Mark and Janel Williams and Dr. Keith Wilson, Ancient Scripture
A common concern for religious leaders for centuries has been the effect of education on religious devotion. During medieval times in Europe, leaders of the Catholic Church found that secular education was not compatible with church doctrines, and they strongly discouraged church members from studying works outside of the canonized church literature. The worries of the Catholic Church are still a reality today. Several modern-day studies, including a 1982 study done by Princeton University among Americans of several different religions, have found a negative correlation between education level and religious devotion: as education level increased among adults, religious devotion and practice decreased (Albrecht 7).
Surprisingly, the LDS Church has continually emphasized the importance of education to its members. President Gordon B. Hinckley has repeatedly encouraged the members to “Get all the education you can” (Hinckley 172). It seems that the LDS church does not feel threatened by the possible negative effect of education on religious devotion. Interestingly enough, a study done by Tim Heaton and Stan Albrecht found that the negative correlation between education level and religiosity does not exist among LDS adults in the U.S. and Canada (Albrecht and Heaton 50). Albrecht summarized: “Contrary to what we have seen with studies of other churches, the impact of increased education on religious belief and behavior of Latter-day Stains is unequivocally positive” (Albrecht 11).
Albrecht and Heaton conducted a similar study of LDS adults in Mexico and found that occupation was a better predictor than education level of religious devotion. However, since this study done fifteen years ago, the Mexican government has provided more opportunities and incentives for youth and adults to obtain an education. Because of this, our study’s purpose was to determine the correlation between education level (as opposed to occupation) and religiosity among LDS members in Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico. We hypothesized that we would find a positive correlation, meaning that religious devotion would increase as education level increased, just as Albrecht and Heaton had found in their study.
We administered a written survey to all 58 adult members age eighteen and older of the LDS Insurgentes Ward in Irapuato. The majority of these surveys were completed during church meetings; for less-active members, we visited their homes, where they completed the survey. To encourage honest responses, names were not included in the surveys, the survey was placed in a box upon completion, and participants were given a small reward. The survey sought to determine the participants’ religious devotion based on daily prayer, scripture study, church attendance, paying tithing, and fulfilling church callings. Using the responses, a score of religious devotion was assigned to each participant, which was then converted into a percentage and compared to the participants’ education level. We separated the levels of education into five categories: none, elementary, junior high, high school, high school plus (vocational or other education), and bachelor/master. The results were consistent with our hypothesis, as shown in the following graph:
As the graph indicates, religious devotion increased as education level increased. The following observations are of particular mention: religious devotion more than doubled between participants with no education and those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and religious devotion increased 20% from the high school plus category to the bachelor/master category. We also noted that there was a slight decrease in religious devotion between the elementary and junior high categories, which was most likely due to the relatively small sample size of the study.
We encountered a few problems in the process of collecting and analyzing the data. First of all, several participants misunderstood how to fill out the survey, which made some of their data incomplete. In most of these cases, only one or two pieces of information were missing, so we adjusted the religious devotion score and/or education level accordingly. Also, most participants did not even answer the question about how often they made home teaching or visiting teaching visits. As a result, we had to eliminate this factor in our analysis.
Though the main statistical analysis of our data is complete, we would also like to try to answer several other questions based on our data. For example, does a correlation exist between age or number of years in the church and education level/religiosity? Also, what relation is there between the participants’ future plans for studying and religious devotion?
Overall, this research project has been a very positive and fascinating learning experience for both of us. The church leaders and members of the Insurgentes Ward were more than willing to work with us and help us with our study. We are delighted that the results of our study support the main assumption of the recently implemented Perpetual Education Fund: that educational degrees and professional training contribute to higher activity rates and religious devotion among LDS members in developing countries.