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Pew survey shows mixed results in Americans’ religious knowledge


Mark Skalny/Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 08/06/19

Most Americans fairly familiar with Bible, mainstream religions.

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Most Americans do not know what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials, the Pew Research Center has found.

In its 2019 survey of religious knowledge among Americans, Pew has found that most residents of the United States have a fair knowledge about the basics of Christianity and the Bible but are more ignorant when it comes to Buddhism and Hinduism.

The survey asked 32 fact-based, multiple-choice questions about topics related to religion. The average U.S. adult was able to answer fewer than half of them correctly.

According to religious affiliation, Jews, atheists, agnostics and evangelical Protestants showed higher levels of religious knowledge, while young adults and racial and ethnic minorities tended to know somewhat less about religion than the average respondent does. Highly educated people and those who have religiously diverse social networks also did well.

The Pew Center summary of this survey said:

Overall, eight-in-ten U.S. adults correctly answer that in the Christian tradition, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – rather than the Crucifixion, the Ascension to heaven or the Last Supper. A similar share know that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that there is one God in three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Eight-in-ten Americans correctly identify Moses as the biblical figure who led the Exodus from Egypt, and David as the one who killed an enemy by slinging a stone, while seven-in-ten know that Abraham is the biblical figure who exhibited a willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God.

The survey was conducted online Feb. 4 to 19, 2019, among 10,971 respondents. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

Jewish respondents overall did the best in the survey, getting 18.7 questions right, on average. Self-described atheists and agnostics also displayed relatively high levels of religious knowledge, correctly answering an average of 17.9 and 17.0 questions, respectively. Protestants as a whole correctly answered an average of 14.3 questions, with members of the evangelical Protestant tradition (15.5) doing best within this group. Catholics (14.0) and Mormons (13.9) performed similarly to one another and to U.S. adults overall.

The survey confirmed something that many Catholics have pointed out for some time: the need for better catechesis. Only half of Catholics in the United States (50%) correctly answered a question about the doctrine of transubstantiation—that during the Consecration, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. The other half incorrectly responded that the bread and wine are just symbols of the body and blood of Christ (45%) or said they are not sure (4%).

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