A new Gallup Poll reflects what pollster George Gallup Jr. describes as "a rising tide of interest and involvement in religion among all levels of society, and particularly among Protestants" in this country.
The telephone sampling of 1,029 adults, conducted during the last week of July, indicated that six out of ten Americans said they were currently more interested in religious and spiritual matters than they were five years ago.
At the same time, Gallup said that only about 12 percent of the population could be classified as "highly committed" to their religious faith.
The percentage of people who attend church or synagogue has remained relatively static since the end of the '60s, with 41.5 percent currently claiming they had done so within the past seven days.
The newest study, which was commissioned by the Christian Broadcasting Network and which Gallup commented on yesterday during the network's "700 Club" program, reports increasing participation in a variety of religious activities outside formal worship services.
Four out of ten adults surveyed said they had participated in one or more in a list of 10 activities such as Bible study, special prayer groups, evangelism, and speaking in tongues.
Bible study attracted the largest proportion--26 percent, or one out of every four Americans. That figure is up from 19 percent in 1978, Gallup said.
The 10 categories of extra-church activities listed included only religious self-improvement, prayer or efforts at winning new converts. There was no category listed for social service or social justice activity.
On the whole, college graduates tended to be as much involved in the extra-church activities as those with less education. Protestants (51 percent of those sampled) were more likely to be involved than Catholics (27 percent of those asked). Catholics, on the other hand, outpaced Protestants in church attendance by 5 percentage points.
According to the study, more than one-third of Americans say their religious beliefs influence their political views to a greater extent than was the case five years ago, but 27 percent said religion's influence on their politics has decreased.
Just about half of the sample said they felt that people generally were "trying to put their religious faith into practice in helping others" more now than they did five years ago, while 34.8 percent said that was happening to a lesser extent.
Gallup, an Episcopalian who has displayed an enthusiasm for evangelical Christianity over the years, said the survey showed "a growing conviction that religion rather than science can answer the problems of the world."
"Americans today, by a 2-to-1 ratio, say they are more likely than five years ago to say that religion can answer the problems of the world," he reported, whereas 36 percent say they are now more likely than they were five years ago to look to science for answer to world problems.
The study found that 56 percent of Americans say they rely on God more than they did five years ago, with 13 percent less reliant and 29 percent "about the same."