In 2019 the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of a large representative sample of Americans to determine how much they know about religion. Respondents were asked 32 questions that aimed to assess their basic knowledge about the major world religions. The results: we flunked, with an average score of only 44%.
The fact that Americans lack basic knowledge about religion is unfortunate, and not merely because it shows a lack of awareness of the beliefs and practices central to the lives and identities of their neighbors. It is also unfortunate because of another finding of the survey: low levels of awareness about other traditions correlate with negative perceptions of those traditions. Measuring the degree of positive sentiment on a scale from 1 to 100, the survey shows that those who are highly knowledgeable about other religions in most cases show a double digit increase in positive sentiment. Surprisingly, the survey also showed that religious individuals are, in general, less broadly knowledgeable about world religions than those who identify as atheist or agnostic.
In order to help religious audiences improve their religious literacy, AVDF has initiated a series of grants that provide funding to three publications that reach individuals within specific religious groups. The three publications are Renovatio, Tablet, and Christianity Today—publications which, respectively, reach large numbers of Muslims, Jews, and Evangelical Christian readers. The multi-year grants provide support for the publications to produce and publish news or explainer pieces that help readers to have a deeper and more accurate understanding of other traditions.
John Churchill, AVDF’s Director of Programs, is optimistic about the beneficial effects of these projects. “We hope that these grants will correct common misunderstandings and caricatures,” Churchill said, “and in ways that reduce polarization and enhance positive relationships among the readers of these opinion leading publications.”