Get access

Faith and Understanding: Specifying the Impact of Higher Education on Religious Belief


Jonathan P. Hill, Department of Sociology & Social Work, Calvin College, 3201 Burton SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. E-mail:


This study examines the impact of educational enrollment and attainment on several measures of religious belief using nationally representative panel data. Although college does not appear to substantially alter the religious beliefs of most emerging adults, findings do reveal a modest increase in skepticism toward super-empirical religious beliefs among college students and graduates compared to those who have never attended any form of postsecondary education. This effect is dependent on college type, with students attending elite universities exhibiting the greatest increase in skepticism. Apart from changes in super-empirical belief, graduating from college modestly increases preferences for institutionalized religion while simultaneously reducing adherence to exclusivist religious belief. Faculty commitment to secularism, the degree of student academic engagement, and developing social identities may play a role in religious belief change, particularly at elite universities.