01: A University of Rochester study finds that daily newspapers show “significant gaps in providing readers with an understanding of religious beliefs and practices.
The study, which examined 12 daily newspapers between Feb. 3 and March 2, found that the articles studied rarely explored the beliefs, values and practices of religion and instead described religion in political and legal terms, without using religious terms as a frame of reference. For instance a Los Angeles Times story on an orthodox Jewish request to erect a religious enclosure around the neighborhood to perform daily activities did not explain the teachings behind these actions. Other findings of the study were that Islamic practices were associated with terrorism in each paper studied.
Roman Catholicism was more often linked with criminal or bad behavior (such as sex abuse) than with Catholic beliefs or values, reports Cybercast News Service (May 12). In responding to the study, political analyst Michael Barone noted that the “amount of church news seemed to be proportionate to the church-going habits of the elites in a particular metropolitan area. In Dallas and Atlanta, where a lot of elite people go to church, they printed a lot more church news than in New York or Washington, where most of the elite don’t go to church.”
02: Two recent findings suggest that Buddhists tend to be happier and calmer than other people.
BBC News (May 21) summarizes research from the University of California San Francisco Medical Center where it was found that the practice of Buddhist meditation can tame the amydgala, an area of the brain which is the hub of fear memory. Researchers found that subjects who were practicing Buddhists were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry in comparisons to other people.
The head researcher Paul Ekman concluded that “The most reasonable hypothesis is that there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek.” A separate study conducted through new brain scanning techniques at the University of Wisconsin at Madison confirms previous studies showing unique brain activity in the left prefrontal lobes of experienced Buddhist practitioners.
This area is linked to positive emotions, self control and temperament. Their tests showed that this area of the Buddhists’ brains are constantly lit up and not just when they are meditating “We can now hypothesize with some confidence that those apparently happy, calm Buddhist souls one regularly comes across in places such as Dharmsala, India [home to the Dalai Lama] really are happy,” said Duke University’s Owen Flanagan.
03: A preliminary study of faith-based social services in job training and placement in three states suggests that these groups are less effective than secular agencies.
The study, conducted by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, looked at faith-based and secular social service providers in Massachusetts, Indiana and North Carolina. There was the same rates of job placement between secular and faith-based providers, with the jobs offering similar hourly wages. It was found that clients of faith-based employment providers work substantially fewer hours per week and are less likely to be offered health insurance.
While the organizational networks of providers with a strong faith influence was the weakest, 57 percent of these providers report that contracting with the state in providing these services have affected their mission, leading to greater community involvement. The study also found that congregational leaders lacked knowledge about the constitution’s views on violations of church/state separation. Congregational leaders averaged a score of 66 percent on a simple questionnaire testing constitutional knowledge, such as that tax dollars cannot pay for religious activities such as prayer and Bible study.
(For more information on this study email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
04: The practice of tithing has signiicantly declined in the past year, according to a study by the Barna Research Group.
The portion of U.S. households giving one-tenth of their income to their church dropped from eight percent in 2001 to three percent in 2002, according to the study. George Barna attributed the 62 percent decline to a number of factors: the failing economy, the fear of terrorism and the war in Iraq, and the scandals involving the Catholic Church, which reduced some people’s confidence in organized religion. Those most likely to tithe are people 55 or older, college graduates, Republicans, Southerners, middle-income individuals and evangelicals and those from mainline Protestant churches.
Those least likely to tithe are Catholics, Hispanics, liberals, parents who homeschool their children, Midwesterners, independent voters and households making less than $20,000 whose head had not graduated from college.
05: Canada is showing a growth of unaffiliated individuals, although in some cases immigration is helping stem the flow out of the churches, according to recent census figures.
Canadians who indicated “no religion” on the census account for 16 percent of the population, increasing by four percent from the 1991 census. The percentage of mainline Protestants continued to decline, showing a decline of eight percent (mainly due to a failure to recruit new members to replace aging members) , reports the Toronto Star (May 14) Immigration has particularly bolstered the number of Catholics, now about 12.8 million, as well as, to a lesser extent, the Jews (growing by 3.7 percent because of immigration from the former Soviet Union).
Yet the growth of the unaffiliated may actually be due to immigration, ; one-fifth of the 1.8 million immigrants to Canada between 1991 and 2001 said they had no religion, especially those from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Sociologist Reginald Bibby disputes the idea that Canada is becoming more secular; about 40 percent of those not claiming a religion are under 25 and are likely to turn to a faith when they get older and are in need of rites of passage.
06: Saudi Arabia registered the most serious violations in religious freedom among 15 countries cited in the annual report by the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom.
The commission, the only government agency in the world investigating and reporting religious freedom violations, cited Saudi Arabia’s deportations, arrests, and even torture of foreign Christians in the country. The nation’s special religious police gives similar treatment to Shi’ite Muslim clergy and scholars. Vietnam, China and North Korea were also at the top of the list, particularly as religious freedom has declined in Vietnam since Congress passed a bilateral-trade agreement in 2001.
The commission also criticized the U.S. government for stonewalling human rights activists concerned about the growing repression in Afghanistan.