Religious Knowledge Survey

October 4th, 2010

By Tom Carter

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, a project of the Pew Research Center, recently released a survey on religious knowledge among Americans.  The survey results show that many Americans are poorly informed about the basics of different religions, including their own.  This won’t surprise anyone who has spent much time listening to (or suffering through) discussions of religion among people whose faith is a good deal stronger than their knowledge.

Pew also released an online quiz, “How much do you know about religion?” It includes 15 of the 32 questions asked in the survey.  Take it yourself and see how your religious knowledge compares to the knowledge of others who have taken it.

The executive summary of the survey gives a quick look at the results.  There’s a detailed analysis of the responses, and much more information is provided in the full report.

Among the survey findings:

Previous surveys by the Pew Research Center have shown that America is among the most religious of the world’s developed nations. … But the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey shows that large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions — including their own. Many people also think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are stricter than they really are. …

The Pew Forum’s religious knowledge survey included 32 questions about various aspects of religion: the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, world religions, religion in public life, and atheism and agnosticism. The average respondent answered 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions correctly. Just 2% of those surveyed answered 29 or more questions correctly (including just eight individuals, out of 3,412 surveyed, who scored a perfect 32); 3% correctly answered fewer than five questions (including six respondents who answered no questions correctly). …

Overall, the three groups that perform best in this survey are atheists and agnostics (who get an average of 20.9 out of 32 questions right), Jews (20.5 questions right on average) and Mormons (20.3 questions right). …

Data from the survey indicate that educational attainment — how much schooling an individual has completed — is the single best predictor of religious knowledge. College graduates get nearly eight more questions right on average than do people with a high school education or less. Having taken a religion course in college is also strongly associated with higher religious knowledge. …

This survey and previous Pew Forum studies have shown that Jews and atheists/agnostics have high levels of educational attainment on average, which partially explains their performance on the religious knowledge survey. However, even after controlling for levels of education and other key demographic traits (race, age, gender and region), significant differences in religious knowledge persist among adherents of various faith traditions. Atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons still have the highest levels of religious knowledge, followed by evangelical Protestants, then those whose religion is nothing in particular, mainline Protestants, and Catholics.

The survey could have included other questions and conclusions that would have been even more interesting, but the Pew Forum undoubtedly avoided them to protect themselves from charges of anti-religious bias.  After all, Muslims aren’t the only people who are quick to take offense against real or perceived slights to their particular supernatural beliefs.

Examples of other questions and conclusions that might have been included?  I’m not going there….

(H/T to Kevin at Preemptive Karma for the survey link.)

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2 Responses to “Religious Knowledge Survey”

  1. Brianna |

    This survey was linked to on another blog I keep track of. I got a perfect score.

  2. Tom Carter |

    Anyone who’s really interested should read the detailed analysis I linked to in the article. It’s not really that long, and it’s worth the time.

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