01: Far from being a substitute for institutional religion or an incubator of new religions, religious involvement on the internet is a supplement to many believers’ already-strong church involvement, according to a Ball State University study.
At the recent conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), sociologists George Saunders and Joseph Tamney presented a paper showing a high correlation between active involvement in conservative Christian churches and use of the Internet for religious purposes. The survey, conducted among 621 Muncy, Indiana (known as “Middletown” for the many surveys conducted in the city to gauge American public opinion) residents, found that the greater the church attendance, the greater the use of the Internet for religious purposes.
Being a conservative Christian was a major predictor for religious Internet use–80 percent of the users fell into this category. Mainline Protestants who have a literal view of the Bible and Catholics who attend Mass frequently (a key indicator for conservatism among Catholics) also tended to use the Internet for religious purposes more than liberals and non-believers.
The findings contrast with studies by the Barna Research Group and others holding that Americans will use the computer as a substitute for institutional religious involvement. Use of the Internet for spiritual edification may be similar to those watching religious television; both users tend to use such media to supplement their faith. In fact, religious Internet users tended to be the same ones also watching religious television.
02: The Catholic practice of naming one’s children religious names, such as after saints, increases with religious participation and age.
A study by Paul Perl and Jonathon Wiggins of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA) also found that public expressions of Catholic devotion, such as wearing ashes in public and displaying images of Mary in one’s house also tended to increase the likelihood of naming one’s children after a saint or biblical figure. Perl and Wiggins, who presented their paper at the SSSR conference, noted that the survey was conducted among 1,277 Catholic parents.
03: Use of contemporary worship tends to help a church grow more, but it may also leads to conflict and eventual decline in mainline congregations, says a recent paper presented by Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler at the SSSR conference.
Use of contemporary music and other features of worship designed to be relevant to the unchurched works best in churches that have strict expectations of members and in areas where this type of worship is seen as innovative (such as the Northeast). The contemporary style often clashes with mainline teachings and the attempt to impose it, especially by clergy new to the congregation, tends to result in long-term conflict and decline.
Other favorable environments for contemporary services are older downtown churches and churches that have a large ministry to families.
04: Clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are more politically liberal than their counterparts in other mainline churches — except when it comes to the pulpit, according to a recent study presented at the SSSR conference.
The survey, part of a study on clergy and politics at Calvin College, found that ELCA clergy were more likely to be Democrats than clergy in any other mainline body, with two-thirds saying they were politically liberal Lutherans, traditionally considered “quietistic” or passive in social action, were also just as likely to be involved in activism as other mainline clergy.
Dan Hofrenning of St. Olaf College, who led the study, found that ELCA clergy differed from the liberal political attitudes and activism of other mainline clergy only in that they tended to keep their political views out of the pulpit, reserving their preaching for more spiritual and scriptural themes. Another study presented on the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod found the traditional quietistic position among its clergy more evident. There was little connection between doctrinal orthodoxy and support and involvement in Christian right activism — a correlation strongly evident among such evangelicals as Southern Baptists.
05: In the ongoing attempt to determine how many Muslims live in the U.S., a new study claims that the figures have been inflated, finding only between 1.9 million and 2.8 million.
The study, commissioned by the American Jewish Committe and conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, compares its findings to the estimates of six to seven million Muslims used by Islamic groups, the media, and many U.S. officials, reports the Jerusalem Post (Oct. 24).
06: Canada is undergoing a religious revitalization that is not only impacting the evangelical churches showing the most growth, but is gradually buoying up mainline and Catholic bodies, says sociologist Reginald Bibby.
At the SSSR conference, Bibby presented findings showing clear signs of continued evangelical growth– due mainly to these churches’ ability to keep their children and hold on to members. More noteworthy is that there are stirrings of growth in the once-declining sectors of mainline and Catholic churches. Among the mainline churches, the steep decline in the proportion of mainliners attending services weekly stopped, remaining steady at about 15 percent.
For the first time in three decades, the proportion of mainliners who are active in their churches remained fairly constant between 1990 and 2000. The fact that 15 percent of the people identifying with mainline churches continue to be actively involved “means that younger adults have been taking the place of older in sufficient numbers to at least sustain their collective 15 percent level,” writes Bibby.
The percent of young adult mainliners attending weekly grew from four percent in 1990 to nine percent in 2000. Among Catholics outside of Quebec, the number of active participants has remained “remarkably stable,” despite a large drop in weekly attenders. Quebec continues to show serious secularization, though there is no sign of large-scale switching to other bodies, and there is an upswing among those demanding rites of passage, such as religious funerals and weddings.