I've seen some interesting ads for some religious colleges and universities. As I'm not religious (agnostic actually), I feel a bit odd applying. Does anyone know if there's something special, some code words or something else that the search committee looking for in the cover letter, teaching statement or, down the road, in an interview? I'm not interested in fibbing or anything (this job market hasn't driven me there … yet), but it might be good to at least be speaking the same language. Thanks for any suggestions.
As far as I know, most religious schools that are also research universities (e.g. Georgetown, Brandies, Boston College), don't care at all about the religion of their research/ teaching faculty. And the tenured faculty looks a lot like every other school of the same size/ reputation. I can't speak for the smaller teaching schools, since at the bigger schools, religion tends to be a major part of undergraduate life but not graduate life. It might be a bigger deal at schools where there are no grad students.
I went to a religiously affiliated school for grad school and although the faculty in the department didn't care about the religion of applicants and as grad students we were very removed from the religious aspects of the University, the University and administration did care. If you are familiar with the religion of the school, then it doesn't hurt to add a sentence about that, but wording it in terms of how you can help advance the University's goals. If you're not familiar with it, then probably better not to say anything. I would hope that not saying anything wouldn't hurt your chances.
Personally I would not worry about that, for a couple of reasons. First, as the other responses said it is probably not a big deal (at least for larger research-oriented places). Second, if it IS a big deal and they are not open-minded enough to accept your agnosticism (new word there!), would you really want to work there? Third, if you get an interview you will meet with someone from the administrative end of things and if they ask you about religion you can emphasize your open-mindedness and respect for the ideals of the college (and if you don't have those things, then again would you want to work there anyway?).
Incidentally, I did see one ad last year for a smaller school that said something about candidates having to embrace the ideals of the Jesuit (I think?) college or something like that, so it was pretty clear in that case.
Was the above Jesuit university you were referring to Saint Louis University? They are required to put in that line about Jesuit values in all their job ads, but it is just referring mostly to service to the university and community. The Jesuit order is a very liberal branch of Catholicism, so no worries there. I'm familiar with a number of departments at SLU (including psych) and they don't care about religious affiliation.
That may not be the one you were referring to, though. SLU is a medium sized doctoral research university.
After teaching at two Catholic schools during my graduate career (one SLAC and one mid-sized research institution), I can ensure you that the department does not care. You will be happy to know that any interview questions regarding religious affilitations are illegal. As an agnostic myself, I have never felt out of place in any environment.
As for what to write in a letter, religion doesn't have a monopoly on moral behavior. The ethical principles we are supposed to uphold as psychologists (e.g., integrity, service to the community, respect for individual dignity, etc.) are on par with any religious faith, so emphasizing these values will be evaluated 'in the eye of the beholder.' It's not fibbing if you express your values and let them attribute them to whatever belief system they like (which we know occurs from basic cognitive psychology).
If you are hired, I do offer one caveat. You can potentially run into problems with students if you openly and antagonistically teach certain perspectives to a student population brought up on creationim. There are a wide variety of religious disciplines (and their accompanying schools) ranging from fairly conservative/fundamentalists to fairly liberal beliefs. So you'll just have to research your student base. I've always found that starting the semester by discussing different modes of knowledge and their independence (specifically, empiricisim versus faith) completely relieves students of any religious defensiveness throughout the course (e.g., discussing research regarding evolution, homosexuality, etc.) and ultimately opens their minds to competing perspectives. That is the point of education after all!