Americans Feel More Positive About Most Religions

photo by Greg Smith

photo by Greg Smith

According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, between June 2014 and January 2017, American views shifted to become more positive about about most of the world’s great religions.  More specifically, survey respondents were asked to to rate a variety of groups on a “feeling thermometer” that ranged from 0 to 100 (with higher numbers reflecting warmer or more positive feelings).

Respondents warmed to several religions during this two and a half year period, including

  • Atheists +9% (warmed from 41% to 50%)
  • Hindus +8% (warmed from 50% to 58%)
  • Muslims +8% (warmed from 40% to 48%)
  • Buddhists +7% (warmed from 53% to 60%)
  • Mormons +6% (warmed from 48% to 54%)
  • Jews +4% (warmed from 63% to 67%)
  • Catholics +4% (warmed from 62% to 66%)

Respondents did not warm nor did they cool to Evangelical Christians.  Feelings about that group registered at 61% in both surveys.

Respondents were not asked about Mainline Protestants in the initial survey.  In the latest survey they rated them at 65%.

So What?

Overall, these results are good news.  It is even better news than it first appears because the warming transcends many boundaries.  The Pew Research Center report on the warming explains:

The increase in mean ratings is broad based. Warmer feelings are expressed by people in all the major religious groups analyzed, as well as by both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and younger and older adults.

There is, however, much work yet to be done if we aspire to continue to increase our positive feelings about the world’s many great religions.  This need is one of the significant reasons why I have taught world religions to university students for the last six years.

Religious literacy matters.  As people learn more about their own religions and other religions of the world the global human community benefits.  Ideally, such learning extends beyond the classroom as individuals meet, interact with, and befriend those who practice a wide variety of religions.  The idea that actual real world encounters with the religious other increases positive feelings about the religion practiced by that person is supported by the latest Pew Research Center findings and numerous other studies.

Thankfully, as individuals replace misinformation with appropriate information and shift from othering to befriending those who practice religions other than one’s own opportunities abound for increased human flourishing.

  • As you have aged and matured, have your warm or positive feelings about other religions increased? If so, what have been the key drivers for that change (ex: classes, books, meeting people who practice differing religions, etc.)
  • What does your current community of faith do to help people learn more about and make connections with those who practice many of the world’s great religions? On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being highest) how well would you rate your congregation’s overall commitment to and work in this area?

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