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Who comes to mind when Americans think of evangelical Protestantism? Pew data reveals

Who comes to mind when Americans think of evangelical Protestantism? Pew data reveals

Unsplash/Stefan Kunze

From Billy Graham to Muhammad Ali, new data from the Pew Research Center shows which historic figures come to the minds of Americans when they think of the religious traditions of Catholicism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism and atheism. 

From Feb. 4 to Feb. 19, the Pew Research Center asked 3,645 Americans to “name the first person who comes to mind” when they think of the various religions. 

“For three of the religions, Americans are most likely to name a figure from long ago: for Buddhism, Buddha; for Islam, the Islamic prophet Muhammad; and for Judaism, Jesus,” Pew copy editor Aleksandra Sandstrom and research associate Becka Alper wrote in an analysis

“For the two Christian groups asked about, people are most likely to name a modern religious leader — for evangelical Protestantism, Billy Graham; and for Catholicism, the pope.”

When asked about “evangelical Protestantism,” 37 percent responded with the names of religious leaders, 6 percent responded with the names of figures found in religious text and 3 percent named political figures. 

Twenty-one percent of respondents responded with the name of the famed evangelist Graham, who led crusades worldwide and millions to Christ throughout his lifetime.

Meanwhile, 5 percent responded with Martin Luther, a German theologist who was a central figure of the Protestant Reformation.

Additionally, 5 percent responded with “Jesus” and 2 percent answered by naming Jerry Falwell, an influential Southern Baptist pastor and founder of Liberty University. 

Forty-six percent of respondents either didn’t answer the question on evangelical Protestantism or said “no one” or “don’t know.”

When asked who is the first person that comes to mind when thinking about Catholicism, 47 percent of respondents said “pope,” while 5 percent said Pope Francis and 2 percent responded with Pope John Paul II. 

Twelve percent responded with Jesus and 5 percent said Jesus’ mother, Mary. 

Only 13 percent of people said “no one,” “don’t know” or refused to answer the question on Catholicism. 

When thinking about Buddhism, 55 percent of respondents said that “Buddha” is the first person that comes to their minds. Seven percent responded with “Dalai Lama” and 3 percent named Mahatma Gandhi, a civil rights activist who led the campaign for India’s independence from Britain and peace among Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.

Twenty-eight percent said “no one,” “don’t know” or refused to answer the question on Buddhism. 

When asked about Islam, 26 percent of respondents replied with the name of Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

Meanwhile, 5 percent responded by naming deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and another 5 percent responded with the names of terrorists. 

Four percent named boxing great Muhammad Ali. Ali was born with the name Cassius Clay but changed his name in 1964 after converting to Islam. Two percent named Muslim civil rights figure Malcolm X, while 3 percent responded with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Jesus was the most named figure by respondents when asked about Judaism, and 46 percent of respondents replied with the names of figures found in religious text. 

While 21 percent named Jesus as the first person who comes to mind when they think of Judaism, 13 percent listed the Old Testament figure Moses and 8 percent named Abraham. 

Seven percent responded with the names of famous Jewish people, 3 percent named political figures, and another 3 percent named Jewish religious leaders. 

Twenty-eight percent said “no one,” “don’t know” or refused to answer the question on Judaism. 

As for atheism, 21 percent responded with the names of famous people. 

Four percent said that evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is the first person that comes to mind when they think of atheism. Two percent said theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, another 2 percent named comedian and television host Bill Maher. 

Six percent responded to the atheism question with “Satan.”

While just 3 percent responded with the name of a political leader, 51 percent either failed to answer the question on atheism or responded with “no one” or “don’t know.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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