The Pew Research Center: Background information when reading Agnostic

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A Spirited Manifesto

by Lesley Hazleton

Agnostic by Lesley Hazleton X
Agnostic by Lesley Hazleton
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 224 pages
    Apr 2017, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Beyond the Book:
The Pew Research Center

Print Review

In Agnostic, author Lesley Hazelton states: "The most respected polls on faith and belief are run by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which has been taking the pulse of both the American and the international soul, as it were, since 2001."

According to their website, "Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions." The center states its mission as generating "a foundation of facts that enriches the public dialogue and supports sound decision-making. We are nonprofit, nonpartisan and nonadvocacy. We value independence, objectivity, accuracy, rigor, humility, transparency and innovation."

The Pew Research Center grew out of a 1990 research project initiated by the Times Mirror newspaper company which conducted regular polls on politics and major policy issues. Following its success as a neutral, independent "just-the-facts" approach, the project was taken over by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent non-profit organization established by the children of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew. It was renamed the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in 1996. Over the years it grew to target more trends than just those in politics, adding surveys on journalism (1997), the Internet (1999), religion (2001), Hispanic issues (2001) and global attitudes (2001), and its activities are largely funded by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

With the Forum on Religion and Public Life, the Pew Research Center "seek[s] to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs in the U.S. and around the world. Through public opinion surveys, demographic studies and other social science research, we examine the religious composition of countries, the influence of religion on politics, the extent of government and social restrictions on religion, and views on abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research and many other topics." The center states that its U.S. Religious Landscape survey is a benchmark for understanding religion in the United States. The key topics this research encompasses include:

  • Religious affiliation, beliefs and practices in the U.S.
  • Changes in the global religious landscape
  • Religion and politics in the U.S.
  • Government and social restrictions on religion, worldwide
  • According to a Slate article, the Pew Research Center is considered one of the least biased, most reliable polling organizations in the country. However the organization has been criticized for the small sample sizes in many of its surveys. Fewer than one in 10 Americans contacted for a Pew study respond, and consequently critics point out that Pew does not reach a representative subset of the population.

    Article by Kim Kovacs

    This article was originally published in June 2016, and has been updated for the April 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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