Beliefnet

In the past few months, Americans have focused more than ever on religion, particularly as many turned to houses of worship and to religious leaders in search of answers and consolation following the attacks of September 11. The initial rise in the number of Americans praying and attending worship services has returned, as expected, to normal levels. But while Americans may not have fundamentally altered their personal religious practices, an unprecedented number now believe that the influence of religion is increasing in American life.

A new poll, jointly presented by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that religion is increasing its influence on American life at the present time. Fully 78% now say religion's influence in American life is growing - up from 37% eight months ago and the highest mark on this measure in surveys dating back four decades. At the same time, the public has a better opinion of Muslim-Americans than it did before the attacks, with favorable views of Muslim-Americans rising from 45% in March to 59% today.

The first finding particularly confirms the conclusions reached in Lift Every Voice: A Report on Religion in American Public Life, which the Forum is releasing along with the full results of the poll. The report highlights the ways in which religious issues have grabbed political headlines over the past year and examines the state of debate on these issues. From the unprecedented establishment of a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to the flurry of debate over the morality of stem cell research, the role of religion in public life is now at the forefront of public discourse.

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