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Study: Muslim Scientists Most Likely to Experience Discrimination

HOUSTON – Sociologists at Rice University and West Virginia University (WVU) have discovered that Muslim scientists in the US are more likely than other colleagues to experience discrimination, Phys.org reported on August 2.

Authors Christopher Scheitle, an assistant professor of sociology at WVU, and Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice and principal investigator for the larger project that produced the survey, found that 15% of scientists reported experiencing religious discrimination at work.

The researchers found that Muslim scientists were the most likely to experience religious discrimination, with 63.6% of those surveyed reporting at least a perception of discrimination on the job.

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Meanwhile, Protestant scientists reported the second-highest percentage of perceived religious discrimination at 40.4%.

The paper named “Perceptions of Religious Discrimination Among US Scientists” will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

The study examined a survey of 879 biologists and 903 physicists at schools classified as US research institutions by the National Research Council.

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The survey was conducted for a research project known as Religion Among Scientists in International Context.

On Discrimination Perception Level

The researchers were further interested in knowing more about the predictors of discrimination perception.

“We wanted to understand whether or not an individual’s religious practice and identity as a religious person explained their perception of discrimination,” Ecklund said.

After documenting self-reported religious discrimination among biologists and physicists, the researchers found no differences in perceived religious discrimination between religious and nonreligious physicists.

However, even after controlling for those other factors, the odds of Protestant biologists perceiving discrimination were almost five times greater than nonreligious biologists, the odds of Jewish biologists perceiving discrimination were seven times greater than nonreligious biologists and the odds of Muslim biologists perceiving discrimination were 30 times greater than nonreligious biologists.

“There is often an assumption among scientists that everyone is irreligious. While it’s true that academic scientists are, on average, less religious than the general public, religious scientists do exist and they are working in an environment where they might be seen as or at least feel like outsiders,” Scheitle said.

The research was part of Religion Among Scientists in International Context, a multi-nation study aimed at understanding how scientists view religion, ethics and gender.

The data collection was funded by a major grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, as well as smaller grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program.