Survey reveals Americans' religious knowledge


NEW YORK — The U.S. is among the most religious among the world's developed nations but a new survey shows that most Americans are uninformed about the doctrines, history and the leading religious leaders of the world's major religions.

These findings are from the "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey," a nationwide poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life who polled 3,412 Americans on Christianity, the Bible, world religions and the role of religion in public life.

The survey participants averaged 16 out of the 32 questions correctly.

Atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Catholics in their religious knowledge. Protestants failed to answer correctly basic teachings of their own faiths.

"We could have designed harder questions, or easier ones. As it happens, through a combination of good survey design and good luck, the results were an almost perfect bell curve in which the average score was exactly half of the 32 possible correct answers, and very few people got all questions right or all questions wrong," said Luis Lugo and Alan Cooperman, director and associate director of the research.

The researchers stated that they could not give the public an  "A" or "F" grade because there was no objective way to determine "how much the public should know about religion."

However the survey showed that Americans lack knowledge about the faiths they believe in.

• More than half of Protestants could not correctly identify Martin Luther as the man who stared the Protestant Reformation.

• Only sixteen percent knew that only Protestants (not Catholics) believe that salvation comes through faith alone.

• Most Americans were able to answer correctly that, according to the Bible, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. More 63 percent can correctly name Genesis as the first book of the Bible.

The most incorrectly answered question was whether public school teachers are permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature. Nearly two-thirds said that the Bible may not be read in the classroom even though the Supreme Court ruled that the Bible may be taught for its "literacy and historic" qualities.

The findings of the survey were released September 28 and are based on a nationwide poll conducted from May 19 to June 6, 2010.

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