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Religion Survey Stumps Many Americans

posted Mar 26, 2011, 3:45 PM by Golden Knight

By Mark Magallanes


Americans are undoubtedly religious people, but a new study shows that we may be oblivious of religion itself.

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled about 3,400 Americans and asked 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures, and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life. People who participated in the survey answered half of the questions incorrectly, including those about their own faith. People who referred to themselves as atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons scored the highest, even after the researchers took into account for factors like age and race.

Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum, said: “Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey.”

Topics covered in the survey were: Where Jesus was born, what Ramadan is, whose writings inspired the Protestant reformation, and to what religion certain holy figures belonged. The Pew Forum researchers said that the questionnaire was designed to represent a breadth of knowledge about religion, but was not meant to be regarded as a list of the most important facts about religion. Most questions were easy, but a few were difficult in order to separate the knowledgeable from the highly knowledgeable.

Mormons and white evangelical Protestants answered the most correct on questions about the Bible and Christianity. On questions about world religions not popularly practiced in the United States (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism), atheists, agnostics, and Jews scored the most correctly.

Most Americans believe that anything having to do with religion is prohibited in public schools. An 89 percent of respondents, when asked whether public school teachers are permitted to lead class in prayer, correctly said no. Only 25 percent knew that a public school teacher is allowed “to read from the Bible as an example of literature.” Only a third of respondents knew that a public school teacher is permitted to offer a class comparing world religions.

The polls were conducted in English and Spanish in May and June.  There were not enough Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist respondents to say how these groups ranked.

 According to the Study:

  • 53% of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Reformation
  • 45% of Catholics did not know that the Church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are the actual body and blood of Christ
  • 43% of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities, was Jewish
  • 51% knew Joseph Smith was Mormon