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Americans Believe Religious Differences are Biggest Challenge to World Peace

A new survey from ReachingCommonGround.com and Harris Interactive finds that a majority of adult Americans believe that religious differences are the biggest obstacle in the face of achieving world peace, translating this belief into a call for greater respect for other religions in institutional religious education. The survey also finds that religious tolerance is strongly correlated to age. The article also announces an essay competition for youth, with $100,000 worth of prizes. [Editorial note: what does “take the time to learn about other religions” really mean for these folks? Am I just jaded that I don't believe that 59% of adults actually know anything substantial about a religion other than their own?]

By Reaching Common Ground

Boston, June 23, 2004 - A scientific survey conducted by Harris Interactive? from May 25-27, 2004 determined that the majority of adult Americans (69 percent) believe that religious differences are the biggest hurdle to achieving global peace.

While opinions appeared to be mixed as to how tolerant Americans feel they are when it comes to religious views other than their own (only 46 percent considered Americans very tolerant), nearly three in five (59%) said that they personally take the time to learn about other religions. More than two-thirds of Americans (69 percent) were in favor of having their children learn about other faiths in their chosen house of worship, and half (50%) said they actively teach their children to respect other faiths.

The survey was sponsored by ReachingCommonGround.com, a nonprofit organization started this year to foster understanding and dialogue among people of different faiths, with an initial focus on Christians and Jews. The initiative was founded by 25-year-old Elizabeth Goldhirsh, a magazine heiress and graduate student in theological studies at Harvard University, in memory of her parents. Goldhirsh teamed up with Baltimore's Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies to launch Reaching Common Ground in the wake of the immense tension created between Christians and Jews by Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

The survey found that 78 percent of U.S. adults believe that Christians and Jews can find common ground between their faiths to develop a mutually respectful relationship. Goldhirsh hopes to cultivate this belief into a stronger understanding between the two faiths.

"While the media often focus on conflicts between the faiths, the major religions have more in common than most realize," explains Goldhirsh. "It is our hope to use the religious values, beliefs, and experiences that we do share to help forge a better understanding among people of all faiths."

To promote interfaith understanding, ReachingCommonGround.com has also launched an essay competition for students 16-22 years of age. This contest offers young scholars $100,000 in prize money for essays illuminating the common origins and spiritual bonds between Christianity and Judaism. The grand prize is $25,000. Contest winner will also be eligible for a number of fellowships awarded by the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies. There is no entry fee, and the essays must be no longer than 2,500 words and written in English. The official rules are posted on the group's Web site, www.ReachingCommonGround.com, and entries must be submitted no later than July 30, 2004.

The competition is being administered and judged by The Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies (www.icjs.org). ICJS addresses the contemporary challenges of religious pluralism by helping to shape a more productive relationship between Christians and Jews.

Other Factors in Religious Tolerance

Interestingly, the survey found that older Americans tend to be more open to and interested in other faiths. Americans 45 years and older are more likely to take the time to learn about different religions. Nearly two in three adults in the 45-54 age bracket (63%) and the 55+ age bracket (64%) said they take time to teach their children about other faiths versus 30% of the 18-34 bracket and 48% of the 35-44 bracket. Similarly, 73% of the 45-54 bracket and 79% of the 55+ bracket believe their church or synagogue should teach children about other faiths whereas only 58% of the 18-34 bracket and 65% of the 35-44 bracket agreed.

Another age-related aspect is the way Americans feel about religious tolerance. Fifty-eight percent of the 55+ bracket believe that Americans are very tolerant of different religious perspectives while only 38% of the 18-34 bracket felt so.

Older Americans are also more likely to believe that religious differences are the biggest hurdle to global peace. Yet they seem to have more faith in our ability to overcome these differences, with more than four in five adults in the 45-54 bracket (84%) and 55+ bracket (82%) believing that Christians and Jews can find a common ground for a respectful relationship compared to only 72 percent of the 18-34 bracket and 75 percent of the 35-44 bracket.

Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive from May 25-27, 2004 using a nationwide sample of 2,148 U.S. adults. The data were weighted to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, and race/ethnicity. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points. Data tables are available in the pressroom at www.ReachingCommonGround.com.

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