September 28, 2010

Basic test shows that Americans are deeply ignorant about religion

We may consider ourselves a deeply religious nation, but when it comes to our knowledge of religion, we don't make very high marks. An article in today's New York Times covers a study conducted in June of this year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The study included 32 basic questions about religious figures, world religions, and religious texts. On average the participants answered half of the questions incorrectly and many even failed the questions concerning their own faith. Scoring the highest were atheists and agnostics, closely followed by Jews and Mormons:

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

On questions about the Bible and Christianity, the groups that answered the most right were Mormons and white evangelical Protestants.

On questions about world religions, like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, the groups that did the best were atheists, agnostics and Jews.

Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Teresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.

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

Click here for the executive summary of the test, released by The PEW Forum.


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Diane Heise's picture

I actually was one of the people called for this poll. I thought the questions were just basic knowledge. Things that people should just know. There were no really specific questions, just basic knowledge, basic tenets.

Emmet's picture

Not terribly surprising for a nation that learns about other countries and cultures by bombing them.

Bill Merklee's picture

Not really surprised. Many atheists and agnostics come to their positions based on critical examination of the traditions in which they are raised. The other reason seems to literally be blind faith. I think it's a shame that religion is not critically discussed in school for fear of running afoul of the Establishment Clause. In my public high school (back in the 70s) we had classes on religion that were geared toward understanding, not indoctrination. Then again, there are some religious leaders who prefer not to have their traditions scrutinized.