Pew.gifToday, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the second installment of its Landscape Survey, this one on religious beliefs and practices. I haven’t had a chance to pick through it carefully, but here are a couple of items worth noting, derived from today’s conference call with the press.
First, as longtime readers of this blog may recall, the first installment of the survey caught my attention for not disclosing the proportion of Muslims turned up in this 35,000-strong interview screen, but rather using the number employed in the 2007 Pew report on Muslims in America. That number was .6 percent of the American population. In the course of the phone call, Pew Forum head Luis Lugo mentioned that the Landscape Survey turned up 116 Muslims, which amounts to only .3 percent of the survey. In response to a query from me, the Pew folks said that the adjusted number turned out to be .4 percent.
Why didn’t they report that? They said they decided that their earlier estimate was better because it included questioning in Arabic, Urdu, and Farsee. I don’t think this quite computes. It suggests that fully one-third of the American Muslim population can’t or won’t communicate in English, and given that over one-third of American Muslims are African Americans, that would mean that over half the non-black Muslim population doesn’t do English. Given their high levels of education and income, this seems improbable to say the least. Maybe there’s another explanation, and perhaps it’s the one hinted at by Lugo, who noted in the phone call that they are “still pulling out the arrows” from the barrage they received from national Muslim organizations, which have preferred much higher numbers, after the 2007 report. Whatever the merits of the .6 percent estimate, there’s no excuse for Pew not to have included a long footnote or appendix giving the actual number and explaining why they chose to go a different route. So saith I, anyway.
As for campaign-related news, the most important takeaway is that Pew is inclined to see some opening for the Democrats when it comes to evangelicals. On very first blush, the finding that members of evangelical churches only favor Republicans by 50 percent to 34 percent suggests as much. However, there are various caveats. “Evangelicals” are not here identified by how individuals answer the question “do you consider yourself a born-again or evangelical Christian,” which is how most surveys identify evangelicals. So members include Latinos and African Americans, who are normally treated separately, and do not include “born-again” members of mainline Protestant denominations, who are often very Republican-leaning. At least we can hope that Pew will soon release the cross-tabs for members of those denominations by race and ethnicity. I trust John Green’s nose on this one, but am eager to see the verification.
Otherwise, while the survey broadly tells us lots of things we already know (and it’s always good to have what we know confirmed), there seem to be many interesting new tidbits. Intriguingly, if oddly, whole states are looked at for levels of religious intensity–i.e. (as the Hartford Courant will report tomorrow), the distinct lukewarmness of the faithful in Connecticut. Elsewhere, there’s the array of views among faith traditions on whether “Religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” Leading the list of those who “completely disagree” are Mormons (54 percent), followed by members of evangelical churches (50 percent), Muslims (47 percent), and members of historically black churches (45 percent). The lowest outside of the non-believing, non-belonging types are the Buddhists (12 percent), Hindus (15 percent), and Jews (18 percent). In other words, except for the evangelicals, small and/or persecuted minority groups are clustered at both ends of the spectrum. Social circumstances, historical memory, and theology vary, o ye social scientists eager for explanations based on one or two variables.

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

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