Mark Silk on the Importance of Improving Our Religious Knowledge

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service.


I’m mortified. I just took the 15-question multiple-choice quiz on religious knowledge that Pew included in its new survey of Americans’ religious knowledge…and I got one of them wrong.

Which one, you’re asking?

It was: “Which of the following is one of Buddhism’s four ‘noble truths’?” I chose “the truth that every living being has an immortal soul” instead of “the truth of suffering.”

OK, so I got 14 of them right, and when I look at the full 32-question survey, I figure I’d score a 31. But I teach religion, for crying out loud, and I fit into all the right categories besides.

As Pew summarizes the latter: “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…than the average respondent does.” I’m Jewish, way over-educated, and have a religiously diverse social network.

I also attend religious services fairly regularly, which is a religious knowledge-enhancing factor too. But I never took a world religion class (another factor), and while I’ve heard tell of Buddhism’s four noble truths, I never bothered to find out what they are.

The shame of it.

But that’s me. If you, lay reader of this column, only get half the questions right, which is the average score, should you feel bad?

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Source: Religion News Service