U.S. Religious Knowledge Study, 2010

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In his 2007 book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – And Doesn’t, Boston University professor Stephen Prothero wrote that “Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion.” To support his contention, Prothero offered many compelling anecdotes and some isolated findings from public opinion polls. He also cited a few studies about the extent of biblical literacy among young people. But, as he discovered, there was no comprehensive, national survey assessing the general state of religious knowledge among U.S. adults.

To address this gap, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life set out to gauge what Americans know about their own faiths and about other religions. The resulting survey covered a wide range of topics, including the beliefs and practices of major religious traditions as well as the role of religion in American history and public life. (Preface)

Data File
Cases: 3,412
Variables: 120
Weight Variable: WEIGHT
Data Collection
Date Collected: May 19-June 6, 2010
Original Survey (Instrument)
U.S. Religious Knowledge Study, 2010
Funded By
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Collection Procedures
Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS) among a national sample of 3,412 adults living in the continental United States, 18 years of age or older, from May 19-June 6, 2010 (2,393 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,019 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 444 who had no landline telephone). Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. (Survey Methodology)

All interviews were conducted using a Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) system, which ensures that questions were asked in the proper sequence with appropriate skip patterns. CATI also allows certain questions and certain answer choices to be rotated, eliminating potential biases from the sequencing of questions or answers.

For the landline sample, half of the time interviewers asked to speak with the youngest adult male currently at home and the other half of the time asked to speak with the youngest adult female currently at home. If no respondent of the initially requested gender was available, interviewers asked to speak with the youngest adult of the opposite gender who was currently at home. For the cell-phone sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone; interviewers verified that the person was an adult and could complete the call safely.

In an attempt to maximize survey response, unless an interview was completed or a callback scheduled for a respondent at a phone number in the sample, each number was contacted approximately seven times at varied times of day and days of the week. Cell-phone respondents also were offered a reimbursement of $5 to cover any costs of taking the call on their mobile phones.
Sampling Procedures
The survey of the full national population used “random digit dial” (RDD) methodology. Samples of landline and cell phone exchanges were generated by Marketing Systems Group, a sister company of SSRS. The landline sample was “list-assisted,” meaning numbers were sampled from active “blocks” (area code plus three-digit exchange plus two-digit block number) that contained at least three residential directory listings; this is intended to exclude blocks dedicated for business or other nonresidential purposes. The cell sample was not list-assisted but was drawn from systematic sampling of blocks dedicated to wireless phones and shared-service blocks with no directory-listed landline numbers.

The sample of 3,412 respondents included interviews with a nationally representative sample of 3,013 adults as well as an oversample of 399 people who are Jewish, Mormon, atheist or agnostic. One goal of the study was to attain sufficient numbers of interviews with members of these groups to permit reliable analysis of their religious knowledge. Oversampling was necessary because these groups account for a relatively small share of the overall population. Jews and Mormons each comprise roughly 1.7% of U.S. adults, according to the Pew Forum’s 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, while atheists and agnostics combined account for about 4% of the adult population, meaning that most surveys – even those based on large samples – do not include enough interviews with members of these groups to permit analysis of their views and characteristics.

Oversampling was accomplished by recontacting respondents from previous SSRS surveys. SSRS conducts nationally representative dual-frame (landline and cell phone) random-digit-dial surveys every week and asks respondents their religion; for this study, SSRS recontacted households it had reached in the preceding six months that contained at least one adult who reported being Jewish, Mormon or having no religion. Adults reached in those households were asked to confirm whether they were Jewish, Mormon, or atheist or agnostic and then the interview proceeded. (Survey Methodology)
Principal Investigators
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
Related Publications
Complete summary information is available at the website:
http://www.pewforum.org/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

Methodology information is available at the website:
http://pewforum.org/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey-Appendix-A-Survey-Methodology.aspx