Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The USA and Religion: Pew Research Survey--Knowledge vs Faith

Religions are on the blackboard, and religious believers should be at the blackboard, in this illustration for the highly respected Pew Research Center's U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. The results show that most Americans need teaching about aspects of their own religion, despite being strong in their faith, and about other religions. Agnostics, atheists and Jews scored the highest, with Mormons outscoring Protestants and Catholics. The full report is worth reading, or at least the Executive Summary.

I was surprised by the comparative results by religious group, Who Knows What About Religion?. "Race" plays a role in shaping religious knowledge for White, Black, and Hispanic Americans, even within their respective religions, ie Protestantism and Catholicism. Not only are the rituals different, the knowledge base is. This is consistent with impressions gathered about "The Black Church" from its adherents, and with the historical circumstances of these groups and their religious evolution in the USA.

Then again, religious knowledge scores increased with higher educational levels so perhaps the results reflect more on socio-economic status and access to higher education. Higher Education was the single most important factor, of the Factors Linked With Religious Knowledge, independent of age, race, gender (men scored higher than women), religious studies, or political affiliation (Republicans scored higher than Independants, and Democrats scored lowest).

Interestingly, Jews, atheists and agnostics were survey along with White, Black, and Hispanic Protestants, Evangelicals, and Catholics, but few Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. The latter are included individually in the projections from the sample population to the total population, but the number of interviewees from each group was too small to report on these religious groups. More methodological details are available here.  I am surprised that more interviews weren't done with these groups to include their results independently, given US demographics,: Christian (82.3%); Unaffiliated, including atheist or agnostic (11.6%); Jewish (1.2% to 2.2%); Muslim (1.0 to 2.0%); Buddhism (0.5% to 0.9%); Hinduism (~0.5 %); other (1.4%).

How well would you do? Interactive quiz.
If you take the quiz, and you want to tell, what were your results, areas of strength, and areas of knowledge gaps?
Were you surprised by key tenets of your own religion?
If you are American, how good is your knowledge of religion and the Constitution?
What are the implications of having strong faith in, but poor knowledge of, one's religion?
How meaningful is one's faith if one has little knowledge of other belief systems?
Should Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist Americans also been surveyed sufficiently in your opinion? Why/why not?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?


Susanne said...

We've been talking about this on my Facebook page and other places. I often enjoy studies like this. I had my friends take this quiz and even Samer and Andrew "in front of me."

I think my FB page is open if you want to see the comments there.!/profile.php?id=521448697&v=wall&story_fbid=121800294542076&ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment

Some people posted their results, but it's not like a scientific sampling or anything. :)

I got 15/15. Samer got 13/15. Andrew got 12/15. So at least we all passed. :)

I think white evangelicals mostly got passing grades. I think this survey just shows that we (Americans) are often a religious group outwardly or with our lips, but have we really internalized it? That's debatable, I suppose. Not that knowing facts means you internalized it either. There are a lot of people who know facts, who don't LIVE their faiths, in my opinion.

Interesting stuff - thanks for sharing!

P.S. Yes, it would have been interesting to see how Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus did!

Chiara said...

Susanne-thanks for commenting and sharing. I did see your Facebook Wall, and the impressive results and comments.

You have a learned group of followers.

I got 14/15. My error was on a question about the Dharmic religions--not to give away the answer!

I think the survey is interesting for what it says about "mainstream" Americans, and I agree that just knowing facts doesn't lead to faith. Some combination of faith and knowledge, and knowledge of other options, therefore truly choosing, would be good.

Thanks again! I hope others will jump in!

Wendy said...

I got 14/15 and consider myself an agnostic. I got question 15 wrong.
I personally believe that everyone should learn about other religions.
I'm quite sure Muslims were not included because they'd not be able to answer most of the questions. Ditto for people of the Hindu religion. I'm not sure about Buddhist except the key to your question was Buddhist Americans and I'll take that no further. I only know 2 Buddhists (not born on this continent) and they are pretty familiar with other religions.
I have a feeling that most Muslims would probably refuse to take the quiz in the first place. Perhaps I'm wrong...?

Chiara said...

Wendy--thanks for your comment and sharing your results and perspective.

