01: The divisions over such issues as stem cell research, same-sex marriage and abortion are more pronounced and influenced by religious ideology among members of Congress than among their constituents, according to a study of congressional voting patterns over the last quarter-century.
The study, conducted by sociologists William D’Antonio and Steven Tuch, finds that religious affiliation helped create an ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats that virtually ensures a partisan split on most votes before lawmakers. The researchers checked the religious affiliation of members of Congress against their votes on abortion cast from 1979 to 2003 and then correlated those results with votes on other issues, such as military spending, welfare and tax reform.
The Washington Post (Aug. 28) reports that what D’Antonio and Tuch discovered were “trends in voting patterns relating to religious affiliation that went beyond the broadly acknowledged impact of evangelical Christianity in American politics, which began with the emergence of the Moral Majority in 1980.”
Democrats were more likely to support abortion rights and Republicans, anti-abortion measures. But members of Congress were more likely to vote on abortion issues based on personal convictions, religious or otherwise — votes that often conflicted with others in their party.
Today, there appears to be few, if any, disputes within parties over abortion, though the general population is more divided on the issue, particularly over the extent to which the procedure can be performed. “But on Capitol Hill, ethical nuances have given way to the party line, with Democrats typically favoring access to abortion and Republicans generally rejecting it,” the article adds.
James Guth, who has examined religious affiliation and voting patterns in the House of Representatives, says a “substantial increase” in the number of evangelical Protestants in Congress, most of them Republicans, has contributed to the moral climate of voting on abortion and other cultural issues.
02: A recent study of college students finds that the most religious tend to be politically conservative, except on the issues of the death penalty and gun control. The study, conducted by UCLA, surveyed 3,680 students at 46 colleges and universities and found that one-fifth of students described themselves as “highly religious.”
About the same percentage said they had low levels of religious engagement (defined by attendance at services and campus religious organizations and reading sacred texts). America magazine (Aug. 16-23) reports that the largest gap between the highly religious and those less so was in attitudes about casual sex (seven percent of highly religious students found it acceptable compared to 80 percent of the least religious) and on views on legalized abortion (24 percent wanted to keep it legal compared to 79 percent of the least religious). But on gun control, 75 percent of the most religious and 70 percent of the least felt that the federal government should do more to control the sale of handguns. Thirty eight percent of the most religious opposed the death penalty, compared to just 23 percent of the least religious.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019)
03: A new poll suggests that the Republican effort to court Jewish Americans has not been very successful. The Washington Times (Aug. 17) reports that the poll that shows George Bush trailing Sen. John Kerry among Jewish voters in the race for president by 53 percentage points.
The poll, conducted for the National Jewish Democratic Council, finds that Kerry leads Bush 75 percent to 22 percent–less than the 79 percent that exit polls said was won by the 2000 Democratic ticket of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. This low rating comes aftere Bush has shown strong support for Israel and has pursued a political outreach that included an official White House menorah-lighting ceremony and a Hanukkah party this past December.
This could set up an “ironic double win,” because polls show Kerry leading among Arab-Americans as well — a switch from Bush’s success with that bloc in 2000. The NJDC poll shows a dip in support from last year, when an American Jewish Council poll found Bush with 31 percent of support.
04: As many as 16 basic human needs motivate people to embrace religious faith, claims a recent study. Previous psychological research has explained religion in terms of one or two basic needs, such as fear of death and guilt.
Ohio State psychology professor Steven Reiss, who conducted the study, posits 16 human desires often motivating religious adherence, including power, family, status, romance and tranquillity. To develop what he calls his “sensitivity theory,” Reiss used a 120-question survey of about 10,000 people, reports the September issue of Science & Theology News.
(Science & Theology News, http://www.stnews.org)
05: Protestant ministers in the United States often have moderate familiarity with the core beliefs of Islam but little familiarity with religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions, according to a recent poll by Ellison Research.
