01: A new religious freedom report from Forum 18, a Norwegian coalition of non-governmental organizations, is unique in its focus on how nations deal with conversions to other faiths, as well as differing registration systems — in other words, how religions are officially recognized and tolerated by governments.
The report, entitled Freedom of Religion, looks at eight countries — Greece, Egypt, Nigeria, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, India, China, and Israel/Palestine. The report finds that there is a general trend toward more state-affiliation of religion outside of the West. This does not necessarily mean a loss of religious freedom (although even in Greece a pattern of penalizing proselytizing any Greek Orthodox member — virtually every Greek citizen — is in place), but the development makes discrimination against faiths more likely.
The final stage of monitoring and registering conversions and proselytizing is seen in China and Turkmenistan where the state attempts to change religious dogma to make religion tools of state policy. The report is available over the web at: http://www.normis.no.
02: Give Me That Online Religion, by Brenda Brasher (Jossey-Bass, $24.95), provides a provocative look at how religious beliefs and practices are expressed in cyberspace.
Brasher holds that the Internet will transform both the style and content of religion and offers some interesting observations about these changes, some of which are alrelady taking place. Online religion is less parochial and will generate less divisions and violence since it is not tied to locality; the use of humor and satire is finding its way into many religious sites. “Cyberspace makes religious humor just as public as religious seriousness,” she writes.
Especially compelling are Brasher’s case studies in which she provides nuanced accounts of how people experience religion online and make the transition from virtual” to real religious communities (for instance, how one man’s introduction to a virtual monastery on the web led to a renewed Catholic life). Brasher is more controversial in a chapter on the “human cyborg,” in which she postulates that ever-increasing computer-human interaction will make Christian concepts and ethics that were shaped in an agrarian environment outdated. In the place of these religions will be online “popular culture religions” that can better relate to these changes in human identity and community induced by computers.
03: Gershom Gorenberg’s The End Of Days (Free Press, $25) looks at the — often literally — explosive subject of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the apocalyptic fervor surrounding this piece of real estate for a segment of Jews and Christians. The Temple Mount, the location of the ancient Jewish Temple, is seen as the site for rebuilding the temple, which will hasten the site of the messiah in the case of ultra-Orthodox Jews or, in the case of many evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians, the return of Christ.
Since most of the Temple Mount is Muslim property, even radical Muslims see the attempt to wrest control of the property (among extremists, by blowing up the Dome of the Rock) and rebuild the temple as hastening the advent of the anti-Christ. Gorenberg, a Jerusalem-based journalist, provides interesting vignettes of the players involved in the Temple Mount movement, particularly the strange alliance between some evangelicals and ultra-orthodox Jews.
Gorenberg makes it clear that these groups are attracting growing support (such as the Jewish movement to rebuild the temple), though not enough to build a mainstream movement as much as serve a catalyst for further unrest and violence in the region.
04: RW readers can still get a discount copy of editor Richard Cimino’s Trusting The Spirit: Renewal and Reform in American Religion (Jossey-Bass) The book looks at six case studies of groups attempting to change and revitalize their religious institutions in Protestant, Catholic and Jewish contexts. Each chapter compares the case studies and and analyzes their effectiveness.
The book, regularly costing $21.95, is intended both for those working in congregational and denominational settings as well as for academics, journalists and others interested in this important current in American religion. The back of the book profiles nearly 50 such reform/renewal groups active today.
For a copy, make out the payment of $17 to Religion Watch and send to: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710.
05: RW readers are invited to contribute clippings of articles on trends in religion to the newsletter as well as original articles.
We are particularly interested in reports on conferences, interviews, and first-hand reporting on emerging trends and issues in religion. Book reviews and summaries of articles — particularly on sources from the Internet — are also welcome. Those familiar with survey research and the sociology of religion are also encouraged to write.
Readers sending in clippings that are used (please include date of article) in the newsletter will receive two extra issues on their subscription. Modest payments are provided for those writing articles for the newsletter.
Send queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710.