Religious Literacy in the United States

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By Natalie B.

When tested on basic information on Christianity and other world religions, results put it plain and simple: Americans don’t know that much about religion.

Pew Forum researchers from the Religion and Public Health department conducted a 32-question phone survey with over 3,000 Americans in 2010. The questions included: Can you name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism? What is the purpose of Ramadan? Name these Bible characters, name a text from the Muslim Scripture, and more.  The average of those who answered correctly? Just 50%. People were even bombing questions about their own faith.

Even more surprising was how the group that scored the highest actually are not religious at all. Athiests and agnostics scored the highest on this test, with two more religious minorities, Jews and Mormons, trailing close behind. According to the New York Times, the results stayed the same even when racial and ethnic factors were removed.

I took this quiz myself in my religious studies class, and will admit that my paper had plenty of blank spaces and meek “I don’t knows” scribbled in the margins. However, for the few questions that I was able to answer, I was surprised by my knowledge. It was pretty degrading, and I was kicking myself over more than a couple of the questions. I spent the rest of the afternoon poring over why I didn’t know some of those questions, and discreetly looking up answers on my phone in my next classes.

Religion was never something I had been particularly interested in. In fact, I had been pretty turned off by the idea of religion. To me, it was weird to think of someone who felt like their life revolved around an “imaginary” deity. But I never expressed these ideas because I thought that religion was an extremely sensitive and controversial topic for people. Also, what did I know? I was barely a teenager, and who would pay attention to what I thought on this global, abstract, and mature topic? So I shushed my opinions- until this quiz.

I think that taking this quiz was just brushing the surface of humanity’s oldest practices. Religion is a limitless topic to explore and research, and I feel that by exposing myself to learning about it, I can understand people and their worldviews even better. I’m hoping that with more knowledge on different religions, I can more fully understand people’s background and where they are coming from. I guess this quiz not only had people rethinking their views on religion, but it also gave way to a harsh and truthful paradox: Maybe the most religious country in the world, the United States, doesn’t really know that much about religion at all.


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