Americans' religious knowledge lacking: study

A new survey shows that many religious Americans do not have basic knowledge about various faiths, including what Holy Communion is and what religion the Dalai Lama practises.
A Way of the Cross procession moves across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York last April. A new survey suggests many Americans do not understand the basic tenets of their own faith. ((Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters))
Many religious Americans do not have basic knowledge about various faiths, including what Holy Communion is and what religion the Dalai Lama practises, a new survey suggests.  

A survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life suggests that the United States, one of the most religious countries in the western world, has many gaps in its religious knowledge, including in the faith Americans practise.

For instance, only 55 per cent of U.S. Roman Catholics surveyed understand that Holy Communion is not meant to be symbolic but is instead believed to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ. 

Fewer than half of Americans surveyed knew the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, and fewer than half of the Protestants surveyed knew that Martin Luther inspired the Protestant reformation.

The survey asked questions about the core teachings and famous figures of various faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism.

Atheists, agnostics, score highest

Atheists and agnostics scored the highest, with an average score of 21 correct on the 32-question survey.

Jews and Mormons both averaged about 20 correct answers, while Protestants averaged 16 correct answers and Catholics averaged 15.

Atheists, agnostics, and Jews also knew the most about other faiths.

Questions ranged in difficulty, from the name of the first book of the Bible, to what century the Mormon religion was founded.

People who said they attended worship once a week or more tended to score higher, as did those with higher levels of education.

Mormons received the best marks on the 12 Christian questions with an average of eight correct answers.

The results also indicate many Americans assume constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are stricter than they actually are. Fewer than a quarter of those surveyed know that it's legal for a teacher to read from the Bible as an example of literature.

The survey of 3,412 people was held in May and June. Its margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, with higher margins of errors for individual religious groups.