I heard a great story on NPR this morning about how people over report their religious behavior when they respond to surveys. Over reporting a behavior means a person says they do something more than they really do it. This is not unusual when the behavior being asked about is something viewed positively by society (like exercise). Under reporting is also common on surveys, but this happens when the behavior being asked about is something negative (like smoking). I’m geeking out a bit here because I am a sociologist by training. And I find this fascinating!
I won’t retell the whole story here, but the gist is that Muslims and Christians are consistent culprits of this kind of over reporting when they are asked about their religious behavior. Philip Brenner, a sociologist who’s trying to understand this over reporting, views it as another way to understand people and their complex relationship with religion. He thinks people are reporting their aspiration as practitioners of their faith, rather than their actual practice. He doesn’t think people are flat out lying. He thinks they are still sharing something about themselves with their answers. They just aren’t sharing what the question was designed to learn.
This got me thinking. Would or do Pagans over report, too? Or are Christian and Muslims over reporting because their faith includes prescribed behaviors? That is, these religions dictate or at least strongly encourage prayer, attendance, tithing, etc. Christianity and Islam value faith practices. Since most Pagan faiths don’t include mandated behaviors, maybe we wouldn’t feel the need or desire to say we practice more than we really do. At the same time, a lot of us feel our unique and varied practices help set us apart from other faiths. Many Pagan faiths value faith practices (i.e., ritual, observance, etc.). So maybe Pagans would over report. I’m not sure, but I’m interested enough to do some research and follow-up on this in a later post.
What do you think? Do you think Pagans would over report their religious or faith behavior on a survey?
Featured image, a man at prayer in the desert.