Why Pollsters Still Don’t Get Religion

I did the quiz taken from the Pew poll Lauri Lebo wrote about yesterday here on RD. I got a 15/15. Then again, I teach Religious Studies. It’s all in my head, drilled there from years of testing, writing, and teaching.

But if you asked me important questions about religion, I probably wouldn’t do so well, and neither would the atheists and agnostics. I mean questions like: What is the proper way to light candles to welcome the Sabbath? How do I perform ablutions before Salat? What is the correct posture for Zazen? These are things Jews, Muslims, and Zen Buddhists know, because they perform it with their bodies. It is experiential knowledge, and as such difficult to measure.

I enjoy Stephen Prothero’s continued work on “religious literacy,” and by no means think that information and practice, mind and body, can be separated. But we must also come to the knowledge that religion is a practice rooted in the body, not simply a set of rules and ideas in the head.

If pollsters got out from behind their computers and started following religious adherents around for a day or two, they’d find that far more than 20% know a whole lot about their religions. Their fingers and ears, noses and feet, know how to act, behave, move, and when to remain still.