Judging by the methodology used, Pew made special efforts to get enough Jews, Mormons, Atheists, and Agnostics to report on, including by combining Atheists and Agnostics together because they felt that even with their extra effort (oversampling) there were too few Atheists to repot on separately.

For demographic percentages they used their own statistics from their 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey which puts Jews at 1.7%, Mormons at 1.7%, Atheist 1.6, and Agnostic 2.4. Muslims are at 0.6% in their survey, Buddhists 0.7%, and Hindus 0.4%. They could have used the same oversampling technique to get sufficient numbers of interviews of these groups for reporting purposes but didn't.

Apparently counting Muslim Americans is difficult hence the variance in % of the population. There is concern that numbers are inflated for political purposes, or there is under-reporting due to fear of reprisals, and that those who don't attend a mosque are hard to find.

An institution of the calibre and resources of the Pew Center knows how to find Muslims in the US. Using their phone technique and their oversampling technique would do it. They could also have targeted phone numbers in certain areas of the country, eg Dearborn Michigan, NYC; or phone listing for names beginning Al or El or A or othre A combinations which would give a higher yield of Muslim households. They could have used not only English and Hispanic speaking interviewers, but Arab and Urdu speakers as well. They chose not to, which I find odd.

As they reported it, the random Muslims they did fall up were interviewed and their results included in the total sample, so I am not so sure Muslims would have refused.

Also, Muslims tend to know a fair bit about Judaism and Christianity from the Quran, or from living in mixed faith societies, former European colonies, studying abroad, or in the case of the ones sampled here, living, studying, and working in the US.

"My Muslims" tend to be knowledgeable about other religions, including "my Libyans" who were newly arrived from Libya, and "my Iranians" who were in Iran and had never left. Most of them are more educated than the average though, so maybe the Pew factor of higher education applies here too.

That is another part of why it would have been interesting to report on Muslim Americans' knowledge of religions.

Most of the questions are Christian and some specifically American so there is bias in the survey instrument in that direction.

Most of "my Buddhists" either have no concern for religion including their own, or have studied others.

"My Hindus" seem to have good knowledge, but then again, they are usually highly educated and living in a multi-faith society.

The survey questions by their nature test facts more than understanding. That in itself may be skewing the conclusions.

Thanks again for your contribution and for stimulating our thinking!

RenKiss said...

I scored a 14/15. Though I consider myself a secular humanist. I found the questions really easy. The one I missed about the Great Awakening. I'm also not surprised by the race factor, growing up in a black church you never actually learn the history of Christianity.

You're correct though, people with higher education would most likely have more knowledge. So it is a socio-economic factor. However, I feel the reason why people didn't score so well has to do with our culture not encouraging people to seek knowledge.

I'm American, I would say my knowledge is decent, I'm no expert though.

Majed said...

It is wonderful not only to know things about religions but to know things about everything,spending time on knowledge is the only time that is ever spent in something good.
I consider myself very good in general knowledge but I scored only 9/15 of course I could have made it 15/15 in a matter of minutes but I wanted just depended on my memory, and all my mistakes were in those questions concerning christianity and judaism, may be because it was not so general or may be because my general knowledge is not that good. I think this survey questions must have been hard even on graduate amercians because americans are so poor in general knowledge, many can not even locate major countries on the map and dont know the difference between a mulsim and sikh, or it could be that I have been chating with the wrong americans.

Anonymous said...

I got 12 - the two Supreme court questions and the last one being the ones I got wrong. I think I have an excuse as all three were US-centric questions :p

I wonder how representative 32 questions can be of the six major world religions (plus all their denominations)? The Sabbath, Ramadhan and Vishnu questions are pretty basic compared to the ones about the Great Awakening.

Chiara said...

Renkiss--thanks for sharing your results and your perspective in your comment.

I agree that it is not surprising on reflection that race plays such a role in religious beliefs, as the Black and White churches still remain quite separate today, and Hispanics often attend their own churches, with Latin American Roman Catholicism being quite different than European.

I was very interested in the liberation theology of Obama's church--the one he didn't find Christ in, didn't find a father figure/mentor/pastor in, didn't get baptized in, didn't marry in, didn't baptize his children in, didn't spend 20 years attending--you know the one! LOL :)

I am familiar with liberation theology in the 3rd world, particularly Latin America, but learned from that church site (as a starting point) about Black Liberation Theology in the US. It is very interesting, and that particular church is very African-centric.

