Surprising Findings From a Religious Knowledge Survey

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A new study on American religious knowledge reveals some surprising findings. Mostly, it reveals how…uneducated? (putting it nicely)…most Americans are on the Bible, world religions, and what the Constitution says about religion in public life.

In fact, although the US is one of the most developed nations in the world with respect to religion, most Americans scored 50% or less on the quiz measuring religious know-how…and what and who and why. Only eight of the 3,412 survey respondents got all 32 questions right. Six got them all wrong.

Some of the most interesting results dealt with demographics of the respondents. For example, atheists and agnostics did best — even better than evangelicals or Catholics, and way above Bible-belt Southerners who came in at the bottom of the list. And only about one in three know that a public school teacher is allowed to teach a comparative religion class — although nine out of ten know that a teacher isn't allowed by the Supreme Court to lead a class in prayer.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is behind the 32-question quiz, polling more than 3,400 Americans by telephone to gauge the depth of the country's religious knowledge. "When it comes to religion, there are a lot of things that Americans are unfamiliar with. That's the main takeaway," says Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the think tank and one of the main authors of the survey.

The single strongest factor predicting how well a person does on the religious knowledge quiz is education — the more years of schooling a person has, the more they are likely to know about religion, regardless of how religious they consider themselves to be, Pew found. The think tank also asked a handful of general knowledge questions — such as who wrote "Moby-Dick" and who's the vice president of the United States — and found a link between religious knowledge and general knowledge. Very few people scored high on religion questions and badly on general knowledge, or vice versa.

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