01: European scholars have long held that the U.S. is the exception to the secularization occurring in the Western world.
Grace Davie’s new book Religion in Modern Europe: A Memory Mutates (Oxford, $27.95) demonstrates that it is actually Europe that is now exceptional. Davie, a British sociologist, presents evidence of continuing disaffection from the established (particularly, the state) churches at a time when religion is flourishing in most other parts of the world. Yet she finds that the churches still serve as reservoirs of a European Christian memory, particularly as they commemorate important personal (baptisms, weddings) and public (Princess Diana’s funeral) events.
In many cases (such as in the state churches of Scandinavia or Britain), the memories are more vicarious; members do not necessarily hold to church teachings, but they are adamant that rituals and churches be maintained “on behalf of both the individual and the community.” Although fewer Europeans — particularly among the young — may hold this Christian memory, particularly as unconventional (such as New Age) and minority faiths make their presence known on the continent.
Davie also points out that innovations and what she calls “alternative memories” are also growing in Christian quarters, such as in the “seeker” sprituality centered around pilgrimages and sacred sites (she doesn’t include much on the growth of evangelical congregations in Europe).
02: Signature Books and the Italy-based Center for the Studies of New Religions (CESNUR), have issued a new series on new and alternative religious movements.
The first book in the series, The Church of Scientology, by new religions specialist J. Gordon Melton, provides mainly an historical overview of Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. Although very brief (80 pages), the book gives an interesting account of the evolution of Hubbard’s teachings from secular “mind technology” to Scientology theology.
Melton provides a fairly even-handed account of Scientology’s legal battles and how some of its teachings (such as on justice and punishment) have fueled legitimate charges of abuse. Scientology critics will not like the fact that Melton treats Scientology as a legitimate religion (rather than, as many anti-cultists maintain, a front for a psychological and financial organization) that does not practice mind control.
Writing in a similar vein is Massimo Introvigne, author of the second book of the series, The Unification Church. Most of the book (also 80 pages) looks at the history and theology of the church and also seeks to debunk the anti-cult charges of mind control. Introvigne provides an interesting look at recent developments in Unificationism: how contact with the “spirit world” often through deceased leaders, “seem paramount among Moon’s recent concerns;” the establishment of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, which seeks to revamp the UC into a broader social movement; and the shift in mission from North to South America.
Both books cost $12.95 and are available from Signature Press, 546 West 400 North, Salt Lake City, UT 84116-3411 or www.signaturebooksinc.com.