What is Ramadan? What religion is most associated with yoga? What is one of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths?
If you can’t answer these questions correctly, you’re not alone. Most Americans have some knowledge of Christianity but a limited grasp of other faiths, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
Sixty-two percent of the respondents could correctly answer only half or less of the questions posed. Only 2% answered at least 29 of the 32 questions correctly.
The survey found that religious literacy was linked to higher education, social relationships with people of other faiths, and “how people feel about members of other faiths,” said Pew research associate Becka Alper.
“Jews, atheists, agnostics and evangelical Protestants, as well as highly educated people … show higher levels of religious knowledge,” said Pew’s survey analysis. “Young adults and racial ethnic minorities tend to know somewhat less about religion than the average respondent.”
The survey, taken in February, is based on interviews with 10,971 U.S. adults.
It showed most Americans have some knowledge of the Bible, at least of the Old Testament. Nearly 80% of adults knew that Moses was the central figure in the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and that David is the biblical figure associated with killing an enemy by slinging a stone. Another 70% recognized that Abraham is the figure willing to sacrifice his son to obey God’s order.
The survey, with multiple-choice questions, also showed some unexpected basic knowledge of Islam. Six in 10 U.S. adults know that Ramadan is an Islamic holy month — as opposed to a Jewish prayer, a Hindu festival or Buddhist celebration. They also know that the holiest city in Islam is Mecca, as opposed to Cairo, Medina or Jerusalem.
But most respondents overestimated the number of Muslims in the United States. Only one in four knew that Muslims comprise less than 5% of the population.
Knowledge of the Jewish faith seemed particularly weak. Only about one in four respondents correctly answered that the Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday and that Rosh Hashana was the Jewish New Year. One in five were aware that Jews comprise less than 5% of the population.
Hans Gustafson, who directs the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas, gave his students the quiz last week. He’s not surprised that the people surveyed had limited knowledge of world religions.
“We know that Americans can go from kindergarten to university without taking a single course in religion,” Gustafson said.
But knowledge of specific religious facts on a quiz doesn’t equate with being religious, he said. Americans are the most religious people in the western world, even if they don’t get stellar scores on such tests.
“I think surveys like this are important,” Gustafson said. “But there needs to be more. We need to build opportunities to build relationships.”
To sample the quiz, go to pewresearch.org/quiz/u-s-religious-knowledge-quiz.