Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pew Forum: Public Expresses Mixed Views of Islam, Mormonism

The weekly update of September 27 for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life includes an interesting and troubling item titled "Public Expresses Mixed Views on Islam, Mormonism." The summary report states:

The Muslim and Mormon religions have gained increasing national visibility in recent years. Yet most Americans say they know little or nothing about either religion's practices, and large majorities say that their own religion is very different from Islam and the Mormon religion.

A new national survey reveals some notable similarities, as well as major differences, in the ways that Americans view these faiths and their followers. Public impressions of both religions are hazy – 58% say they know little or nothing about Islam's practices, while 51% have little or no awareness of the precepts and practices of Mormonism. The number of people who say they know little or nothing about Islam has changed very little since 2001.

Most Americans believe that their own religion has little in common with either Islam or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fully 70% say that their religion is very different from Islam, while 62% say this about the Mormon religion. The proportion who say that Islam has little or nothing in common with their own religion has increased substantially since 2005 (from 59% to 70%).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 1-18 among 3,002 adults, finds that overall evaluations of Mormons and Muslim Americans are on balance positive: 53% say they have a favorable opinion of Mormons, while an identical percentage views Muslim Americans favorably. As in past surveys, more people have a positive impression of "Muslim Americans" (53%) than of "Muslims" (43%).

Despite these similarities, there also are clear differences in public attitudes about Islam and Mormonism. These are reflected in the single-word descriptions people use in summarizing their impressions of each religion. Twice as many people use negative words as positive words to describe their impressions of the Muslim religion (30% vs. 15%). The most frequently used negative word to describe Islam is "fanatic," with "radical" and "terror" often mentioned as well. Among the positive terms, "devout" or some variant is the most frequently cited.

The words that people use to describe the Mormon religion are, on balance, more positive. Nearly a quarter (23%) gives a positive word to describe their impression of the Mormon religion while 27% use a negative term. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banned polygamy almost a century ago, many Americans still associate the church with this practice. The most commonly used negative words to describe Mormonism are "polygamy," "bigamy" or some other reference to plural marriage. Among positive words used to describe the Mormon religion, "family" – or some variant of the term – is the most frequent response.

The complete 31-page report in PDF can be downloaded here. In addition, Greg Smith of the Pew Forum discusses this and other views of the American public on religion on radio at this link.

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