Abstract

We ask how scientists understand spirituality and its relation to religion and to science. Analyses are based on in-depth interviews with 275 natural and social scientists at 21 top U.S. research universities who were part of the Religion among Academic Scientists survey. We find that this subset of scientists have several distinct conceptual or categorical strategies for framing the connection spirituality has with science. Such distinct framings are instantiated in spiritual beliefs more congruent with science than religion, as manifested in the possibility of “spiritual atheism,” those who see themselves as spiritual yet do not believe in God or a god. Scientists stress a pursuit of truth that is individualized (but not characterized by therapeutic aims) as well as voluntary engagement both inside and outside the university. Results add complexity to existing thinking about spirituality in contemporary American life, indicating that conceptions of spirituality may be bundled with characteristics of particular master identity statuses such as occupational groups. Such understandings also enrich and inform existing theories of religious change, particularly those related to secularization.

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