01: An important if little known trend in new religious movements is the transition of much of New Age spirituality into today’s Neopaganism.
The phenomenon is well explained in a recent bibliographical essay in the Books and Culture Series (located at this website: http.//www.christianityonline.com/ct/current9C14/9C141b.html), sponsored by the evangelical review Books and Culture. The author, Irving Hexham of the University of Calgary reviews eight recently studied scholarly works which demonstrates three trends: the New Age spirituality of the l980 has effectively run its course; the evangelical scholarly critique of that movement misunderstood its essence from the beginning and thus presented a faulty evaluation of it; and third, the energy and leadership of New Age religion is now moving in the direction of the unfolding Neopagan movement.
For instance, Hexham cites the findings of Prof. Graham Harvey’s work in showing how the transition is due to Neopaganisms’ more convincing views on earth spirituality, the role of gender, and goddess religious thought Hexham concludes by quoting one specialist who says the “academic study of esotericism and of New Religious Movements” has just begun.
— By Erling Jorstad
02: While there are a growing number of studies on conservative Catholics (and other Christians), the new book, What’s Left: Liberal American Catholics (Indiana University Press, $17.95) is something of a first.
The book, edited by Mary Jo Weaver, is the companion volume to Being Right, a study of the Catholic right. The previous book had the advantage of including both scholarly essays based on interviews and ethnographic research and “insider” essays by conservatives themselves. The new book is written by scholars mainly involved or sympathetic to liberal Catholic causes, such as feminism, gay rights and democracy in the church, and new forms of worship and social action.
Even if there is some bias interwoven into many of these contributions, the book does provide a valuable and candid mapping of the liberal Catholic world. The contribution on Womenchurch, a radical feminist group, by Rosemary Radford Ruether, suggests that this movement is heading in increasingly “post-Christian” directions where the “sacrality of the natural is primary.” A chapter on worship and the liturgy, meanwhile, shows that liberal Catholic influence, with its stress on community and lay participation, has in varying degrees shaped American parish life.
03: Journalist Richard Ostling’s Mormon America (HarperSanFrancisco, $26) is a comprehensive and interesting account of Mormonism in the U.S.
Ostling, who often reported on the LDS church as religion editor of Time magazine, recounts the history of the church, as well as current trends involving leadership, political influence, missions, finances, family life, scholarship (particularly the conflicts involving historical research of the church’s beginnings) and theology.
Ostling also looks at less well-known facets of Mormon life including dissident and anti-Mormon groups and the resulting growth of Mormon apologetics (or defense of the faith). Ostling is optimistic about continued Mormon growth and vitality, but cautions that secrecy in the leadership, membership retention problems, and an Americanized organizational culture in a growing world church may pose future obstacles for Latter Day Saints.
04: Readers interested in religious trends and how they may play out in the near future (we’re trying to avoid using the word “millennium” for a while) can still get a discount copy of Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium by RW’s editor and Don Lattin, religion writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.
The book is available for only $18 (regular price is $25) without any additional postage and handling charges. A CD-ROM that links readers from discussions in the text to pertinent web sites is included with each copy.
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