01: The December issue of Wired magazine focuses on new connections between science and religion.
The issue provides thumbnail sketches and interviews of scientists’ beliefs, a profile of the Vatican’s official astrophysicist, and a theological reflection on the transcendent and even spiritual nature of computation. The lead article by Gregg Easterbrook will likely be of most interest to RW readers, as it provides a good update on how scientists and theologians are increasingly discovering each other. Easterbrook writes that since the discovery of the big bang theory, science has been “backing away from its case-closed attitude toward the transcendent unknown.”
Other more recent discoveries of unknown forces covering the universe–from masses of “dark matter” to the speeding up of cosmic expansion–are leading scientists to reach out to spiritual leaders “to help them comprehend what they’re learning.” The new era of biotechnology is also making many scientists realize they are stepping into territory ‘best navigated with the aid of philosophers and theologians.”
Easterbrook suggests that the new popularity of intelligent design theory among conservative religionists–which acknowledges some form of evolution– may further strengthen the new science-religion convergence.
For more on this issue go to: http://www.wiredmag.com
02: Protestantism In America (Columbia University Press, $35), by Randall Balmer and Lauren F. Winner, aims to provide an overview of developments in the largest sector of American religion and comes close to fulfilling this purpose.
The book consists of general history, case studies of Protestant congregations, biographical profiles of notable American Protestant leaders, and discussions of current trends — all in 245 pages. Balmer and Winner focus on common trends in American church bodies, specifically focusing on the major conflicts over feminism, homosexuality and social justice.
They tend to neglect the growth and changes found in specific theological movements, such as Calvinism (i.e., its growing influence in the Southern Baptist Convention), and fundamentalism (applying the fundamentalist label to a wide range of groups not usually categorized in this camp).
But almost every other major trend in Protestantism is given knowledgeable treatment: Promise Keepers, evangelical feminism, the growth of scholarship among conservative Protestants, the discovery of spiritual direction and the recovery of liturgy, faith-based social service, megachurches, and GenX ministries. Balmer and Winner clearly are of the view that evangelicals will carry the day for Protestantism. The book is particularly recommended to readers who are new to the multi-faceted nature of American Protestantism.
03: Vibert L. White Jr’s Inside The Nation Of Islam (University Press of Florida,$24.95) runs counter to other books and articles suggesting that Louis Farrakhan’s group is gradually moving toward mainstream Islam.
White, a former Nation of Islam (NOI) leader and now professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois, examines the history of the NOI, particularly focusing on the inner-workings of the group since it was reestablished by Farrakhan in 1977. White recounts his involvement in the NOI, and reports a continuing pattern of divisions, feuds and financial misdoings (with many of the group’s businesses ending up bankrupt or in debt).
Although far from a disinterested observer, White doubts reports that the NOI will move toward a non-racialist orthodox Muslim mainstream. This is mainly because the movement is so closely tied to Farrakhan, as well as due to continued pressure from militants to move back to a stronger black nationalist identity.
04: In recent months, a lot has been published on religion and politics, but for obvious reasons, the focus has llargelybeen on Islam.
Readers are well aware that this is a much wider issue, so It is refreshing to see a new book, Religion and Politics in the Developing World: Explosive Interactions, edited by Rolin Mainuddin, (Ashgate, $64.95). One shouldn’t try to look for a common thread in this collection of essays, as the book deals with both Muslim and non Muslim areas of the world. What makes the volume valuable are the individual case studies, particularly for those not already well familiar with each local situation.
For instance, there is an excellent and clear overview of religious parties in the Israeli political landscape. It is useful too to have an essay on Muslim indentity in Bangladesh or on “Voodoo, Christianity and Politics” in Haiti.
If a wider picture emerges from the book, it is one showing how traditional religions adjust to changing circumstances. The chapter on Nicaragua shows how the Roman Catholic Church went through mutations and internal tensions in its relationship to (successive) State powers.
The Catholic Church in Mexico has been able to continue its work through decades of State-sponsored attempts to decrease its influence and has managed well; it now remains to be seen how it will adjust to the challenge of a new religious pluralism. Indeed the conflict potential deriving from religious pluralism might be one of the other lessons from some chapters of the book.
In a few cases, if we are to believe the authors, the prospects are grim. The chapter on Haiti closes with the prediction that, “in the very near future”, Voodooists, Roman Catholics and Protestants “will struggle for control of the government — and then there will be an explosive violence that will become legendary.” Other authors are more hopeful (but would they still be today?): over time, Hamas’ role in Palestinian politics “may be marginalized”, concludes the chapter on Palestine.
— Reviewed By Jean-François Mayer