01: New York City has often been viewed as an exception to religious America, much in the same way that Europe becomes peculiarly secular compared to the rest of the world.
That assessment of the U.S.’ largest city should be rethought with the recent publication of New York Glory: Religions in the City (NYU Press, $19.50) edited by Tony Carnes and Anna Karpathakis. The 440-page book gathers recent research on a diversity of religious expressions in New York — Rastafarians, Eastern Orthodox converts (written by RW’s editor), a Zen mediation center, Russian Jewish synagogues, Yoruba religion, and Mormonism and Seventh Day Adventism. Of course, this diversity is now found in any metropolitan center today (in fact, the stress on diversity gives short shrift to the large Catholic presence in the city, with only two chapters on ethnic Catholicism).
The more interesting story the book tells is how New York is becoming more like the rest of the U.S. in religious practice and belief. In an introductory overview, Tony Carnes of Columbia University traces this shift to the early 1990s, when Billy Graham held a successful crusade and conservative churches (Catholic and evangelical) joined together to defeat a controversial sex education curriculum.
Throughout the book other examples of a “desecularized” New York appear, including : the influence of New York’s unique evangelical megachurch, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, the growth of the charismatic movement among black churches, the expansion of Mormonism (though the church is uniquely ethnically divided in New York), and the multiplication of Bible institutes in New York, perhaps more than in any other American city.
02: The field of religion and health has grown exponentially in the last decade, fueled by foundation grants, media coverage as well as mounting research into the mind/body/spirit connection.
The new book Realized Religion (Templeton Foundation Press, $29.95), by Theodore Chamberlain and Christopher A. Hall, attempts to pull the loose strands of these studies and other research on religion and health together into a handy reference tool for the educated layperson.
The book summarizes and provides bibliographies on a whole range of health and religion related topics — health in general, faith healing, suicide, mental health (the largest section) and drug abuse. The commentary and summaries by Chamberlain and Hall are made more interesting by their format of placing them in chronological order. For instance, they note that the first scientific study of prayer’s effect on health was in 1883 by Francis Galton. The research was censored by the Church of England, believing religion not suitable for scientific inquiry; a study in 1957 was the next major research project on the topic after Galton’s.
03: The new second edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press, $295), edited by David Barrett, Todd Johnson, and George Kurian, is more ambitious than the original version, which is saying a lot.
As with the first edition in 1982, the new version provides a country-by-country survey of the state of Christianity — and other faiths — with detailed charts on the numbers of adherents in each denomination, as well as the percentages of decline and growth of the different churches. Aside from its valuable statistics, Volume 1 describes the history and current religious situation in each country.
Most of these entries are updated, for instance, accounting for the vast changes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Volume 2, intended more for the missions specialist, provides a detailed listing of the different ethnicities and tribes and their religions throughout the world.
The introduction to the first volume presents an interesting, if eccentric, overview of world Christianity. Among the trends Barrett and his colleagues note are: increased persecution of Christians, a growing tide of charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity in myriad forms (it is estimated that there are 100,000 white-led independent charismatic churches worldwide organized into 3,700 denominations or networks); and new cooperation between Christians in missions.
The figures in this section are likely to be contested. It is difficult to know how the researchers came up with the percentage of bishops (5.0) and evangelists (4.0) being martyred, and how they identified and counted “messianic’ Christians who stay in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other world religions. Nevertheless, the encyclopedia deserves to be in most libraries. It is also recommended to interested individuals, particularly if they can obtain only the first volume separately.