What Binds Diverse Peoples

The role of religion in people's lives worldwide continues to get short shrift from both the media and policymakers in the increasingly secularized West. Yet a new poll by Zogby International for the University of Rochester shows it remains a significant force that must be factored into decisionmaking.

The Zogby firm conducted 600 interviews each among Indian Hindus and Muslims; Peruvian Roman Catholics; Eastern Orthodox Christians in Russia; Saudi Arabian Muslims; South Korean Buddhists and Christians; Israeli Jews, Muslims, and Druze; and Protestants and Catholics in the United States. Among the findings:

• A majority in all seven countries (except Korean Buddhists) thinks a more religious society would "greatly or somewhat help their country."

• A majority of Muslims, Hindus, and American and South Korean Christians say they engage in religious practices - including worship - once a week or more.

• A majority in all the communities says that politics, not religion, is the source of unrest or violence in their own country.

• In all the religious communities surveyed, parents are the most important source of religious instruction within families for all the groups.

• More than half the respondents in each religious group - except Russian Orthodox, Israeli Jews, and Korean Buddhists - say being actively religious is an important value.

The survey has its limits. It missed great swaths of the world, including Africa - site of important religious ferment.

Still it's a good first step in what should be continuing research. Given the "clash of civilizations" theory and widespread political manipulation of religion that's behind a great deal of violence in the world today - in Northern Ireland, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and between Israel and the Palestinians - far more understanding of religion's role in shaping peoples' outlooks is needed. The US foreign policy and intelligence establishment must take notice.

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