Church attendance back to pre-terrorist attack levels

Nearly two years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, higher numbers of Americans believe that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its followers, a recent poll reveals.


Mary Schultz
Communications Manager

The survey, conducted June 24-July 8 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, shows that 44 percent of Americans say that Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions, up from 25 percent in a March 2002 Pew Forum/Pew Research Center poll. This opinion is as prevalent among better-educated individuals and those who are more knowledgeable about Islam as among the less educated and less knowledgeable.

Yet the growing belief that Islam encourages violence has not resulted in a significant change in American views of Muslims, Muslim-Americans, or even of Islam in general. A narrow majority of the public (51 percent) has a favorable view of Muslim-Americans, and only 24 percent have an unfavorable view (25 percent have no opinion). This is about the same rating as the March 2002 poll (54 percent favorable), but down from the 59 percent favorability rating in a November 2001 poll, taken just two months after 9/11.

Unfavorable ratings for Muslim-Americans have inched upward over this same time period, from 17 percent soon after the attacks to 24 percent today. But Muslim-Americans remain slightly better regarded now than they were before 9/11; in March 2001, 45 percent had a favorable opinion of Muslim-Americans.

Opinions are slightly less favorable of Muslims who are not identified as Americans: 47 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable. Four in ten have a favorable impression of the religion, while 34 percent have an unfavorable opinion (26 percent have no opinion), virtually unchanged from the March 2002 poll.

Despite the public’s increased interest in Islam since September 11th, the number of Americans who believe they know “some” or “a great deal” about Islam has actually declined since shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001. In mid-November 2001, 6 percent of Americans said they knew “a great deal” about Islam, while 32 percent said they knew “some,” and 61 percent knew “not very much” or “nothing at all.” In the most recent poll, only 4 percent said they knew “a great deal,” 27 percent knew “some” and 68 percent professed to know “not very much” or “nothing at all” about Islam.

“Perhaps the more Americans learn about Islam, the more they realize how much there is to learn,” said Melissa Rogers, executive director of the Pew Forum.

Fewer people now say that Islam and their own religion have a lot in common: 22 percent this year, compared with 27 percent in March 2002 and 31 percent in November of 2001.

In other findings, the poll reveals that little has changed in the realm of religious devotion since 9/11. While there was a temporary increase in church attendance in the weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks, the percentage of Americans who regularly attend worship services quickly returned to pre-9/11 levels and has stayed consistent since then. In a March 2001 poll, 43 percent of Americans said they attended religious services once a week or more; in November 2001, 42 percent said this, and in the recent poll, 43 percent said this. Likewise, in March 2001, 87 percent said religion is “very important” or “fairly important” in their lives; in November 2001 and July 2003, 85 percent gave this response.

“Those who had hoped that the attacks would trigger a great upsurge in the number of people who attend religious services apparently have been disappointed,” Rogers said.

The nationwide survey of 2,002 adults has a margin of error plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life serves as both a town hall and a clearinghouse of information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. The Forum is strictly non-partisan and does not take positions on legislative matters. It is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant to Georgetown University.

View the full survey report, or for more information about the poll or the Pew Forum, please contact Robert Mills at 202.419.4564.