Expert Commentary

U.S. religious knowledge survey

2010 survey by Pew Research Center on Americans' understanding of religious tenets, practices, history and legal dynamics.

The United States is often characterized as among the most religious, and religiously diverse, nations in the world. Yet the depth of Americans’ understanding of both the content of religion and its dynamics with government and society has not been broadly assessed.

In September 2010, the Pew Research Center published the “U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey,” taken by more than 3,400 people. The 32-question survey examined knowledge on religious history, teachings of major religions, religious leaders, Scriptures, global religions and the role of religion in American public life.

The survey’s major findings include:

  • Formal education was associated with higher correct responses: those with only a high school diploma got 13.7 questions right on average, compared to 20 for those with bachelor’s degrees.
  • Self-identified political alignment had little impact on average score: 16.7 on average for liberals; 16.6 for conservatives; and 16.2 for moderates.
  • Holding all other factors constant, atheists and agnostics scored higher than any other religious affiliation, with an average score of 20.9 correct answers.
  • Jews and Mormons placed in a close second and third place, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively.
  • The question most frequently answered correctly was whether or not U.S. Supreme Court rulings allow teachers to lead public school classes in prayer. Nine in ten (89%) correctly said this is not allowed.
  • The question most frequently answered incorrectly was whether or not public school teachers are permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature. Two-thirds (67%) incorrectly said this is not allowed.
  • Six of every ten respondents (62%) know that Hinduism is the predominant religion of India. About half know that Ramadan is the Islamic holy month (52%) and can name the Koran as the Muslim holy book (54%).
  • Approximately half of Protestants (53%) were unable to identify Martin Luther as the person responsible for inspiring the Protestant Reformation.

Tags: religion

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