01: In early January two journalists launched a new website, Beliefnet.com aiming to be an online spiritual community, resource center and new source for people of all faith communities.
Created by Steven Waldman and Bob Nylan, formerly of Newsweek and U.S.News & World Report, the web site started with a $5 million initial investment. The site is intended for seekers and believers, carrying information on religion, spirituality, and culture, along with family matters and ethics.
Many of the articles are contributed by well known names such as Bishop John Spong, Marcus Borg, Fr. Andrew Greeley, Buddhist Lama Surya Das, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and writers for goddess spirituality. According to a USA Today newspaper story (January 13) the founders are aiming at promoting dialogue among the several groups, with links to major sacred texts, a search engine for local houses of worship, dialogue groups and reading lists.
Within a few months, the site will have an online commerce section carrying crosses, meditation cushions, books, music, travel opportunities, and charity donations.
— By Erling Jorstad
02: A Particular Place, (Rutgers University Press, $21) by Nancy L.Eiesland, provides an interesting look at how congregations function in “exurbs,” those areas on the outskirts of major cities experiencing a transformation through a population explosion, jobs, and housing expansion.
Through in-depth interviews and observations in a once rural town and now exurb near Atlanta, Eiesland recounts how the religious pluralism that comes with the arrival of newcomers affects the congregations in the area. From a town that was once predominantly Methodist and Southern Baptist, a whole range of religious choices are now available to residents. For instance, a new megachurch has an especially strong effect, increasing rivalry and competition among the churches.
But Eiesland concludes that the new diversity also benefits congregations, encouraging new connections between them in order to minister to people’s increasingly “multi-layed patterns of religious belonging. “In contrast to many scholars of religious change, Eiseland does not see clear winners or losers among these congregations (although she notes that some are and will fail), but rather comes to the position that different religious communities fill different niches, with some innovating to meet new needs and others preserving resources and values to meet future needs.
03: David S. Katz’s and Richard H. Popkin’s Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium (Hill and Wang, 1999. $26) may even interest many who have likely tired of reading about millennialism, thanks to the incessant hype concerning Y2K in the media.
Katz and Popkin attempt to trace how religious radicalism has shaped the development of New and Old Worlds, and generally succeed in making an almost tired subject come alive. They do this by spending much time on so-called minor historical characters, such as the Spanish Marrano Alfonso de Zamora who advised Spanish Catholic church officials on Jews and Judaism, influencing Church policy toward Jews. Their comments on the cultural impact of these events on religious radicalism and millennialism are timely and insightful.
Katz and Popkin have also included one of the best overviews of British Israelism and Christian Identity (the ideology underpinning groups such as Aryan Nations). Other chapters explore very effectively the antecedents of Waco and the Unification Church.
— By Lin Collette, RW contributing editor