Religion & public attitudes: Europe vs. USA

By Razib Khan | May 22, 2008 7:45 am

A few years ago a poll came out, Religious Views and Beliefs Vary Greatly by Country, According to the Latest Financial Times/Harris Poll. My title is a bit misleading insofar as the survey compared several European countries as well as the United States. Below the fold I’ve placed a few of the tables which I think might surprise, or not, depending on where you stand. One thing I will observe is that despite the substantive differences which lay at the heart of the rivalry between France and the United States, there are also similarities between these two “universal nations” that lead to some of the enmity since they both perceive each other to be brands competing in the same market.

“Thinking now about religion, would you say that you are a…?”

Great Britain France Italy Spain Germany United States
% % % % % %
Believer in any form of God or any type of supreme being 35 27 62 48 41 73
Agnostic (one who is sceptical about the existence of God but not an atheist) 35 32 20 30 25 14
Atheist (one who denies the existence of God) 17 32 7 11 20 4
Would prefer not to say 6 6 8 8 10 6
Not sure 7 4 3 3 4 3

“Do you feel that religion should be taught in state schools?”

Great Britain France Italy Spain Germany United States
% % % % % %
Yes 56 20 68 40 56 28
No 29 72 25 49 35 59
Not Sure 15 8 7 11 9 13

“Do you feel that children should be allowed to wear a religious sign or article of clothing at school which is representative of their beliefs (such as crucifixes, headscarves)?”

Great Britain France Italy Spain Germany United States
% % % % % %
Yes 48 10 61 44 40 77
No 36 83 29 43 51 14
Not Sure 15 7 10 13 10 8

“Do you feel that governments should legislate against religious blasphemy, such as depriving something of its sacred character (for example, burning a bible or the Koran)?”

Great Britain France Italy Spain Germany United States
% % % % % %
Yes 37 42 58 46 41 31
No 41 41 28 42 40 52
Not sure 22 17 15 12 19 17
  • Dan tdaxp

    I assume you would get differnt answers depending on the examples. So that
    (for example, burning a bible)
    (for example, burning the Koran)
    (for example, burning a boble or the Koran)
    would generate different proportions.
    PS: Is there a reason why bible is lowcased and preceeded by an indefinite article, while Koran is uppercase and preceeded by the definite article? I had not noticed this before.

  • Silmarillion

    I think the “Do you feel that religion should be taught in state schools?” question is not clear enough. Taught as fact or taught as part of comparative religion?

  • Marc

    I like that America has the highest percentage of believers and the highest percentage of respondents who feel that government should not legislate against blasphemy.

  • Clark

    Britain’s answers are pretty weird. More people think religion should be taught in school than believe in God.

  • Caledonian

    Some people have claimed that the school’s bumbling instruction in religion is what pushed them into becoming non-believers in the first place.
    If you grant that a person might believe that religious instruction ultimately harms faith, then people might easily be opposed to religion while desiring it to be taught in school.
    If you then include those people who think comparative religion should be taught, as opposed to indoctrinated… you can easily have more people favoring religious instruction than believe in a deity.

  • razib

    More people think religion should be taught in school than believe in God.
    yeah. i think that that reflects the reality; people are supporing the status quo. religion is taught in schools i think….

  • jefrir

    Clark, that may be because of the vagueness of the question and differences in religious education between Britain and America. All British children are required to take religious education, but it is learning about various religious beliefs, rather than that they are true. Well taught, it can be as important as history or geography in giving an understanding of the world.

  • pconroy

    Yeah, even in Ireland, where I attended a Christian Brothers High School in the 1970’s, religion class discussed many world religions – different forms of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, however not Judaism or Islam.

  • DavidM

    As an update on the UK position on Relegious education my son has been going to his compulsory classes for nearly 5 years now, he has also learnt about Judaism and Islam as well as ethics and moral issues such as racism and the death penalty. To the UK population the term religious education means teaching about major world religions, their beliefs and history.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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