01: RW’s editor has recently edited the book, Lutherans Today: American Lutheran Identity in the 21st Century (Eerdmans Publishing, $20).
The paperback examines the sociological and historical dimensions of American Lutheranism and is based on the research of 12 contributors. The first part of the book maps the various movements and changes emerging in American Lutheran churches today: the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Lutheran left, charismatic Lutherans, the liturgical evangelical catholics, the Word Alone movement, and megachurches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The second part deals with specific issues and trends concerning the question of Lutheran identity: the clergy and politics, new ethnic Lutherans; multiculturalism, higher education and Lutheran youth. Non-Lutheran readers may find that the book’s discussion of these topics are pertinent to the situation in other churches. RW is offering the book for a discount price of $18 (including postage and handling).
Please make out payments to Religion Watch and send to: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710.
02: Dana Kaplan provides an in-depth examination of trends in the largest U.S. Jewish denomination in his book, American Reform Judaism (Rutgers University Press, $22).
The book offers a readable overview of developments and innovations that have long set Reform apart from the other Jewish branches: it’s adoption of patrillienal descent (conferring Jewish identity to the children of Jewish fathers), acceptance of gay rabbis and same-sex unions (with little of the conflict found in mainline churches), and its increasing strain with Israel.
At the same time, the denomination has introduced traditional practices, rituals and observances — to the consternation of some of its older members. Using rational choice theory, Kaplan argues that Reform will have to walk a tightrope between increasing demands and commitment for members while retaining its inclusive and pluralistic niche in American Judaism.
03: In 2000, Gary R. Bunt, lecturer at the University of Wales (UK), published Virtually Islamic, which made him a pioneer in research on Islam and the Internet.
Three years later — and with 9/11 taking place in the meantime — Bunt is back with, Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber Islamic Environments (Pluto Press, $24.95). This is to a large extent a descriptive volume based on material from a variety of Muslim websites. It focuses on Muslim activism and decision-making on the Web — an important issue for any discussion on Islam in the digital age, since the Internet could pose a growing challenge to traditional sources of authority in Islam.
Individuals can proclaim themselves as “authorities” on Islam and make pronouncements online, issuing fatwas (opinions by Islamic authorities on varied issues. Counseling and advice-seeking online is not peculiar to Islam, but it is nevertheless impressive to see how some websites now offer several thousands fatwas on a wide range of topics.
The use of the web itself raises new questions: Can a Muslim father use spying software in order to monitor his daughter’s online activities? How far is it permissible for men and women to “mix” on the Internet? There is also considerable differences of opinion on these sites. For instance, Bunt found the most contradictory statements on suicide bombings.
He also draws the readers’ attention to burgeoning Islamic websites outside of the Arab world and the Muslim diaspora in the West. While English content played a significant role in the first stage of web development, since 2001 there has been “a profusion of new Arabic and other language content.” The growth of Islamic materials in languages other than English might “shift the current emphasis away from Muslim sites emerging from ‘western’ contexts back to the traditional centres of Islamic learning.” It remains however difficult to quantify the influence Muslim websites have on the lives of believers.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer