U.S. religious diversity moderate by comparison, study shows

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The United States might be a melting pot of culture and ethnicity, but when it comes to religion, the variety starts to thin.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center found the U.S.’ religious diversity is middling relative to that of other countries. Based on a 10-point scale, the U.S. scored a 4.1, compared to the 9.0 of Singapore and 0.1 of Afghanistan.

“The United States has a moderate level of religious diversity, ranking 68th among the 232 countries and territories included in the study,” the Pew Research Center stated in its summary. “The U.S. would register as considerably more diverse if subgroups within Christianity were counted.”

The survey, released Friday, looked at the representation of eight major religions within a country’s population: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, folk, “other” religions such as Wicca, and “unaffiliated” people who are atheist, agnostic, or do not follow any religion.

In the U.S., 78 percent of the population — according to the most recent census figures from 2010 — are Christian, while the next largest group, unaffiliated, is 16 percent.

Judaism represents 2 percent of the population, and the remaining five religious groups barely register on the scale.

“There’s an important distinction between religious diversity and religious freedom,” the summary states. “While adherents of many world religions live in the United States … most of those religions each represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population.”

The Asia-Pacific region, the survey found, has the highest amount of religious diversity, followed by southern Africa, Europe and North America, then Latin America-Caribbean, the Middle East and northern Africa, with the lowest scores.

Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam have the highest scores of religious diversity. While Buddhists make up about 34 percent of the population in Singapore, Christians, Muslims, and the religious unaffiliated make up for about half of the population.

Darren Iammarino, a religious studies professor at San Diego State University, said he is not surprised at the ranking of the Asian-Pacific region.

“In a lot of those countries, religion has been suppressed for so long, when it finally comes back on market what are you going to do, see what sort of options are out there,” Mr. Iammarino said. “It sort of makes sense, once freedom is there again you get more variety.”

Countries in northern African and the Middle East are 99 percent Muslim. South American and Caribbean countries are largely Christian.

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