Religion and modernity in the United States: A rational choice analysis of conflict and harmony
The sociological literature has historically emphasized an assumption of inherent conflict between religion and modernity. Religion, however, has become more widely adopted throughout United States population at the same time as modernity in its many forms. This suggests a need to reconsider our established assumption that the two cannot exist in harmony and develop, instead, a more comprehensive theoretical view that can be useful for predicting and explaining both conflict and harmony between modernity and religion. By drawing from the work of rational choice theorists, a theoretical model was developed to explain when religious individuals would be oriented toward modernity (particularly modern science and education) with greater or lesser hostility. The model asserts that (1) individuals seek what they desire and avoid what they dislike, (2) individuals gain their primary goals and desires from the social groups that are most salient to them and, (3) tension and hostility will increase between individuals and groups when they have incompatible goals and are competing for a mutually desired resource. The theory was tested using data from national surveys that measured views toward science and education. Three predictions were made: (1) religious people affiliated with groups having a greater emphasis on the supernatural will be less accepting of science than technology, (2) religious people affiliated with groups having a greater emphasis on the supernatural will be less accepting of science when it attempts to use the social capital their groups seek to control and, (3) religious high schoolers affiliated with groups having a greater emphasis on the supernatural would be less likely to choose college majors that promoted world views (focusing on natural causes and relative truth) to the exclusion of religious ones (focusing on or allowing for supernatural causes and absolute truths). The first two predictions were supported while the third was not.
Finke, Purdue University.
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