(538) What Americans Know About Religion — And What They Don’t

  1. It gets murky for people outside of the basics. Respondents really struggled with some questions. For example, only 24 percent answered correctly that Rosh Hashanah celebrates the Jewish New Year, similar to the number (26 percent) who knew that Islam is the religion of most people in Indonesia. Even some Christian doctrines and facts are not that well-known — despite it being the faith of about 70 percent of Americans. Only 51 percent correctly said that Jesus is the person known for giving the “Sermon on the Mount,” a number I thought was low considering that’s a fairly important event in Christianity. (The other possible answers were Peter, Paul and John.) And just 22 percent of Americans could describe the “prosperity gospel,” which is generally associated with evangelical Christians. (Pew defined it as the tenet that “those of strong faith will be blessed by God with financial success and good health.”)
  2. Americans really don’t know the number of Jewish and Muslim people living in the U.S. According to Pew Research estimates, about 2 percent of American adults are Jewish and 1 percent are Muslim. But only 26 percent of respondents answered correctly that Muslims make up less than 5 percent of the population in the U.S. And only 19 percent knew that the share of Jewish Americans is also below 5 percent. Most either thought the Muslim American and Jewish populations were each larger than 5 percent or didn’t know. But I suspect that the explanation for these inaccurate responses might not totally be about how much Americans know about these two religions but may instead be related to broader issues of innumeracy. Other research has shown that Americans have inaccurate views about the size of many demographic groups and may be particularly likely to overstate the size of groups of which they are not a part. For example, Republicans vastly overestimate the number of Democrats who are black.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture