In his excellent recent post, co-blogger Todd Zywicki cites some data that shed light on academics' attitudes towards different religious groups. Overall, I think the data confirm my theory that most academics are not hostile to religion as such, but merely to those religious groups that they perceive (for the most part correctly) as politically conservative.
The study Todd cites shows that 53% of academics have an "unfavorable" view of Evangelical Christians and 33% say the same of Mormons. By contrast, only 13% have an unfavorable view of Catholics and 3% towards Jews. As Todd points out, Evangelical Christians and and Mormons are generally seen as politically conservative, while Jews tend to be liberal, and Catholics somewhere in between. Todd may well be right that academics' views of Evangelicals and Mormons are based on stereotypes rather than personal experience. However, the stereotype that these groups tend to be politically conservative is actually correct. For example, a recent survey found that 47% of evangelicals describe themselves as "conservative," while only 14% call themselves "liberal." A Pew survey found that 72% of white Evangelicals voted for the Republicans in the 2006 congressional elections. The numbers for Mormons are similar (majority-Mormon Utah is perhaps the most reliably Republican state in the country).
With the exception of attitudes towards Evangelical Christians, the percentage of academics who view various religious groups unfavorable is actually similar to or lower than the percentages of the general public who feel the same way. For example, Todd expresses surprise that 13% of academics have an "unfavorable" view of Catholics. But a 2007 Pew Survey shows that 14% of the general public take the same view. The 33 percent of academics who have an unfavorable view of Mormons is only slightly higher than the 27% of the general public who gave the same answer in the Pew survey. And the Pew study shows that a much higher percentage the general public have an unfavorable view of Jews and Muslims than the percentage of academics who do so; 35 percent of the general public have an "unfavorable" view of Muslims and 9 percent have an unfavorable view of Jews. Among academics, the equivalent figures are 22% and 3%. The study Todd linked to also cites data showing that academics take a more favorable view of Buddhists than does the general public. The Pew study shows that 19% of the general public view Evangelical Christians unfavorably, which is of course a much lower figure than the 53% of academics who do so.
Thus, the evidence shows that those religious groups that are viewed more negatively by academics than the general public are the ones that are (for the most part correctly) viewed as politically conservative.
Todd nonetheless partially rejects my political bias theory of academic attitudes for the following reasons:
So what about Ilya's thesis that religious bigotry is a proxy for political bigotry? There may be some truth to this. I suspect that Evangelicals and Mormons are generally perceived as political conservative[s] and Jews are perceived as politically liberal. Other views, such as Catholics and Muslims, I suppose fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to such stereotypes. But I don't think this can explain it all either. For instance, I think that most academics are quite tolerant of conservative Jews. I also suspect that academics probably think that it is ok for blacks to be Evangelical or Southern Baptist, even if they dislike white Evangelicals.
My own experience is that politically conservative Jews are not viewed more favorably by liberal academics than are other conservatives. The reason why this doesn't translate into unfavorable attitudes towards Jews more generally is that conservative Jews are exceptional and also that most of them are not conservative because of their religious beliefs. By contrast, the majority of politically aware white Evangelicals and Mormons are conservative, and that conservatism is often at least partially dictated by their religious commitments. As for black Evangelicals and Baptists, the fact that academics may view them more favorably than whites of the same religion is entirely consistent with my theory. Black Evangelicals and Baptists tend to be liberal (or at least to vote Democratic), whereas white ones tend to be conservative Republicans. Politically conservative blacks, by contrast, are not popular in academia, whether they are religious or not. Although I don't have survey data to prove it, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is harder to be a conservative or libertarian black in academia than to be a white academic with similar views - perhaps because some leftists view black conservatives and libertarians as "traitors" to their racial group.
To say that academics' hostility to certain religious groups is based on political ideology is not to say that such hostility is justified. As a general rule, I don't think it's defensible to have a negative view of an entire religious group merely because the majority of its members disagree with you on political issues. Be that as it may, what we have here is more a case of political intolerance than religious bigotry. Significantly, the percentage of academics who have an unfavorable view of various religious groups is, in most cases, the same as or lower than the percentage of the general public who feel the same way.