Most Americans have no clue Vedas is associated with Hinduism

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Some of the participants of the International Yoga Day in New York, in June, 2018. Photo: Sujeet Rajan.

NEW YORK – What’s apparent from a new survey on religion conducted by the Pew Research Center – the findings of which were released this week, is that more Americans are aware that yoga emanated from Hinduism, than the fact that the Vedas text is associated with the Hindu tradition.

What’s glaring though is that plenty of Americans don’t have a clue about the religious text of Hindus, unlike the Bible or the Koran, and less than 50% of the almost 11,000 adults in the US quizzed for the survey, cannot figure out the roots of yoga, which over the decades have been transmogrified in the West in ways, forms and mannerisms that have incensed purists.

The survey, coming 9 years after the first such religion survey was analyzed by Pew – albeit conducted through an online survey with multiple choice answers in a departure from over the phone quizzing in 2010 – also reveal that while most Americans are familiar with some of the basics of Christianity and the Bible, and even a few facts about Islam, far fewer US adults are able to correctly answer factual questions about Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and most do not know what the Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials.

In addition, large majorities of Americans are unsure (or incorrect) about the share of the US public that is Muslim or Jewish.

Of the 32 fact-based questions, two pertained to the Hindu religion under a category termed ‘Elements of world religions’: ‘Which religious tradition is yoga most closely associated with?’ and ‘Which text is most closely associated with Hindu tradition?’

Only an appalling low number of 15% of the respondents correctly identify the Vedas as a Hindu text (the choices being – Vedas, Tao Te Ching, Quran, Mahayana sutras). Buddhists too would be offended to know that only roughly one-in-five Americans know that the “truth of suffering” is among Buddhism’s four “noble truths”.

When it comes to yoga, which India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has popularized globally with his outreach for an International Yoga Day, and is now an annual event on the Summer Solstice, in New York, Washington, DC, and elsewhere, 71% of respondents who know someone who is Hindu also know that yoga has its roots in the religion, but just 43% of those who do not know a Hindu are aware of yoga’s Hindu roots. Overall, half of the respondents identified yoga with Hinduism.

Those numbers related to yoga are almost similar when it comes to identifying Ramadan as an Islamic holy month: those who personally know someone who is Muslim are far more likely to know the answer than those who do not know anyone who is Muslim (76% vs 46%). Another question in the survey based on Islam was on Mecca, their holiest city. Sixty two percent got that right.

Specifically seeking knowledge on Sikhism was the question: Which religion requires men to wear a turban and carry a ceremonial sword? Only 42% got the answer right. The Sikh community went into overdrive after the terrorist attack of 9/11 to put the spotlight on their religion, how they are different from the Muslim faith. However, going by the survey, much more work on that front needs to be done in America.

The religious knowledge section consisted of 32 questions in total, including 14 about the Bible and Christianity, 13 about other world religions (four about Judaism, three about the religious composition of particular countries, two each about Islam and Hinduism, and one each about Buddhism and Sikhism), two about atheism and agnosticism, two about the size of religious minorities in the US adult population, and one about religion in the Constitution.

The average respondent correctly answered 14.2 of the 32 religious knowledge questions. Just 9% of respondents gave correct answers to more than three-quarters (at least 25) of the questions, and less than 1% earned a perfect score, according to the Pew survey.

The survey finds that Americans’ levels of religious knowledge vary depending not only on what questions are being asked, but also on who is answering. Jews, atheists, agnostics and evangelical Protestants, as well as highly educated people and those who have religiously diverse social networks, show higher levels of religious knowledge, while young adults and racial and ethnic minorities tend to know somewhat less about religion than the average respondent does.

Many Americans also struggle to answer some questions about the size of religious minorities in the US and about religion’s role in American government. For instance, most US adults overestimate the shares of Jews and Muslims in the US or are unaware that Jews and Muslims each account for less than 5% of the population.

And when asked what the Constitution says about religion as it relates to federal officeholders, just one-quarter (27%) correctly answer that it says “no religious test” shall be a qualification for holding office; 15% incorrectly believe the Constitution requires federal officeholders to affirm that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, 12% think the Constitution requires elected officials to be sworn in using the Bible, 13% think the Constitution is silent on this issue, and 31% say they are not sure.

Interestingly, the survey also asked respondents to rate 9 different religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 (coldest and most negative) to 100 (warmest and most positive).

Overall, Americans give Jews an average rating of 63 degrees. Catholics and mainline Protestants each receive an average rating of 60 degrees, followed closely by Buddhists (57 degrees), evangelical Christians (56 degrees) and Hindus (55 degrees). The average ratings given to Mormons, atheists and Muslims hover near the 50-degree mark.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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