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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Fascinating results have come out of a new study on religion in the United States by the country's renowned Pew Research Centre, a non-profit subsidiary of Philadelphia-based The Pew Charitable Trusts, which was established between 1948 and 1979 by four children of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph Newton Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew.
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Despite being the most religious Western country, America seems to be suffering from an abundance of ignorance. Atheists and agnostics do better than anyone else in the tests, underscoring how familiarity with a doctrine breeds scepticism and, possibly, a greater ability to form independent opinions about it.

Older Catholic Southern women who only graduated from high school are the least-informed when it comes to religion and young, educated, sceptical Nothernern men are the best-informed.

Not suprisingly, one of the worst results was on being asked about whether Indonesia is a majority-Muslim country. Only about a quarter of Americans got that one right. In the history section, less than half know that Martin Luther sparked the Reformation. Just over half of Protestants, whose religion is founded on teachings promulgated at the time, got the question right.

Unsuprisingly, education level is the major determinant of knowledge, with college graduates scoring better than, say, high school graduates. Along with atheists and agnostics, Mormons and Jews did better than other groups sampled in the survey. And those who have an active commitment to their faith (who attend church at least once a week and talk about religion with others) do better than those who are more casual about observance. Participation in a youth group or religious study class helped to up the result. And while private school respondents did better than public school ones:
those who attended a private religious school score no better than those who attended a private nonreligious school.
The Pew survey also found that, as in other surveys conducted by the research centre, atheists and agnostics and Jews are better-educated than other groups polled. Nevertheless:
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.
And while evangelical Protestants did pretty good on questions about the Bible, they "fare less well compared with other groups on questions about world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism".

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