01: Although known as the most secular region on the U.S., the rate of religious devotion has increased markedly in the West, according to a recent Barna Poll.
In Barna’s annual survey tracking religious behavior, it was found that little had changed during the past decade in such areas as church attendance, volunteering and Sunday School adherence. But Bible reading, participation in small group activity and prayer had shown some growth. Bible reading increased from 37 percent in 1994 to 44 percent today, while small group involvement went from just 12 percent in 1994 to 20 percent today.
Barna finds that the West registered the greatest growth in these two areas: Bible reading, which grew from 47 percent in 1994 to 59 percent in 2004, and small group religious activity, which went up among residents of the West from 11 percent to 26 percent. Although figures from the whole decade were not available, the Northeast, however, showed the greatest increase in prayer — from 71 percent in 1999 to 80 percent in 2004.
02: “The universe of the academic study of religion in North America is far more extensive than in any other country,” reports Hans J. Hillerbrand in his analysis of the 2000 survey of undergraduate departments of religion in American universities, published in the March issue of the American Academy of Religion’s Religious Studies News.
But there are only 1,131 departments of religion, religious studies or theology, compared with over 3,000 departments of English and history – a fact attributed in part to the “extensive absence of departments at public colleges and universities.”
Interest in religion is growing, with enrollment increasing by over 15 percent from 1996-97 to 1999-2000; 45.1 percent of all courses offered in 1999-2000 were on Christian topics. The place given to other religions is lower than expected: 1.3% of all courses offered were on Islam and 3.1 percent on Judaism (it remains to be seen in the next survey if there was a significant change in the post 9/11 environment).
Hillerbrand however observes that there are differences from one department to another: Christianity does not occupy a privileged place everywhere. The extensive analysis of the survey has been made available on the AAR website in early April. It reveals that 83.6 percent of the responding institutions offered a course on the New Testament, 42 percent on American religion, 40.4 percent on Judaism, 32.4 percent on Buddhism, 32.3 percent on Islam, 27.3 percent on Hinduism and other religions of India, 20.4 percent on Confucianism and/or Taoism, 18.5 percent on indigenous religions, and 18.4 percent on new religious movements.
(Religious Studies News, American Academy of Religion, 825 Houston Mill Road, NE, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30329; AAR website:http://www.aarweb.org)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)
03: Benevolence giving is at a new low in American religion, while the American Baptists and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) reported the most growth last year, according to the 2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
The rate of benevolence giving (donations made for causes outside of the congregation) declined to 14 percent, making it a new low in the yearbook’s reporting for at least a decade. At the same time, among the 56 denominations reporting, per capita giving increased on average by 5.6 percent (or $35) per person from the previous year to $658.63.
This exceeds the official inflation figure of 2.4 percent for 2002. The LDS reported a growth of 1.88 percent, keeping it the fifth largest church in the U.S. The mainline American Baptist Churches in the U.S. reported a growth rate of almost three percent (2.87 percent), exceeding all other Protestant churches but follows reported declines in 1999 and 2000. The Orthodox Church in America showed a ten percent decline (100,000 members), which reflects a multi-year adjustment in membership data.
04: Two recent studies on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church suggest that its causes stemmed from a mixture of clerical dissent and liberalization and sexual repression during the 1960s.
Peter Steinfels writes in Commonweal magazine (March 26) that a large survey by New York’s’ John Jay College for Criminal Justice found that four percent of the clergy and deacons (one out of every 25 members) were the object of allegations of sexually abusing minors. But the John Jay study and the lay-led National Review Board discounted the idea that celibacy was the main cause for the sexual abuse crisis in the church. Yet the liberalization in the church following Vatican II was not solely responsible either.
The John Jay study did show a surge in these incidents from some point in the 1960s, peaking in the 1970s and then showing a sharp decline by the 1990s. Steinfels writes that it may have been the convergence between a “culture of repression” and the “culture of dissent” that proved combustible. Priests raised and trained in a “sex-denying” culture found in the developments of the 1960s “permission to set aside their celibacy and act out a distorted sexuality, while a segment of younger clergy, ordained in the midst of change, may have never taken to heart the challenge of that celibacy in the first place.”
While the John Jay data leaves much unclear about the role of bishops in handling these abuse cases, it’s finding of a decline in recorded allegations from the mid-1980s and more sharply in the 1990s supports the view that well before 2002, “some bishops had taken effective action.”
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10027-9832)
05: There is significant sympathy for violent and suicide attacks against the U.S. among British Muslims, according to a recent survey.
The survey, conducted by British firm ICM for The Guardian newspaper among 500 Muslims in England, found that 13 percent agreed that attacks by Al Qaida or other groups on the U.S. were justified (with another 15 percent not knowing if such attacks were right or wrong.)
Almost half of the respondents said they might consider becoming a suicide bomber if they lived as a Palestinian. An overwhelming 80 percent said that Tony Blair and George Bush should not have launched the war against Iraq; support among Muslims for Blair’s Labour Party has slipped from 75 percent at the last election to just 38 percent.
Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims seem to be feeling an increasing sense of isolation, with nearly half the adults now wanting their children to go to separate Muslim schools. There is still a clear desire to integrate into mainstream British culture, with 33 percent feeling that more needs to be done, but this feeling seems to have weakened considerably since the previous poll, when 41 percent said they felt that way.