Atheists among scientists spiritually oriented

Through in-depth interviews with 275 natural and social scientists, Rice University researchers found that 72 of the scientists have a spirituality consistent with science, but not in a formal religious sense.

"Our results show that scientists hold religion and spirituality as being qualitatively different kinds of constructs," said Elaine Howard Ecklund, assistant professor of sociology at Rice, who led the study, reports the journal Sociology of Religion.

"These spiritual atheist scientists are seeking a core sense of truth through spirituality -- one that is generated by and consistent with the work they do as scientists," Ecklund said, according to a Rice statement.

"There's spirituality among even the most secular scientists," Ecklund said. "Spirituality pervades both the religious and atheist thought. It's not an either/or.

"This challenges the idea that scientists, and other groups we typically deem as secular, are devoid of those big 'Why am I here?' questions. They too have these basic human questions and a desire to find meaning."

Ecklund co-authored the study with Elizabeth Long, professor and head of the department of Sociology at Rice.

In their analysis of the 275 interviews, they discovered that the terms scientists most used to describe religion included "organized, communal, unified and collective".

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