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New Poll Shows Young Americans Are Not Especially Knowledgeable About Religion


Atheists in this country know a lot about religion - young people, not so much. Those are two findings from a new survey by the Pew Research Center, What Americans Know About Religion. NPR's Tom Gjelten has more.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The Pew survey showed that U.S. adults are pretty conversant about Christianity. Eight in 10 know that Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Buddhism and Hinduism are more of a mystery. Not surprisingly, the best educated and those with the most diverse social networks are the most knowledgeable about various faith traditions. But Pew religion researcher Greg Smith says there are some important distinctions, like between Jews and Christians.

GREG SMITH: Jews score above average on questions about Christianity. The opposite of that is not true. Christians don't know so much about Judaism. Christians in the United States struggle with even basic facts about Judaism, like when does the Jewish Sabbath begin and what is Rosh Hashanah.

GJELTEN: Americans seem to be a bit more knowledgeable about Islam than Judaism. While most know Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, less than a third know the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening. They generally overestimate the share of Jews and Muslims in the U.S. population. They're not sure about the role of religion in American government. Just 1 out of 4 in the survey know that the U.S. Constitution says there can be no religious test in qualifying for public office. Smith says the Pew survey found that knowledge about faith traditions is generally associated with tolerance toward religion.

SMITH: People who know the most about religion tend to have the most favorable impression of religious groups, including Jews and Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus and many others.

GJELTEN: But there is a big exception. Greater religious literacy is not associated with more favorable views of evangelicals.

SMITH: People who are the most knowledgeable about religion tend to have the most negative view of evangelical Christians.

GJELTEN: Pew researchers do not attempt to explain why that may be.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA'S "CANYON WALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.