Content matters: perceptions of the science-religion relationship

Carola Leicht, Carissa Sharp, Jordan LaBouff, Natalia Zarzeczna, Fern Elsdon-Baker

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Science and religion are often portrayed as monolithic entities in perpetual and necessary conflict. We explore the extent to which perceptions of conflict or compatibility between science and religion are content dependent and are associated with participants’ own religious or non-religious social identities. In doing so, we develop a novel Science and Religion Conflict/Compatibility Scale. Across three studies (n = 1,506), we consistently find group differences between atheists, agnostics or other non-religious individuals, and religious individuals. Religious individuals reported the highest levels of compatibility and atheists the highest levels of conflict between science and religion. Additionally, perceptions of conflict between science and religion were divided into two distinct content areas. The first included items concerning big-picture explanations, such as understanding the origins of human life. The second content area formed around items that describe interactions between humans and the world, such as treating mental illness. We conclude that research examining perceptions of conflict between science and religion needs to adopt a more nuanced approach, that takes into account individuals’ identities and the context in which the relationship between science and religion is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe International Journal for the Psychology of Religion
Early online date10 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Dec 2021


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