The great antagonism that never was: unexpected affinities between religion and education in post-secular society

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


A persistent sociological thesis posits that the spread of formal education causes an inevitable decline in religion as a social institution and diminishes adherence to religious beliefs in postindustrial society. Now that worldwide advanced education is a central agent in developing and disseminating Western rationality emphasizing science as the ultimate truth claim about a humanly constructed society and the natural world this seems an ever more relevant thesis. Yet in the face of a robust “education revolution,” religion and spirituality endure, and in certain respects thrive, thus creating a sociological paradox: How can both expanding education and mass religion coexist? The solution proposed here is that instead of educational development setting the conditions for the decline and eventual death of religion, the two institutions have been, and continue to be, more compatible and even surprisingly symbiotic than is often assumed. This contributes to a culture of mass education and mass religion that is unique in the history of human society, exemplified by the heavily educated and churched United States. After a brief review of the empirical trends behind the paradox, a new confluence of streams of research on compatible worldviews, overlapping ideologies, and their enactments in educational and religious social movements illustrates the plausibility of an affinity argument and its impact on theory about post-secular society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-65
Number of pages27
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 30 2019


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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