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Survey Shows Most People Link Violence to Politics, Not Religion - 2003-10-17

Most respondents to a global survey on religion do not see their religion as a source of trouble or unrest. The poll surveyed beliefs and practices among 11 different religious groups in seven countries, including the United States.

Despite a rise of terrorist attacks ostensibly in the name of religion and violent clashes among peoples of different faiths, the Global Religion Poll indicates most people link violence to politics, not religion.

"The general lack of association between religion and violence, which is commonplace among lots of Americans, clearly that is something we look at more carefully," said University of Rochester Professor Bill Green. "Religious arguments are infused in the carrying out of violence, but it's interesting that even so, people are not jumping to that conclusion."

The three-month project was a joint effort of the University of Rochester's School of Religion and Zogby International pollsters.

Mr. Green said the survey results also show that because people do not associate religion with strife, they are not concerned about an increasing role of religion in society.

"The notion that people think a more religious society will help their country certainly suggests they are not afraid of their religion. They don't see it immediately as a source of difficulty," said Professor Green. "And there's so much association of religions and strife in the news that this gives a bedrock picture - that we are maybe seeing a slice of that reality, but missing a broader dimension of it."

Researchers questioned Christians in South Korea, Peru, Russia and the United States. They also polled Muslims in India, Saudi Arabia and Israel; as well as Jews in Israel, Buddhists in South Korea, and Hindus in India.

Pollster John Zogby said most of the 5,000 respondents expressed tolerance for other religions, with a few exceptions. "Most groups polled acknowledged the possibility of multiple paths to religious truth and the equality of practitioners of other religions," he said. "South Korean Christians and Saudi [Muslims] are the exceptions. American Catholics and mainstream Protestants are the most flexible."

Professor Green said religious tolerance decreases somewhat when it comes to interfaith marriages. "A majority of South Korean Christians, Hindus, Israeli Jews and Muslims disapprove of marriage outside their religions," he said. "American Catholics and Protestants and Peruvians massively approve of interfaith marriages.

"I want to make a qualification on the Muslims," he added. "It's clear from other data that we have that Muslims in general follow the teachings of the Koran, and approve interfaith marriage for their sons, but not for their daughters."

Mr. Green added that other distinctions - national, communal or ethnic differences - also factor into the question of interfaith marriages. Nine out of 10 Muslims who were surveyed said they would suffer negative consequences if they disobeyed their religion," he said. "So did more than 60 percent of Christians, and more than 80 percent of Hindus answering the same question.

Mr. Green described this first poll on the issue as a global probe to get a better sense of what role religion plays in both religious and secular societies.