Are the Most Educated Indeed the Least Religious? A Study Across Countries, Faiths, and Generations

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Vyacheslav Karpov

Second Advisor

Dr. Elena Lisovskaya

Third Advisor

Dr. David J. Hartmann

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Corwin E. Smidt


religiosity, the super-educated, cultural divide, cultural traditionalism, cohorts, secularization


Theories of modernization and secularization (Bruce, 2002) suggest that growth of Western-style higher/advanced education is a force by which modernity may lead to a decline in religious authority and religiosity. However, competing theories and empirical evidence indicate that the decline is not universal, and that the expansion of education and religiosity are not mutually exclusive (Berger, 1999; Berger, Davie, & Fokas 2008; Eisenstadt, 2000). The purpose of this study is to clarify the education-religiosity relationship across a range of modern, but unique national, religious, and generational contexts in America and Europe, the country and the region that have achieved the highest levels of modernization and education, yet for some reasons remain religious, albeit to varying degrees. This dissertation systematically tests and critically assesses the secularization thesis from different angles. This innovative, expansive exploration is based on the data from large-scale, representative national surveys, specifically, World Values Survey (Wave 5; Inglehart, Haerpfer, Moreno, Welzel, Kizilova, Diez-Medrano, Lagos, Norris, Ponarin & Puranen et al. (Eds.), 2014) conducted in 2005 – 2009 by World Values Survey Association, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted in 2007 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life of the Pew Research Center, and The Alaska and Hawaii Supplement to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted in 2008.

According to the findings, while the secularization thesis receives limited support in some cultural contexts, there is little evidence of uniform secularizing effects of college education, and counter-trends are present in other contexts. Overall, the education-religiosity relationship is nuanced and varied. Across countries, faiths, and/or generations, the better-educated are not uniformly less religious and traditional. More broadly, in many contexts, modernization does not necessarily lead to secularization. Rather than the conventional unidirectional model, multiple patterns of the modernity-religion interplay are possible. Thus, alongside secularization, there is a potential for resilience, transformation, and even growth of religion.

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