A newly published report from the Pew Forum Religion and Public Life shows that Americans seemingly know very little about religious faiths, including their own.
According to USA Today:
The new U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that although 86% of us believe in God or a higher power, we don’t know our own traditions or those of neighbors across the street or across the globe.
Among 3,412 adults surveyed, only 2% correctly answered at least 29 of 32 questions on the Bible, major religious figures, beliefs and practices. The average score was 16 correct (50%).
The report also suggests that people who identify as atheists/agnostic, Jewish or Mormon scored the highest on the religious knowledge survey.
The top scoring groups were atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons. These tiny groups, adding up to less than 7% of Americans, scored particularly well on world religion and U.S. constitutional questions. It’s unclear why, although highly educated people overall did best on the quiz, researchers say.
But one wonders how the survey determines what is worthy of being categorized as baseline knowledge for certain religious traditions. Further, isn’t “knowledge” already a secular term? Would there be a story if 86% of people who believed there was such a thing as oxygen could not detail the scientific process by which oxygen was produced?
Couldn’t we say that (religious) faith and (scientific) knowledge have always had a differantial (Derrida) relationship? There was a major Renaissance theologian, Nicholas of Cusa, who actually advocated what he called “docta ignorantia.” One of the major Enlightenment treatises on the issue of religion and knowledge by Kant is called “Religion within the Bounds of Reason.” Aren’t the terms of this study already secularist, that is, presupposing a normative non-religiosity?
The impetus behind the study and the article is clear: “Christian” America actually doesn’t know much about Christianity. While I believe that there needs to be greater awareness of various religious traditions, including one’s own, the article slides too easily into painting people of faith as ignorant fanatics.
Read the Pew Forum’s complete survey here.
“Eat my body, drink my blood,” according to a modern yogi, means something like, “Experience in your body the total awareness, freedom from mind, and dissolution of identity that I [Jesus] experience(d).”
The USA Today report’s implication–that one’s “knowledge” about a religious institution has some bearing on one’s religiosity—is problematic beyond it being “secularist”. An investment in “knowledge” (and/or “belief”) about one’s religious institution and myths often leads to increased identification with that institution and attachment to those religious teachings as absolute truths—to be defended, whether by violence, emotional attack, or isolation from other groups.
According to the above-mentioned yogi, the person (Christian or not) who experiences Jesus’ state of being is the most truly religious person, not the one who knows all (or even any) of the Bible’s narratives. Trying to access this state of being (or, for that matter, religious fanaticism based on lack of “knowledge”) by means of a survey is highly questionable.
Well put Ann. I think you are hinting at the fact that the implicit theory of religion operating in the study and more generally is doctrinal and intellectualist, not experiential.
How knowledge would be classified as a secular term escapes me. The poll, as far as I am able to determine by reading the outline and results of the study, makes no claims regarding the mystical claims of religion, and therefore cannot be counted as anything more than a very straightforward determination of the general public’s knowledge of a series of questions about religion.
The single most salient item reported, for this reader, is the correspondence of educational level and the reported belief systems, or lack thereof. In other words, the more you know, the less you believe.
I am unable to imagine any methods that would explain experiential religious knowledge, inasmuch as it exists solely on a metaphysical plane, and cannot be explained by any scientific approach.