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Who Places the Most Faith in Religion?

by George H. Gallup Jr.

Their spiritual convictions will provide comfort to millions of Americans as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, but those who adhere to some religious denominations may be more likely than others to emphasize the specific role of religion in their remembrances that day.

According to aggregated Gallup poll data collected between 1992 and 2001*, of the five most common faith groups in the United States (Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Mormons), followers of Judaism appear to be least likely to place strong emphasis on the importance of religion in their lives, while Protestants place the most emphasis on religion. Among the major Protestant denominations, religion is most important among Pentecostals and Baptists, while Episcopalians are at the bottom of the list.

When asked, "How important would you say religion is in your own life," a total of 58% of Americans say "very important." Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Protestants say religion is very important, followed by 58% of Mormons, 54% of Catholics, 47% of Orthodox Christians and 33% of Jews. Among the Protestant denominations, 86% of Pentecostals feel religion is very important in their lives, as do 78% of Southern Baptists. Less than half of Episcopalians (46%) say that religion is very important in their lives.

Similar patterns appeared when Gallup asked respondents about the impact of religion on society. Sixty-nine percent of Protestants believe that "religion can answer all or most of today's problems." Mormons and Orthodox Christians, at 56%, are equally likely to agree with this statement, as are 51% of Catholics. Jews are far less likely than any other group to believe that religion answers all or most of today's problems, at 26%. Among Protestant denominations, more than half of Episcopalians (53%) feel that religion answers today's problems, but this percentage is still 35 points lower than the percentage of Pentecostals who feel this way (88%).

Interestingly, the results are somewhat different when Americans are asked about their rate of attendance at religious services. Of the major faiths tested, Orthodox Christians (24%) are least likely to say they attend church or synagogue at least once a week, followed closely by Jews (27%). Forty-three percent of Protestants attend church every week, as do 45% of Mormons. Roman Catholics top the list at 47%. Among the Protestant groups, Episcopalians (33%) are still the least likely to attend church weekly, and Pentecostals (63%) are still the most likely.

It is important to bear in mind that these survey findings are based on people's religious preferences, and that respondents are not necessarily official members of congregations within the religious group that they identify. For example, 72% of the respondents who identified themselves as Episcopal reported being members of congregations, compared to 28% who did not.

*The findings are based on telephone interviews with a total cumulative sample of 24,871 interviews conducted in surveys between 1992 and 2001.

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