The Pew Religious Knowledge Survey: How Did Mormons Do?

A Religious Knowledge Survey was recently conducted by the Pew Research Center of 3,412 Americans. The full report can be read here (all of the survey questions are in the Appendix of that report). Out of 32 questions, the average number correct by all people was 16, so 50%. You might view that as positive or negative, depending on your expectations. What subgroups performed the best? Athiests/agnostics (mean = 20.9), Jews (mean = 20.5), and Mormons (mean = 20.3). Rounding out the bottom of the groups are Hispanic Catholics (mean = 11.6).

Here’s a general overview (not just Mormons):

Now on to how Mormons did. I thought this section of the report was interesting:

“27% of Jews, 22% of atheists and agnostics, and 20% of Mormons score in the top 10% of all respondents in overall number of correct answers to religious knowledge questions, getting at least 26 questions right. As will be discussed in detail later in this report, these groups display greater religious knowledge even when education and other factors are held constant. Mormons outperform Jews as well as atheists and agnostics on questions about the Bible but do not perform as well as the other two groups on questions having to do with world religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.”

So, 20% of Mormons in the survey scored at or above the 90th %ile, which is an encouraging result.

Who knew their Bible the best out of all groups? It was…Mormons. I bet that might surprise a lot of other Christians.

Mormons also had the highest knowledge of general Christianity (Catholicism & Protestantism plus other religious figures), getting nearly 8/12 questions correct on average.

About Judaism, Jews had the highest average (5/7) with Mormons a close second (4.8/7). However, it should be noted that the distribution was skewed: “Mormons also do well on these questions (4.8 correct on average), though many more Jews than Mormons get all seven questions right (29% among Jews, 6% among Mormons).”

Mormons also knew their own religion the best with and average of 2.7/3 correct answers. Atheists and agnostics came in second with 2.1/3 on average correct.

Outside of Christianity, Mormons came in 3rd for knowledge of world religions with 5.6/11 correct on average. For knowledge of religion’s role in public life, Atheists/agnostics had an average of 2.8/4 correct and Mormons were tied for third (with Evangelicals) with 2.3/4.

It goes on; the report is quite fascinating (although light on the statistics, which some people find comforting, others of us, not so much).

Those who were more educated tended to do better on the quiz but even controlling for education and other demographic factors, atheists/agnostics, Jews, and Mormons still did the best on the survey.

One issue I saw with the interview questions was what was asked it the respondent said he or she was Mormon: “Which of the following Mormon churches, if any, do you identify with most closely? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ, or some other church?”

Ignoring the incorrect usage of referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Mormon Church, it is even more incorrect to refer to any of the splintered groups as Mormon. That’s sort of like lumping Methodists and Catholics together because after all, Methodists (and all other Protestant religions) are an offshoot of Catholicism. So no, those other “Mormon churches” are not “Mormon churches.” That’s not just being pedantic, it’s being accurate.

In any case, after looking over the 32 questions, there was one I might have missed (although it was multiple choice so even a completely random guess would result in a 20% chance of getting it right). The question was about what religion Maimonides was. I am familiar with the name but frankly have never studied about him. Two of the five choices are obvious rule-outs (for me), which leaves three choices. Who was he? Here’s the answer.

How did I do on the shortened 15 question quiz online? I bet you are dying to know.

You can take the quiz here.

Overall, those who identified themselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did very well on the survey. They did better than any other religious group. Being Jewish is not necessarily a religious thing; for many Jewish Americans (and elsewhere) it is a cultural thing. It’s almost like being Catholic in a Latin American country or in Italy, it’s cultural more than religious for most people. Mormons did well but there certainly is room for improvement.

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