Photo via Flickr's Rickydavid

The debate about the reason people believe what they believe is long and storied across the history of the world’s religions.

Are your beliefs shaped by your knowledge? Experience? Cultural worldview?  Are they reinforced by the way your brain is stimulated during spiritual experiences?

A recent Pew study surveyed almost 3,500 adults in the U.S. to explore the first of these categories:  knowledge about religion.

The highest levels of knowledge about religion are correlated with being atheist, agnostic, Jewish or Mormon, and with having higher levels of education.  The executive summary of the findings is available here.

Overall, the results suggest that a lack of shared knowledge about religion as a huge barrier to inter-religious (and even intra-religious!) understanding in the next decade of the U.S context.

Why do you believe what you believe?  Is it because you know the history or principles of a particular religion and it has either led you to reject or adhere to it?  Is it because of the experiences you’ve had or the community in which you’ve been raised?  Because of your brain chemistry?  All of the above?  Which factor would be the most crucial to explain when dialoging with someone who believes differently than you?