Religion and education, two of humankind’s most ancient endeavors, have long had a close relationship. Historians and social scientists have written about this relationship and about how the two may influence each other.
This chapter presents a broad overview of scholarly research into the ways religion can affect educational achievement. It is not an exhaustive survey of the academic literature, but instead a brief summary of some explanations proposed to account for attainment differences among religious groups. Religion is certainly not the only reason for this variance; many other factors may play an equal or greater role, including economic, geographic, cultural factors and political conditions within a country or region.
The chapter begins with an historical look at ways in which scholars suggest that various religions have influenced education, especially the spread of literacy among laypeople. This section also explores how historical patterns sometimes help explain contemporary patterns in educational attainment. Next, this chapter considers hypotheses about how the cultural norms and doctrines of a religious group may affect educational attainment. It concludes with a look at some leading theories for the stark differences in educational attainment between Christians and Muslims living in sub-Saharan Africa.