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Survey Shows Americans' Knowledge of Religion Uneven

Survey Shows Americans' Knowledge of Religion Uneven
Survey Shows Americans' Knowledge of Religion Uneven

A survey in the United States finds that many Americans know relatively little about religious practices and traditions - either their own faith or other religions.

The independent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says it asked 3,400 Americans to answer questions about their religious knowledge, and on average their answers were correct only 50 percent of the time.

Survey results released Tuesday show that Americans who either do not believe in God or are not sure if God exists scored the highest.

Atheists and agnostics correctly answered about 21 of the 32 questions, followed by Jews and Mormons, who each had about 20 correct answers.

The Pew study found that only 47 percent of Americans know the Dalai Lama is Buddhist.  Less than 40 percent identify Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism.  And only about 27 percent know that most Indonesians are Muslim - even though that country has the world's largest Muslim population.

Pew researchers' previous surveys have ranked the United States as one of the most religious nations among the world's developed countries.  About 60 percent of American adults say religion is "very important" in their lives.  However, the foundation said its "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."

On questions about Christianity, Mormons scored the highest.  Jews, atheists and agnostics scored the highest on questions about world religions like Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

American Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were included in the survey, but the Pew organization said too few of them took part to produce relevant data for each group.

Roman Catholics make up the largest single religious denomination in the United States, but the survey found that 45 percent of them answered incorrectly when asked about one of their faith's core beliefs - that the bread and wine shared as Communion during Mass do not merely symbolize Christ but actually become his body and blood.

More than half or 53 percent of American Protestants could not correctly identify Martin Luther as the historical figure whose writing and teaching inspired the Protestant Reformation.  And 43 percent of American Jews were unable to identify Maimonides as one of the most influential rabbis in Jewish history.

Questions in the survey included: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan?  What religion is the Dalai Lama?  It was conducted by telephone, in English and Spanish, over a three-week period several months ago.  The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said the general margin of error the survey was about 2.5 percentage points.The Pew Research Center, the nonpartisan group that operates the religious forum, posted full details of the survey at www.pewforum.org.  You can take the survey yourself on the their website.

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