Religion remains a significant factor in the lives of most people, according to results released today by UR’s religion department and Zogby International. The groundbreaking partnership produced a report on the religious beliefs and practices of 11 religious groups in seven countries that highlighted world-wide attitudes of religious tolerance.
“Religion remains a powerful force in the lives of humans. It remains one of the things that separates us from our mammal cousins,” President and Chief Executive of Zogby International John Zogby said. “Everyone claims to know religion, but the truth is humans know very little.”
The results of the study highlighted a number of commonalities across national and denominational borders. A majority of the respondents in all seven countries felt that their country would be helped somewhat or greatly by a more religious society and that religion is not the cause of trouble and unrest in their respective societies.
“Religion can define our commonality,” Zogby said. “Religion can unite us as much as it can divide us. We are many and diverse, but as humans, we are one.”
Commonalities appeared in some cases between members of different faiths in the same country. This is especially true with respect to Islam in three countries it was studied – Saudi Arabia, India and Israel.
“Islam is not a monolithic thing and it’s got very distinct regional communities,” Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit Jonathan Geen said.
Even often conflicting groups – such as Hindus and Muslims in India or Jews and Muslims in Israel – showed similarities within their national group.
“Indian Hindus vary very little from Indian Muslims and only on predictable things,” Geen said. “Pluralism seems to actually break exclusivism.”
Notably, the majority of all groups surveyed believed that politics rather than religion is responsible for violence within their own country. Also, most did not see religion as a cause of trouble or unrest.
“[Americans] know so much about Hamas, but the fact of the matter is that most Muslims see it as an issue of land and nationalism,” Chair of the Religion Department Th. Emil Homerin said.
Groups in the United States showed the most similarities, with practically no difference between American Catholics and Mainline Protestants.
“Both are so inculturated that there is now practically no difference between so called Mainline Protestants and American Catholics in terms of their fit into the cultural-social scheme of things,” Professor of Religion Curt Cadorette said.
American Catholics and Mainline Protestants also showed the highest level of pluralism and acceptance of other religions.
“American Catholics and Mainline Protestants believe that all religions will work,” Dean of The College and Professor of Religion and Classics William Green said.
Majorities of both American Catholics and Mainline Protestants did not express the belief that their religion offers the only way to God. According to Cadorette, this should not be taken as the rejection of a basic tenet of faith, but instead as a lack of knowledge.
“I don’t think it’s a question of disbelief. I think it’s a question of ignorance,” Cadorette said.”It is the unusual believer who studies the specifics of their tradition. Most people only have a cursory idea.”
Differences in degree did exist between American Catholics and Mainline Protestants.
“The interesting thing in this study is that American Catholics are more liberal than Mainline Protestants,” Cadorette said. “Protestants tend to view the Bible as more of a revealed text.”
American Catholics also tended to be more liberal than their Mainline Protestant counterparts on social issues. However, this does not mean that sweeping generalizations can be made about any American group.
“You have to recognize that 30 percent of Born-again Christians are liberal,” Cadorette continud. “We have to be careful not to lump all Born-again Christians and Evangelicals into the same pool.”
Internationally, Catholics cannot be put into a single group, according to the study. Although there are similarities, distinctions did appear between Peruvian and American Catholicism.
“Peruvian Catholics approach Catholicism as a cultural reality. Catholicism is really a social network,” Cadorette said. “It’s not perceived as the institutional church, it’s personal, it’s family, it’s rites of passage, it’s devotional.”
“Neither group of Catholics take the institutional church all that seriously. Peruvians a little more so. [They] tend to be a little more afraid of punishment,” Cadorette said. “The amazing thing about American Catholics is nearly 40 percent believe there will be no punishment if they disobey the tenents of the church. When you have 40 percent of a religious population who don’t believe anything will happen if you don’t follow the rules, it’s not surprising that what you have is a very selective type of obedience.”
In contrast to the American Catholics, 95 percent of all Muslims indicated that they would suffer negative consequences if they disobeyed their religion.
“When the Quran talks about punishment, it’s not in a matter of venegance that God is going to get back at you, but rather in a sense of changing your behavior now,” Homerin said.
“Mainline Protestants tend to be tolerant of diversity. They do not see Christ as the one true path to God and salvation,” Cadorette said.”[In contrast] Born-again Christians are much more insistent that Christ is the exclusive way to God and salvation.”
Saudi Muslims and South Korean Christians were the least tolerant of other religions, according to the poll.
Acceptance of other religions was high among all other groups surveyed, but did not necessarily correspond with a willingness to allow one’s children to marry outside of the faith.
“You may respect the other person and their religious ways, but not want them as in-laws,” Homerin said.
In all areas surveyed, family and friends were cited as having the most influence over religious beliefs and in most areas, religious leaders did not have a high level of involvement in the formation of beliefs.
“Religion leaders are not necessarily the most important sources of religious authority,” Zogby said.
“The last person you would probably go to would be a Russian Orthodox Priest,” Professor of Russian in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures and Director of Russian Studies Kathleen Parthe said.
Areas where there is a lack of clergy – such as Peru – showed a particular lack of connection between leaders and lay people.
“Only one-fifth of Peruvians learn anything about Catholicism from a priest or other religious leader. Almost all appropriation of knowledge is through family and friends,” Cadorette said.
South Korean Protestants were the exception, as religious leaders were seen as the second most important factor in determining beliefs. “Outside of the family, 66 percent of South Koreans consider religious leaders the most important influence,” Green said.
The findings did not come as a complete surprise to those analyzing the results. However, the poll offered a factual basis that has not been available before. “It’s not that this is a totally new concept, but the statistics are pretty telling,” Cadorette said.
Results of the study could serve as a wake-up call to religious leadership, according to analysts.
“If I were an American bishop, I’d be really worried. I think this speaks to a weakening Catholic identity,” Cadorette said. “I think the next generation will have a much diminished sense of itself as Catholic.”
Orthodox officials had already started to react to the changing atmosphere in Russia, Parthe noted. She mentioned the shortening of the three-hour services, the change to a more modern form of Russian and the provisions for social services as examples. Still, of all groups surveyed, Russian Orthodox Christians placed being religiously active as the lowe
“You have time to go into church, light a candle before an icon and go back to your second job,” Parthe said.”Orthodox hierarchy is finally figuring out that they haven’t quite got it right.”
Analysts suggested that political leaders should also take heed of the findings, especially in the United States.
“We need to re-evaluate how we view Saudi society,” Homerin warned.
“[This study] is important for us as American and especially for our government,” Zogby said.
Miller can be reached at email@example.com.