01: It is assumed that immigration changes congregations in the U.S., but the same patterns of departure and arrival also affect the religious life of these newcomers’ “host” countries, according to recent research among Dominican immigrants.
Harvard University sociologist Peggy Levitt studied the ties Dominican immigrants have to the Catholic church both in the U.S. and back in their native country, to which many return. The increasing tendency for migrants to keep feet in both worlds (for instance, in the Dominican Republic and the U.S.)., as well as the new “ease of transport, new technology, sending-state policies, and increasing economic and political interdependence means that some immigrants communicate [religious] practices back to their homelands,” Levitt writes in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (March).
In studying Dominicans as they move between the Dominican Republic and Boston, Levitt found that those returning to their home country from the U.S. brought back such religious ideas and practices to their Catholic parishes as more lay leadership, organized hospitality to parishioners, and greater freedom for women in various ministries. More significantly, the style of Catholicism these migrants brought back the Dominican Republic was more formal, “official” and bureaucratic.
Popular home-based, folk practices were replaced by official ceremonies; returnees and others they influenced went to Mass more frequently and joined Catholic renewal groups. As church involvement was often seen as a stepping stone to emigration, there was more participation to further non-religious goals, with such sacraments as baptism (in order to obtain birth records for emigration) being “commercialized.”
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1365 Stone Hall, Sociology Dept., Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1365).
02: New studies in church attendance not only show lower rates than usually reported but also suggest that a pattern of over-reporting such activity takes place among people with strong ties to churches, according to researchers C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler.
The past several years has witnessed a sharp debate among pollsters and sociologists about how many Americans actually attend church services. Pollsters, such as the Gallup Organization, maintain that there is a stable 40 percent of Americans who attend church in a given week, while Hadaway, Marler and other sociologists hold that over-reporting is taking place, with only about half that rate actually attending church.
Writing in the Christian Century (May 6), Hadaway and Marler claim that they have updated their research and still come up with low attendance rates. They recently made head counts (their method of surveying) of Catholics added to their previous count of Protestants in Ashtabula County, Ohio and found that 24 percent of Catholics attended Mass during an average week. This is in contrast to a recent poll of Ashtabula County residents where 51 percent of Catholics had reported attending Mass during the past week.
Marler and Hadaway also conducted a new study of church attendance in Oxford County in southern Ontario. The results confirm that a large attendance gap also exists north of the U.S. border. Hadaway and Marler hold that people are overreporting their attendance to pollsters because they consider themselves to be churchgoers, even if they miss services. Most people report what they “usually do” or what they think someone like them ought to do.
By telling poll takers they did not attend church in the previous week (which is how most such survey questions are phrased), they would be “identified symbolically as nonchurchgoers.” As long as this self-perception of many Americans as active churchgoers holds strong, the proportion claiming weekly attendance will hold strong. But such rates may drop if the perception that being a committed Christian or religious person is no longer linked to regular church attendance.
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
03: Presbyterians, both clergy and laity, spend little time on evangelism and many are unsure what is meant by the term, according to a study of members of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The survey, conducted among church members by the denominational polling group, Presbyterian Panel during 1996, found that Presbyterians don’t spend much time in evangelism. Clergy themselves devote little time to outreach activities–about four hours a month or an hour a week. Interestingly, pastors tended to think it was the laity’s task to increase membership and evangelize, while laypeople viewed the pastor in this role.
Evangelistic resources produced by the denomination were not well-known among clergy and members. The best known evangelism resource, the periodical Net Results, is produced by an independent organization and has an ecumenical audience.
(Presbyterian Panel, 100 Witherspoon St., Louisville, KY 40202)
04: Seventy-five percent of scientists around the world believe in God, according to a poll conducted by the Italian magazine Class.
The National Catholic Register (May 10-16) cites the survey as showing that the scientists cite various reasons for their belief in God: only seven percent looked to scientific proof for such belief; 31 percent acknowledge that their belief is due to cultural factors; an additional five percent found their faith through study, while 50 percent say their belief is purely by faith. Seven percent said they arrived at their religious convictions through other means.
(National Catholic Reporter, 33 Rosotto Dr., Hamden, CT 06514)