What adults in other countries get wrong about American religion

Alex Cochran, Deseret News
Alex Cochran, Deseret News

The United States’ religious reputation does not match Americans’ actual religious practices and beliefs, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of international data.

Although multiple surveys show that the “U.S. is considerably more religious than similarly wealthy nations,” most adults in the 23 surveyed countries described it as less religious or about as religious as other wealthy nations.

“In some countries, large shares say the U.S. is less religious. ... Nearly half of adults (48%) say this in Mexico,” as do 38% of adults in India and 36% in Israel, Pew reported.

Overall, a global median of just 23% recognized that the U.S. stands out in the realm of religion. The only country where more than half of respondents gave this response was Sweden (59%).

“In many surveyed countries, the most common response is that the U.S. is about as religious as other wealthy nations,” Pew reported.


While it’s true that Americans are not that much more likely to affiliate with a faith group than adults in other wealthy nations, they are notably more likely to say that religion is “very important” in their lives.

More than 4 in 10 U.S. adults (41%) say that religion is “very important” to them, compared to 37% of adults in Greece, 36% of adults in Israel, 26% of adults in Canada and just 5% of adults in Sweden, Pew reported.

Americans are also more likely to engage in religious practices like prayer, practices that have endured even as engagement in organized religion has declined, as the Deseret News previously reported.

“Eighty-five percent of Americans participate in some kind of spiritual practice, with the most common being prayer,” the Deseret News reported in May, citing research conducted by City Square Associates on behalf of Skylight.

To some Americans, high rates of religious interest and practice are not enough. Nearly half say the U.S. should actually be a Christian nation, although, to some, that simply means being a country guided by generic moral values.

“Many supporters of Christian nationhood define the concept in broad terms, as the idea that the country is guided by Christian values,” Pew reported last year.