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Does More Education Lead to Less Religion?

Afghan university students take an exam in Baharak district in Badakhshan province on Nov. 25, 2012
Afghan university students take an exam in Baharak district in Badakhshan province on Nov. 25, 2012Photograph by Sharif Shayeq/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this month, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria introduced new curriculum guidelines for schools under its control. History, literature, and music were all out. The theory of evolution was specifically banned, the latest manifestation of the long and complicated relationship between religion and education. Religious schools are still a major source of learning worldwide, even while learning is often considered a threat to belief.

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper by Naci Mocan and Luiza Pogorelova gives ammunition to anti-education zealots. In a study of the impact of compulsory schooling reforms in the 1960s and ’70s in Europe, they find an associated decline in the number of people who claimed to be very religious and the number who went to religious services. Specifically, they suggest that one additional year of schooling in Europe was associated with a 10 percent reduction in the propensity to attend religious services once a week or more.