01: A new nationwide survey of 2,002 adults, conducted by Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, shows that there has been a significant rise in negative perceptions about Islam.
Fully 44 percent now believe that Islam is more likely than other religions “to encourage violence among its believers.” As recently as March 2002, just 25 percent expressed this view. A separate study by the Pew Research Center in June 2003 found a similar change in the number of Americans who see Muslims as anti-American: 49 percent believe that a significant portion of Muslims around the world hold anti-American views, up from 36 percent in March 2002.
In the new survey, most Americans continue to rate Muslim-Americans favorably, though the percentage is inching downward. A declining number of Americans say their own religion has a lot in common with Islam 22 percent now, compared with 27 percent in 2002 and 31 percent shortly after the terrorist attacks in the fall of 2001. White evangelical Christians and political conservatives hold more negative views of Muslims and are more likely than other Americans to say that Islam encourages violence among its followers.
02: A national study of Arab American women finds that Christian and Muslim affiliation are less influential in holding liberal gender attitudes than are the levels of religiosity and ethnicity maintained at home.
The study, one of the largest of its kind, conducted by Jen`nan Ghazal Read, and published in the journal Sociology of Religion (Summer) surveyed 501 Arab Christian and Arab Muslim women. She found that Muslim women are more traditional in gender roles and views than their non-Muslim counterparts.
The differences are due to the fact that Muslims are more likely to be recent immigrants, have an Arab spouse, participate in ethnic groups, and hold to an inerrant religious text. Once these “differences are considered, the influence of Muslim affiliation on gender traditionalism disappears,” Read writes.
But similar high patterns of religiosity (measured by attendance at a mosque or church, personal devotion and adherence to scriptural inerrency) had a similar effect on gender attitudes for both Arab Christian and Muslim women. Read concludes that “ethnic and religious affiliation may be less predictive of gender beliefs than degree of attachment to these communities.”
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03: There is not as large a percentage of Hispanics switching to Protestantism as has been claimed, but there is a more recent and growing category of Hispanics claiming no religion.
Those are some of the findings of a study conducted by the Program for the Analysis of Religion Among Latinos (PARAL). The study, which is largely based on the American Religious Identification Survey, is said to be one of the largest among Hispanics, with 3,000 respondents. In Americamagazine (July 7-14), PARAL director Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo writes that the Protestant share of the Hispanic adult population has held steady (26 percent in 1990 and 25 percent in 2001, with even Pentecostals growing only from about three to four percent).
The Catholic share of the American Hispanic population did drop from 66 percent to 57 percent, but that is mainly because the percentage of the Hispanic “no religion” group grew from six percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2001. Because the overall number of Hispanics (and thus Hispanic Catholics and Protestants) grew by 54 percent in this period, the growing no religion category went unnoticed (the trend is largest in the farming areas of the Midwest, where there are few ministries for these new immigrants) . The unchurched growth may partly be explained by the new Catholic policy of not allowing baptisms and first communion for children whose parents who do not have a “contractual form of association with a parish.”
This is a break from the practice of older immigrant groups, who maintained a “cultural Catholicism” even though they had loose ties to the parish. This new restriction of the sacraments may be one reason why many Hispanics identify with “no religion” even though they clearly still believe in God, miracles and attend Mass on festivals and important times in their lives.
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04: A survey by Yoga Journal found that the number of yoga practitioners in the US has tripled from 5 million in 1998 to 15 million. The June 23 Apologia Report also cites the survey as showing that “Most Americans are now accessing yoga through their regular gyms and fitness centers.”
05: Most American voters said the publicized beliefs and faiths of both President George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman will not influence them to vote for either man, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University.
The poll, cited in Baptists Today magazine (July), finds that 69 percent of Americans said they are not likely to vote for Bush because of his religion and 85 percent said the same about Lieberman. Only 18 percent said they would use such criteria in voting for Bush and just six percent said the same for Lieberman. Meanwhile, 11 percent said Bush’s faith could be a negative factor in their voting, and six percent said Lieberman’s faith may make them less likely to cast a vote for him.
Yet the survey also found broad agreement on the influential role of religion in public life (67 percent), with 43 percent (61 percent of churchgoers) saying faith should have a larger role.
06: American youth fascination with the supernatural as reflected in the entertainment media has been shaped by evangelicalism, according to a recent study.
In an interview with Christianity Today (July 11), Lynn Schofield Clark says that shows and films such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Matrix borrow evangelical imagery, symbols and stories in their wide appeal to youth. She adds that such media does not so much draw inspiration from the evangelical message but rather uses such symbols to portray the teen culture’s search for spirituality.
In her research of unchurched young people, she found that in their beliefs and experiences with the supernatural, “they often used the language common to evangelicals — language such as angels and demons, and how bad behavior is punished. They said we should be on our best behavior because that’s something that is honorable to God.” Yet rebellion against evangelical norms are also influential in teen culture. “So as evangelicals bash things like witchcraft, it becomes more intriguing for young people who might be drawn to those things — simply out of a desire to rebel.”
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07: While the European-American gap in religious beliefs and practices remains strong, such differences don’t have much to do with recent tensions between Europe and the U.S., according to pollster Andrew Kohut.
Media reports and pundits have alleged that Europe’s secularism is driving the continent’s current anti-Americanism, particularly as it is directed at the religious rhetoric of U.S. President George W. Bush. But in presenting recent survey research at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Kohut, of the Pew Research Center, says that it is European’s discomfort with America’s unrivaled power much more than a clash between religious and secular values that is behind much of the unrest.
The European-American differences between religion, individualism and other value clashes “that we see in our surveys are now as large and almost identical to what we found in a 17-nation European survey in 1991.” The religious and values differences between Europeans and Americans — as seen in European criticism of Bush’s use of religious imagery and terms (axis of evil) “accentuates rather than creates, the divides in policy and perceptions of the U.S. role in the world,” Kohut concludes.
08: According to the latest statistics released by the Roman Catholic Church, there are 108 millions baptized Catholics in Asia — 10.1 percent of the total number of Catholics in the world, reports the French Catholic news service Eglises d’Asie (July 16).
But the percentage of seminarians is significantly higher, and this may have an influence on the future of the Church: there are 27,265 Catholic seminarians in Asia, — 24.9 percent of the total number of Catholic seminarians around the world. There has been already a regular increase in the number of Asian priests since John Paul II was elected: while the number of priests has declined in some other parts of the world, such as Europe, the number of Asian priests has gone from 27,700 in 1978 to 44,446 in 2001.
Asian bishops make already nearly 15 percent of the Catholic bishops. There is only one exception to the clergy increase in Asia, observes Eglises d’Asie: there are very few permanent deacons on the Asian continent (115 only, in comparison with 19,000 on the American continent).
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor and founder of Religioscope (http://www/religioscope.com)