When Ignorance isn’t Bliss: America’s Lack of Religious Knowledge Stirs a Debate

Illustration courtesy of MCT Campus

The average American doesn’t know basic facts about world religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. America’s lack of religious knowledge has led many to question whether world religions should be taught as objective, academic inquiries in public schools.

According to the Pew Research Center (PRC), Americans were able to correctly answer 50 percent of basic questions about a number of faith traditions. About half of those surveyed knew the Koran is the Islamic holy book, that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, and that the golden rule is not one of the Ten Commandments.

On questions pertaining to the Bible and Christianity, Jewish people scored the highest while Catholics fared the worst. Overall, only half of Christians were able to correctly answer questions pertaining to their faith. Only 23 percent of those surveyed knew that public school teachers can read from the Bible as an example of literature.

America’s lack of religious knowledge goes hand-in-hand with a separate PRC study that revealed the U.S. is the world’s most religious industrialized nation. According to the Sept. 28 report, nearly six-in-ten American adults say religion is “very important” in their lives.

The PRC report was not the only instance when concern over Americans’ religious knowledge has arose.

The Chicago Council of Global Affairs (CCGA) released a report earlier this year that said “all too often, Western powers fail to appreciate the consequences of many international conflicts because the religious resonance is so poorly understood.”

“However, Americans can also employ religion in a way that is irresponsible, wrong, and can escalate tensions,” the report said.

Claiming that a narrow view of religion will no longer suffice, the report said that religion must be seen as a social reality that shapes and is shaped by violent conflict and war, globalization, and democratization.