In the United States, 59 percent of poll respondents said religion is "very important" in their lives. That was well above the numbers for other industrialized nations including Britain (33 percent), Canada (30 percent), Italy (27 percent), South Korea (25 percent), Germany (21 percent), Japan (12 percent) and France (11 percent).
The poll was sponsored by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which previously issued data comparing 44 nations' political attitudes.
Andrew Kohut, the center director, said previous international polling by the Gallup organization found similar religious patterns. Kohut said he would leave it to historians and sociologists to explain why America is distinct, but stressed the political impact of the findings. "It's who we are, who we've always been," he said, and this "represents an important divide between the United States and our traditional allies" on matters like abortion and use of new biological technologies.
Religiosity in the United States was exceeded by that in all 10 African nations which were polled, six in Latin America and six in Asia (including Turkey, which lies partly in Europe). Senegal (97 percent) was the most religious country while France and the Czech Republic were the least (11 percent each).
Muslim nations ranked high in religiosity. Among traditionally Christian countries, the United States was the only Western nation with numbers similar to those in the Philippines and most of Latin America.
The survey also showed the apparent continuing impact of formerly atheist regimes. Only 36 percent of respondents in Poland, the pope's home country, said religion was very important to them. The numbers were even lower in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Vietnam, the only currently communist country surveyed, posted 24 percent. China did not allow pollsters to ask a religion question.
The project polled 38,000 people in 46 languages between July and October. The margin of error varied by country from 2.1 percentage points to 4.4 percentage points. In some developing nations, only urban areas were covered.