, education gives them a more liberal attitude about who’s going to heaven.

Each year of education ups the odds by 15 percent that people will say there’s “truth in more than one religion,” says University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociology professor Philip Schwadel in an article for the Review of Religious Research. Schwadel looked at 1,800 U.S. adults’ reported religious beliefs and practices and their education.

People change their perspective because, as people move through high school and college, they acquire an ever-wider range of friendships, including people with beliefs different from their own, Schwadel says.

“People don’t want to say their friends are going to hell,” he says.

For each additional year of education beyond seventh grade, Americans are:

» 15 percent more likely to have attended religious services in the past week.

» 14 percent more likely to say they believe in a “higher power” than in a personal God. “More than 90 percent believe in some sort of divinity,” Schwadel says.

» 13 percent less likely to say the Bible is the “actual word of God.” The educated, like most folks in general, tend to say the Bible is the “inspired word” of God, Schwadel says.

According to Barry Kosmin, a co-author of the American Religious Identification Survey, “[T]he educated elite look a lot like the rest of America,” just as likely to believe in a personal God or higher power.

— Lynn Grossman

c. 2011 USA Today