01: A good part of the April issue of the Journal of Democracy focuses on the democratic prospects of Christianity.
Although the contributors make it clear that today there is no inevitable link between a particular tradition and democratic culture, there are particular religious tendencies, movements and trends that move in that direction. Robert Woodberry and Timothy Shah suggest that historically Protestantism has been the most instrumental force in shaping democracy and economic development. Yet the Calvinist force driving such changes has weakened, replaced by newer movements, such as Pentecostalism, that may exert less disciplined force.
Daniel Philpott acknowledges that Catholicism was behind the “third wave” of democratization in much of the Third World and Eastern Europe. But the church finds itself in a new situation where it walks the tightrope between giving up political power while rallying its members to political causes. Lastly, Elizabeth Prodromou looks at Eastern Orthodoxy and notes that its encounter with American pluralism and democracy has implications for the church worldwide.
The growing internal diversity in these churches will also enhance the encounter with democracy, even if some do not follow the U.S. marketplace model of American pluralism (for instance, retaining state church status in Greece and Russia). For more information on this issue write: Journal of Democracy, 1101 15th St., NW, Suite 802, Washington, DC 20005.
02: Japanese Religions on the Internet, part of a project by Japanese Department of the University of Tübingen in Germany, provides a systematically categorized list of links to Japanese religions. The website (at http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/cyberreligion/) covers such traditional religions as Shintoism and Buddhism as well as New Age religions.
It provides links not only to the official sites of those religious traditions, but also to local and virtual religious organizations around the world. Readers can explore a Seventh-day Adventist church in Okinawa, a Shinto Shrine in the US and Scientology in Tokyo, as well as the official sites of such Japanese groups as Shingon-shu Buzannha and Oomoto. The site also includes an interesting study on the Internet sites of new religions (such as Shinnyoen, the GLA, and the Kofuku no Kagaku) by Birgit Staemmier, analyzing the relation between their use of the Internet and their methods of proselytizing.
— By Sairenji Ayako, a New Jersey-based freelance writer and researcher.
03: There have been few, if any, books on contemporary or even historical atheist and secularist movements in the U.S. Susan Jacoby’s new bookFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism (Metropolitan Books, $27.50) does a good job on the historical dimensions of this phenomenon even if it leaves a lot to be desired in assessing its contemporary shape.
Jacoby traces the rise of figures and groups — not all necessarily atheist — holding to “freethought,” which is defined as taking a “rationalist approach to questions of earthly existence.” Under this tent, Jacoby includes Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll as well as dissenting Quakers and unaffiliated abolitionist and “secular Jewish” feminist rights activists of the 1960s.
Although touching on historic freethought institutions such as the Truth Seeker newspaper, Jacoby focuses on the intellectuals and activists; she admits that as a social movement freethought had lost its strength by the 1920s. She tends toward the view that there are many “closet” secularists in the U.S., particularly with the growth of the New Christian Right and its influence on the Bush administration. But by expanding the definition of secularists to also include those holding to a strict separation of church and state, the book misses the opportunity to examine the contours of America’s non-believing community.
04: Religion And Public Life In The Pacific Northwest (Alta Mira Press, $19.95), edited by Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk, is the first of an innovative series on religion and regionalism. The Pacific Northwest is known for its large unchurched population and much of the book reveals interesting aspects of this American anomaly — from the rise of a “secular spirituality” of environmentalism (a trend even impacting conservative Christians) to extensive religious consumerism and pluralism. But there has also been a growth of new and world religions (through immigration) as well as evangelicalism in the region, which complicates the picture.
A particularly interesting chapter looks at how mainline Protestants and Catholics are being outgrown by “entrepreneurial” evangelical churches that blend cultural relevance and traditional theology. Killen concludes that the two main clusters of public religion in the region are now represented by evangelicals and “spiritual environmental” groups are increasingly facing off on culture wars issues, such as euthanasia, gay rights and the environment.