HOUSTON — A large portion of Latino parents believe that science instruction may hurt their children’s religious beliefs, a new study finds.
Researchers at Rice University conducted qualitative research with 40 minorities selected from the larger Religious Understandings of Science study, 14 of whom identified as Latino.
The researchers sought to understand how one’s faith could affect their attitudes toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines, particularly in communities that are often perceived to be heavily religious.
“Despite notable gains over the past 50 years, blacks and Latinos remain less likely than whites and most groups of Asians to pursue STEM careers,” co-author Dr. Daniel Bolger says of his team’s inquiry in a Rice news release. “However, previous research also suggests that churches help promote positive educational outcomes. We were very interested in examining the connection between science education and faith for individuals who attend black and Latino churches to see if we could understand more about why these disparities in pursuit of STEM careers persist.”
Interestingly, Bolger and his team found that 43 percent of Latino parents believed that school-based science programs would negatively affect their child’s faith. Only eight percent of African-American parents expressed the same sentiment.
Meanwhile, 19 percent of African-American parents believed that their offspring’s religiosity would benefit from learning the sciences, compared to only 14 percent of Latino respondents.
More broadly, 19 percent of African-Americans and 21 percent of Latinos interviewed said that they held no reservations about how any academic subject could shape their child’s religious perspective.
While these findings are derived from a narrow sample set within a defined demographic, they may still highlight some issues that need to be addressed in both the present and with future research.
“They also start an important move to take seriously the opinions of black and Latino congregants in the religion and science debates,” argues Elaine Howard Ecklund, the study’s other co-author.
Both researchers hope that their findings will help bring the consideration of cultural bias into the discussion when it comes to the educational aspirations of devout Latinos and African-Americans.
The researchers’ findings are published in the journal Review of Religious Research.