U.S. doesn’t rank high in religious diversity

April 4, 2014

 

The United States has often been described as a religiously diverse country, an image celebrated in forums ranging from scholarly work to a popular bumper sticker and even a recent Coca-Cola commercial during the Super Bowl. But, from a global perspective, the United States really is not all that religiously diverse, according to a new Pew Research Center study. In fact, 95% of the U.S. population is either Christian or religiously unaffiliated, while all other religions combined account for just 5% of Americans. As a result, the U.S. ranks 68th out of 232 countries and territories on our Religious Diversity Index.

The new study treats all Christians as members of the same religion. The U.S. has an enormous variety of Christian denominations, and if diversity within the world’s largest faith were taken into account, the United States likely would rank higher. But the study treats Christianity no differently than Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism – all of which also have a lot of internal diversity, yet are considered as single religions in the study.

The study looks at the share of each country’s population that belongs to eight major religious groups, including the unaffiliated (those who identify as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion). The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on the 10-point index. By this measure, Singapore is the world’s most religiously diverse country, followed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Six of the top 12 countries and territories on the Religious Diversity Index are in Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Hong Kong). Several of them have substantial Buddhist, Christian and unaffiliated populations, as well as many adherents of “folk” religions. At the other end of the scale, among the places with the least religious diversity are Vatican City (more than 99% Christian) and such overwhelmingly Muslim countries as Morocco, Somalia and Afghanistan.

The U.S. is classified as “moderate” in terms of religious diversity. While adherents of many world religions live in the United States – the world’s third most populous country – most of those religions each represent less than 2% of the U.S. population. That includes people who identify their religion in surveys as Judaism (1.8%), Buddhism (1.2%), Islam (0.9%), Hinduism (0.6%) and folk or traditional religions (0.2%).

There’s an important distinction between religious diversity and religious freedom, which this report does not measure. (We’ve studied global restrictions on religion, both in the form of government restrictions and social hostilities, in a separate series of reports.) TheFirst Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, of course, guarantees the right to “free exercise” of religion, which has been celebrated by figures ranging from Alexis de Tocqueville to Norman Rockwell.

But even as Tocqueville (in the late 1830s) wrote that the “sects that exist in the United States are innumerable,” he also observed that all those sects “are comprised within the great unity of Christianity.” The country has certainly changed over the centuries, but it remains a nation with an overwhelming Christian majority.

Pew.com: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/04/u-s-doesnt-rank-high-in-religious-diversity/

Half of the Most Religiously Diverse Countries are in Asia-Pacific Region

April 4, 2014

 

Several years ago, the Pew Research Center produced estimates of the religious makeup of more than 200 countries and territories, which it published in the 2012 report “The Global Religious Landscape.” The effort was part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. As part of the next phase of this project, Pew Research has produced an index that ranks each country by its level of religious diversity.

Comparing religious diversity across countries presents many challenges, starting with the definition of diversity. Social scientists have conceived of diversity in a variety of ways, including the degree to which a society is split into distinct groups; minority group size (in share and/or absolute number); minority group influence (the degree to which multiple groups are visible and influential in civil society); and group dominance (the degree to which one or more groups dominate society). Each of these approaches can be applied to the study of religious diversity.1

This study, however, takes a relatively straightforward approach to religious diversity. It looks at the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to eight major religious groups, as of 2010.2 The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on a 10-point Religious Diversity Index.

The choice of which religious groups to include in this study stems from the original research that was done for “The Global Religious Landscape” report. That study was based on a country-by-country analysis of data from more than 2,500 national censuses, large-scale surveys and official population registers that were collected, evaluated and standardized by Pew Research staff and, in the case of European countries, by researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria.

In order to have data that were comparable across many countries, the study focused on five widely recognized world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – that collectively account for roughly three-quarters of the world’s population. The remainder of the global population was consolidated into three additional groups: the religiously unaffiliated (those who say they are atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular); adherents of folk or traditional religions (including members of African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions); and adherents of other religions (such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism).

How Countries Ranked

Looking at the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to the eight major religious categories included in the study, 12 countries have a very high degree of religious diversity. Six of the 12 are in the Asia-Pacific region (Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Hong Kong); five are in sub-Saharan Africa (Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Ivory Coast, Benin and Mozambique); and one is in Latin America and the Caribbean (Suriname). No countries in Europe, North America or the Middle East-North Africa region have a very high degree of religious diversity as measured in this study.

Of the 232 countries in the study, Singapore – an island nation of more than 5 million people situated at the southern tip of Malaysia – has the highest score on the Religious Diversity Index. About a third of Singapore’s population is Buddhist (34%), while 18% are Christian, 16% are religiously unaffiliated, 14% are Muslim, 5% are Hindu and <1% are Jewish. The remainder of the population belongs to folk or traditional religions (2%) or to other religions considered as a group (10%).

According to the new index, the United States has a moderate level of religious diversity, ranking 68th among the 232 countries and territories included in the study. Counting both adults and children, Christians constitute a sizable majority of the 2010 U.S. population (78%). Of the seven other major religious groups, only the religiously unaffiliated claim a substantial share of the U.S. population (16%).7 All other religious groups combined account for about 5% of Americans. (The U.S. would register as considerably more diverse if subgroups within Christianity were counted.8)

By contrast, France has a high degree of religious diversity, ranking 25th among the 232 countries. Christians make up 63% of France’s 2010 population, and two other groups account for sizable shares: the religiously unaffiliated (28%) and Muslims (8%). Iran, whose population is almost entirely Muslim, falls into the low diversity category.

To see how all 232 countries scored on the Religious Diversity Index, see Appendix 1 (PDF).

Pew.com: http://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/

U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Executive Summary

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.