Pop Quiz on Religion

There was an article in the NY Times about research done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (independent group) on what Americans know about religion. Very illuminating and also funny - I can hardly wait for the Daily Show and the Colbert Report will say and I was laughing at CBS news' own report. (Meaning, that even in a country that expresses itself so profoundly religious as ours, I would have thought people would do better.)

The researchers said that the questionnaire was designed to represent a breadth of knowledge about religion, but was not intended to be regarded as a list of the most essential facts about the subject. Most of the questions were easy, but a few were difficult enough to discern which respondents were highly knowledgeable.

They asked 3400 Americans 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous people, etc. Results?
  • On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.
  • Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons.
But why atheists? The president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers, said this:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.

So why do I bring this up? Because one of the questions was about religion in public schools.

An overwhelming 89 percent of respondents, asked whether public school teachers are permitted to lead a class in prayer, correctly answered no. But fewer than one of four knew that a public school teacher is permitted “to read from the Bible as an example of literature.” And only about one third knew that a public school teacher is permitted to offer a class comparing the world’s religions. The survey’s authors concluded that there was “widespread confusion” about “the line between teaching and preaching.”

I think it would be great if there was a world religions class in high school if you had the right teacher who could control the discussion i.e. not let kids go at each other's religion. It might make for a more tolerant AND informed group of citizens.

What's interesting to me is that SPS has places in many schools (I'm thinking primarily secondary as I haven't heard of this in elementary) for Muslim students to pray during the day. I've never asked why this is but it would seem an issue because then Christians or Jews might want a prayer room as well.


dan dempsey said…
Take the quiz HERE.

Print copies for your friends.

They may become former friends when confronted by this challenge.
dan dempsey said…
NO BETTER yet take it here:


This has a really cool comparison when you finish with lots of other groups. It is 15 quick questions.
Charlie Mas said…
Muslim students need a place to pray during the day because Muslims have five prayer services a day: dawn, just after noon, afternoon, dusk, and night. Muslim schoolchildren are at school when the time to say dhurh, which should be said just after noon.

Jews pray three times a day: morning, afternoon before sunset, and after sunset. Usually the latter two are combined with a brief intermission between them. Jewish schoolchildren can easily defer saying mincha, the afternoon prayers, until they get home. Most days it's a very brief service. People typically combine it with maariv, the evening prayers.

It isn't common practice for Christian lay people to recite the liturgy of the hours - matins (now called Office of Readings), lauds, terce, sext, none, vespers,and compline. I'm not a Christian, so I don't know what these services require.
Chris S. said…
Fun quiz. I did pretty well but guessed right once.

I learned most of that stuff at state university - freshman humanities. I think that was a good place to learn it for me (a more diverse religious population than your average midwestern high school.) However, it's a shame that those who don't go to college or don't take humanities miss it. Maybe ignorance explains our intolerance.
ParentofThree said…
There was a prayer room in the World Trade Center.
hschinske said…
It would be interesting to see the full test -- I certainly hope the other 17 questions were harder than the 15 on the sample.

Helen Schinske
Charlie, I know that and get that. But how does that work with a public building and public education? Don't get me wrong, I don't care but I just wonder why.
hopskipandajump said…
I took a Comparative Religions class at Bellingham High School in the 1990's. Best class in all four years, hands down. At the end of the year we took a field trip up to Vancouver, BC to visit a mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Sikh temple, and a Hare Krishna temple.
kellycar said…
I got 100% on the quiz, but only because my 10th grade high school english teacher rocked and I remembered "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." I wonder if that's in the new aligned curriculum.
Patrick said…
100% on the quiz, though I guessed on the last question. I never made a study of religion, but history and literature teach the basics of religion along the way.
Dorothy Neville said…
I got a 100 percent as well. 16 years of catholic school (liberal arts Jesuit college) only helped with the one Catholic ritual question. All the rest of my knowledge has come from just being a lifelong learner (although I dislike that term).

The last question I guessed, but it really was an educated guess based on truly hazy memories.

Helen, I think there's a link to the whole survey. There was one question on it that I would have had to completely guess.

Melissa, I really don't see any question with Muslim kids having a place to pray, given the tenets of that religion. It seems weird to even ask. It's not a big deal, is it? Are there other students whose needs are not being met?
Weird to ask why we have prayer in public schools? Maybe but I don't find it that odd a question.

Again, it doesn't matter to me but they are some potential issues for the district.

I accidentally walked into a storage room at RHS a couple of years ago and found a boy kneeling on a rug. He and I were both embarrassed but there had been no notice on the door. I quickly left.

I was told by a staff person that they were trying to find a good place that would be quiet and private but they had to find separate ones for boys and girls, not always easy to do in a busy, well-used school.

As well, the policy is that a student can certainly leave class for prayers but that the student is responsible for anything he/she misses in class. This staffer said that it had been a bit of an issue that some students would dawdle going to and from prayers.

It's logistics, not whether someone can pray or not.
ArchStanton said…
In 10th grade a social studies teacher let a friend of mine and I start a debate on religion in his class (SPS). I don't remember the particulars of how it came about, but I do remember most of the class being engaged and the discussion being quite civil. When I consider that it was a potentially risky thing for him to facilitate, especially considering that it wasn't specifically part of the curriculum, I really respect that he let the students have some influence in his classroom. I imagine it would be an even riskier proposition in the current climate - but maybe it was just as charged then, only I wasn't aware.
NotMyNormalHandle said…
Got 12/15, which was a total shocker since I had to guess at almost all of them. Not only do I have absolutely zero religious education or training, I really have no interest in ANY religion whatsoever. I keep up with world news so I'm not going to be a complete nincompoop, but that's about the extent of any religious knowledge. I knew the 2 education questions and the nirvana one. I was able to answer the other 9 correctly just based on general knowledge and decent test-taking skills. The fact that I did better than 87% of the general public is dreadful!

My take on the results, especially that atheists scored so well, is merely that atheists are on average better educated than people of faith. One can decide for themselves which is the cart and which is the horse.
Michelle said…
This survey did not surprise me— atheists typically know more about religions, but their study only goes so far as is enough to mock religion...
Michelle, I would gently point out that (1) most people get raised with a religion so that probably came from childhood experience and (2) my take is that most atheists and agnostics just want to be left out of religion. I find that most of the fighting over religion is between people of different faiths.
bryant jean said…
It is funny that people are singling out agnostic/atheist as knowing the most. I'm not a professional mathematician, but the 3 top categories are really close for getting the number of questions correct:


Are these statistically different that you'd say, "Boy, those agnostic and atheist people really know their religion better than anyone else!"

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