Paul L. Caron
Dean


Monday, February 24, 2020

Do The Religious Beliefs Of Law Professors Matter?

Following up on my previous posts:

Michael Simkovic USC), Law Professors Are More Religious Than Scientists, but It Probably Doesn’t Matter Much:

At Taxprof blog, Paul Caron (Dean, Pepperdine) covers a study by James Lindgren (Northwestern) about the religious beliefs and practices of law professors.  Lindgren compares law professors to the overall U.S. population and finds that law professors are more likely to express doubts about the existence of God.

This study is part of a line of research from Lindgren and others which compares law professors to the general population or the median member of congress on dimensions like religious or political views.  In my view, these comparison groups are uninformative and inappropriate for some of the uses to which they have been put.  For example, some argue for hiring preferences for faculty members with certain supposedly under-represented ideological views.

Law professors should not be judged by their ideological beliefs, but by their academic rigor. Law professors should not be compared to the general U.S. population or members of congress, but rather to scientists. Like scientists, law professors are much more highly educated than the general population, have higher incomes, and have opted into a career where they are expected to advance knowledge, often by relying on data collection and analysis based on scientific principles of causal inference.  Even non-empiricists are taught and teach that legal adjudication depends on application of legal rules and standards to facts and evidence, not on faith. (Brian Leiter notes that law professors are also more religious than philosophers).

Karen Sloan (Law.com), Whither The Religious Law Professor?:

An interesting article has been making the rounds in the legal blogosphere, and I can’t resist delving in a bit given the discussion it has generated. [The] paper is titled, “The Religious Beliefs, Practices, and Experiences of Law Professors.” The name is pretty self-explanatory. Author James Lindgren, a professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, surveyed about 500 law professors on their religion, whether they believe in God, whether they attend religious services, and whether they have ever experienced discrimination based on their religion or seen it happen to others, among other questions. ... The paper’s big takeaway is that law professors are significantly less religious and less likely to believe in God than both the general population as a whole, and those with advanced degrees. ...

My take: I guess the real question here is, do the religious affiliations and belief of law professors matter? Lindgren clearly thinks so. After all, why conduct the survey if it’s a moot point? But others aren’t so sure it does matter, and I’ll admit I’m on the fence about it.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2020/02/do-the-religious-beliefs-of-law-professors-matter.html

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Comments

"Law professors should not be judged by their ideological beliefs, but by their academic rigor. Law professors should not be compared to the general U.S. population or members of congress, but rather to scientists. Like scientists, law professors are much more highly educated than the general population, have higher incomes, and have opted into a career where they are expected to advance knowledge, often by relying on data collection and analysis based on scientific principles of causal inference. "

That's some good parody. How much stats knowledge does the average law professor have, I wonder? Probably not much more than the stats survey course they took in 10th or 11th grade at their (statistically quite likely) exclusive private/boarding school. One looks forward to the updating of Million Dollars to reflect the Department of Education tax information showing that the median starting salary is, in fact, tens of thousands of dollars lower than the paper claims.

Also Congress should be capitalized.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 24, 2020 11:17:31 AM

Very intelligent people are just as susceptible to cognitive biases as people with less intelligence. This means that law professors are just as susceptible to cognitive biases as anyone else. Cognitive biases affect academic rigor. See https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Overcoming-Cognitive-Lawyers-Students/dp/1985130130/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_3?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=RA7S0CTM5NCMN0Q0FXGM

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Feb 24, 2020 12:00:16 PM

Yes, "law professors should not be judged by their ideological beliefs, but by their academic rigor." But, if faculty hiring decisions sometimes are based in part of the sex or skin color of applicants, why should the same arguments not also apply to factors such as religion - which can have at least as much effect on what professors do or say as these other factors?

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Feb 24, 2020 2:11:31 PM

What happened to law professors who write about law instead of writing about themselves?

Posted by: Michael Livingston | Feb 25, 2020 3:05:01 AM

Well, shouldn't a major potential motive in the teachers and testers' choices of what to teach and test in our judgment-intensive field matter at least as much as any other axis of selection and "diversity"?

Posted by: Anand Desai | Feb 26, 2020 9:58:53 PM