Pew Poll: Americans lack basic knowledge of religions other than Christianity

This year has brought a troubling rise in the number of state legislative proposals for public school elective classes on the Bible. (See MissouriAlabamaVirginiaWest VirginiaGeorgia, and Florida.) As I have previously posted, the fact that these laws are popping up in a number of states is no coincidence. A nationwide initiative called Project Blitz is designed to promote laws that increase the presence of religion and specifically the Christian faith in the public square, particularly public schools.

As BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler said in opposing the public school goals of Project Blitz, “anything that might send a message to our children that you have to be a Christian to be a full American is extremely problematic.”

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, however, there’s another reason why Bible-centric classes may not be the best idea for students in our public schools: it’s all the other faith traditions they could stand to learn something about. Religious and civic literacy are essential tools in protecting and understanding our neighbors in an increasingly diverse society. But the survey indicates that most Americans cannot correctly answer basic questions about religion apart from questions about the Bible and Christianity.

From the findings:

Just three-in-ten U.S. adults know that the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday, one-quarter know that Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year, and one-in-eight can correctly identify the religion of Maimonides (an influential Jewish scholar in the Middle Ages). - shop now! - shop now!

Roughly one-in-five Americans (18%) know that the “truth of suffering” is among Buddhism’s four “noble truths,” and just 15% correctly identify the Vedas as a Hindu text.


Many Americans also struggle to answer some questions about the size of religious minorities in the U.S. and about religion’s role in American government. For instance, most U.S. adults overestimate the shares of Jews and Muslims in the U.S. or are unaware that Jews and Muslims each account for less than 5% of the population.

Even more concerning, only 27% correctly identified that the U.S. Constitution states there shall be “no religious test” as a qualification for holding office.

Helpfully, the poll found that respondents who have taken a world religions class answer on average 17.3 questions correctly compared to 12.5 for those who have not. Respondents under age 30 performed worse than any other age group. Perhaps an enhancement of the Civics curriculum, or a comparative religion class, would both serve students as well or better than a class focused solely on the New Testament? Just a thought.

Read more about the poll here. See all of the questions here. NPR dissects the poll’s findings here.

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