Less than half in US know Dalai Lama's religion: poll

Washington, DC - Less than half of Americans know that the Dalai Lama, who is wrapping up a two-week visit to Washington, is Buddhist, a poll shows.

In the US Religious Knowledge Survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 47 percent of Americans correctly identified the Dalai Lama as Buddhist, Pew said Friday as thousands attended a 10-day Buddhist prayer ritual for world peace, led by the Dalai Lama, in Washington.

The Dalai Lama was "chosen" as the next leader of Tibet's Buddhists when he was a young boy. He fled Chinese rule of his homeland in 1959 and has led Tibet from exile in India since then.

He recently said that he was stepping down from his political role but would continue to be the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

Pew conducted its survey on Americans' knowledge of religion last year, asking some 3,400 people to answer 32 questions on the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, world religions -- the section covering the Dalai Lama and Buddhism -- and atheism and agnosticism.

The average respondent answered only half of the 32 questions correctly, while eight participants in the poll scored a perfect 32.

Atheists and Jews did best at identifying the Dalai Lama as being Buddhist -- 74 percent of respondents from both groups got the Tibetan leader's religion right, the Pew poll showed.

The majority of Americans are still Protestant Christians, the religion of the founding fathers, although their numbers have shrunk from 60 percent of the population in 1990 to 51 percent, a separate US poll found in 2009.

That poll, by researchers at Trinity College in Connecticut, also found that the number of Buddhists in the United States has soared, rising from 404,000 followers in 1990 to 1.19 million in 2008.

They still only account for 0.5 percent of the population, though.