The majority of Scots believe prayer can change the world, that there is life after death, and that not everything can be explained by science.
A report of attitudes towards faith and belief in Scotland also warns of a potential “new sectarianism” with a gap appearing to be opening between religious and non-religious people.
Experts recommend setting up a national advisory board to address areas of concern, such as people with no religious belief feeling excluded from public consultations.
The Faith and Belief in Scotland report by the University of Edinburgh was commissioned by the Scottish Government to help councils provide services for people of religion and belief. Those described as “people of belief” in the report are those who do not belong to an organised religion.
More than 1,400 people were asked 38 questions relating to current ethical issues.
The major faith groups and the philosophical belief systems of secularism and humanism were represented.
Of the respondents, 66 per cent said there were things in life that science cannot explain.
Some 58 per cent said prayer can have a real effect on the world. Fifty-four per cent believed in life after death, with more people believing in heaven (45 per cent) than hell (37 per cent).
Professor Mona Siddiqui, from the university’s school of divinity, and Dr Anthony Allison, the project’s lead researcher, said the results demonstrated the diversity of perspective and opinion that exists. An example of the diversity was revealed over the issue of same-sex couples with opinion strongly divided within both religious and belief groups.
Almost half said that same-sex couples with no religious affiliations should not be allowed to marry in a religious place of worship. Less than a quarter believed they should.
However, if same-sex couples had a religious belief, half thought they should be allowed to marry in a place of worship. Only 29 per cent objected.
Most Scots (59 per cent) felt that their own beliefs were misunderstood by the wider community, with three-quarters saying it was important people learn more about their world view. The report’s authors said Scottish society was becoming more ethnically and religiously diverse.
The 2011 Scottish census results on religion revealed 54 per cent of people identify with Christianity and 37 per cent with no religion.
Those identifying with no religion were also the group seeing the largest growth from the 2001 to 2011 census – an increase of 9 per cent.
In the same period, by contrast, those identifying with Christianity saw a decrease of 11 per cent and most other minority religions either remained the same or showed small percentage increases. However, the report said the short and long-term impact of such demographic changes remained to be seen and it was not known if the trends would continue.
Prof Siddiqui said action needed to be taken to make Scottish society less divisive.
She added: “The issues around religion in public life are creating a new tension and dynamic in Scotland, and it is important that we minimise unnecessary division for the sake of a more inclusive Scotland.”
Dr Allison said the next challenge was getting people to understand each other and talk “to” one another rather than “at” each other.
He added: “I think the findings confirm what a number of people suspect. Spirituality is alive and well in Scotland and takes various forms cutting across the religious and not religious divide.”