Habit‐Driven Academics Still Nervous About Religion

Another scholar reflecting on the academy and it’s lack of respect for religion.

Professor Christian Smith of UNC Chapel Hill wrote an interesting article for Books & Culture called Force of Habit attempting to explain a tenacious anti‐religious sensibility among many faculty.

Several anecdotes effectively highlight his thesis: anti‐religion is still alive and well among the university professoriate. Particularly anti‐Christianity, which disdains a faith neither exotic nor “subaltern” enough to merit the admiration of intellectuals.

After spouting some very confusing sociological terminology, he uses a concept called habitus to account for this consistent trivialization of faith. They way Smith uses it, habitus seems to mean an idea carried forward by momentum rather than merit.

In particular, the notion of habitus helps to explain some curious features of academic anti‐religion. One is that none of the anti‐religious faculty I know as individuals are nasty people out to make religious believers feel bad. They’re smart, interesting, morally serious, and well‐intentioned. I prize my relationships with them. They’re not aiming to be anti‐religious, anti‐Christian. They don’t have to try. It just comes naturally to them, almost automatically, as if from a fundamental predisposition.

I’d have to say that’s been my experience: the irreligious among the cultured elite seem genuinely shocked when they discover someone that they previously considered thoughtful and well‐educted is possessed of a deep and abiding faith. They’re flummoxed.

More importantly, this habitus is infectious. The most pernicious struggle I see students engaged in springs from a perception that smart people just don’t believe in God.

That’s hard to battle: it’s not as though there’s an actual argument being made here. It’s just an attitude picked up by osmosis. That’s one of the reasons I try to bring information on intelligent believers to their attention such as a list of living famous Christian scientists and information on Christian faculty at Stanford such as Don Knuth.

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