Obama's religion was one of the issues politically that raised general awareness about the divide between black and white churches in the US. That, and the obligatory politicians' visit to Selma Alabama, attempt to sound Southern, and walk across the bridge singing "We shall overcome". At some level it is more insulting than honouring, imho.

Perhaps you could share your views on this aspect of religion in the US.

Thanks again for your comment above.

Chiara said...

Majed--thanks for your comment and sharing your views. I admire that you were very honest about your result which is still a good one. Indeed of the 15 questions some are very specific aspects about Christianity, the US, or Mormonism in the US which are not as much a part of general knowledge. I also agree there is a great advantage in increasing one's knowledge.

Americans generally acknowledge that as a nation they are generally less well traveled and have less international and global knowledge than many other countries. As individuals there are many who are highly educated and very internationally aware.

Ah, but then our Canadian Prime Minister, didn't have a passport even, before taking office, and being forced (and I do mean forced) to travel outside Canada. Maybe that is why he is so keen on the Arctic borders--he could go around the top of the world and never leave Canada if he negotiates it correctly. :D

Thanks again for sharing your perspective and results!

Chiara said...

Shafiq--yes indeed the questions are US centric. The full survey includes a lot of demographic questions particularly on the fine nuances of what type of Christian the responder is. It also includes the other religious knowledge questions, some of which were mentioned in news articles. There too Christianity and the US tend to predominate, though there are some other what religion where questions (eg dominant religion in India) and a couple on Mormonism, and another on Hinduism that I recall.

I got the Great Awakening on a guess--I mean from the deep recesses of my memory! :P LOL :)

Thanks again for sharing your results and impressions! :)

Saudi Jawa said...

Saw this a couple of days ago. 13/15 here, got the last two wrong. I would have liked to see more detailed statistics on Muslims who took the quiz. Though judging by the level of cross-religion paranoia exhibited by many Muslim scholars I'd be surprised if it was high.

Chiara said...

Saudi Jawa--Thanks for jumping in. The survey was so popular it took almost 2 days for me to be able to do the survey.

Since this particular survey was directed at Americans, I really would have liked to see a grouping Muslim Americans. I would imagine the scores would vary among subsets, as for subsets of Christians, eg for born American converts, newly arrived refugees, 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, educated 1st generation immigrants, etc. It could have been a valuable portrait of American Muslims for themselves and for others to be aware of.

Thanks again for your comment and sharing your views.

Qusay said...


got these two wrong
4. When does the Jewish Sabbath begin? and
11. According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature, or not?

the questions were not difficult at all, the sabbath was tricky, but I forgot that Jews like Muslims consider the day starting from the night before, and it even in my own culture it still throws me off (i.e. the night of thursday is actually wednesday night)

The US constitution, I give my self a pass on that one :) but I guess I am well above the curve and well within the curve of the readers of this blog.

Chiara said...

Qusay-thanks for sharing your results and knowledge base.

The start day for the Sabbath is tricky, as is calculating start dates of Eids across time zones!

That particular US Constitution question was very tricky, but basically literary uses allow one more of a pass.

In this instance, I find that it is a rather frightening loophole for public education, because it would be very easy to construct a kindergarten to PhD curriculum based on the literary aspects of the Bible and its influence on world literatures. One could do it in a more fundamentalist, or a highly comparatist and liberal way. The first I find frightening, the second is still not ideal (as it would preclude or limit some studies) but much better.

You are well within the curve on this blog, as all readers are scoring above average. You are also above the curve for the educated on the "compare your score" feature on the quiz site. If I recall correctly all here are as well. :)

Thanks again for joining in with your experience! :)

oby said...

I scored 15/15...

the thing is it is fairly superficial info touching on most faiths. I am frankly not sure that I could go into major depth in my own faith. I am not sure how this shows whether or not Americans are religious. I am not sure that knowing superficially about other faiths indicates that one is religious. It certainly indicates some interest in other faiths and beliefs...but that could be just general knowledge.I think an in depth understanding of your own faith might be a better indicator of how truly religious Americans are.


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