Protestant clergy tend to be most familiar with Roman Catholicism and Judaism among non-Protestant faith groups, the study found. Forty-seven percent of respondents are familiar with the core beliefs of Islam, 43 percent with New Age beliefs, 28 percent with Buddhism, and 27 percent with Hinduism. Familiarity with different faith groups does not vary much by different areas of the country, but there are some differences denominationally.
On average, of five major denominational groups examined separately in the study findings, Methodists and Pentecostals are the least likely to be familiar with the beliefs of other faith groups, while Lutherans are the most likely.
06: Evangelical fathers are innovating a “neo-traditional” style of parenting that blends discipline with strong involvement and responsibility, according to research by sociologist Bradford Wilcox.
In an interview with Christianity Today (August), Wilcox, who recently wrote the book, Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands, (University of Chicago Press) says that the tendency to equate patriarchal religion with domestic violence stands on shaky ground. Wilcox finds that practicing evangelical husbands have the lowest rates of domestic violence in the U.S. While evangelical fathers do exert stricter discipline and spank their children more than most other fathers, they have high rates of what Wilcox calls “familism,” which entails high views of the marital vow and involvement with their children.
Compared to the average American husband, evangelical men are more likely to spend time with their children and wife. Wilcox found that even though evangelical fathers do less housework than other men, they are more likely to thank their wives for the work they do. Wilcox notes,. however, that evangelicals who don’t practice the faith have the highest rates of domestic violence of any group in the U.S., as well as high divorce rates.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
07: While Buddhism has had disproportionate influence on Americans in relation to its actual size, it is mostly the non-affiliated who have felt such impact, according to a recent study.
In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (September), Robert Wutnow and Wendy Cadge write that Americans affiliated with Buddhist groups only number an estimated one to four million, yet the number of people claiming contact with Buddhism or Buddhists has been found to be as high as 25-30 million.
Thirty percent of Americans claimed to be very or somewhat familiar with Buddhist teachings. The authors find that most Americans come into contact with Buddhism through their workplaces and travel, and by the “cultural capital” accrued from higher education. Contacts facilitated or inhibited by the kind of religious community in which one participates had little to do with the level of contact with Buddhists.
Contact with converts rather than with those born Buddhist proved to be the most influential. Evangelical and mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews were all less likely to be influenced by Buddhism than were people with no religious preference. But Buddhist influence has also been dispersed through non-Buddhist institutions, such as mainline congregations offering meditation seminars and the New Age movement.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148)
08: The rise of dissociative psychiatric disorders may be related to the growth of experiential spirituality in the last 30 years.
That is the provocative thesis of Tanna Luhrmann, an anthropologist writing inCriterion (Spring), the magazine of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Luhrmann writes that complaints of dissociative disorders, involving amnesia and in extreme cases the feeling of being possessed and having multiple personalities, became especially prominent in the 1980s and ’90s.
Patients and therapists often traced their problems to traumas, such as child abuse as well as satanic cult rituals and even alien abduction, although many investigators have challenged such claims.
Luhrmann writes that Americans in earlier centuries experienced similar psychosomatic complaints but by the early 20th century, such symptoms had disappeared from the medical record. “During that time, less than one paper per year was published on disassociation. By 1970, the rate began to rise; between 1980 and 1990, more than eighty clinical papers on dissociation and multiple personality disorder appeared each year.” It was during this period that experiential spirituality–from the New Age to charismatic Christianity–flourished, encouraging an inward consciousness and practices (such as various kinds of prayer and meditation) that create trance-like states.
The “intense interest in unusual spiritual experience in our culture — and trance phenomenon in particular — may provide an environment in which people who have been traumatized–either by actual childhood sexual abuse or simply by chaotic families — are more likely to pay attention to anomalous experiences…and report these experiences to clinicians.” Just as new religious forms compel people to have unusual experiences and form relationships with “unseen companions,” dissociative patients also attend to unusual experiences within themselves and relate these episodes to particular memories and parts of their personality.
(Criterion, Swift Hall, 1025 E. 58th St., Chicago, IL 60637-1577)
09: The large evangelical and Pentecostal movements in Korea are helping women negotiate rapid gender and social changes while reinforcing the traditional family, according to research by sociologist Kelly H. Chong.
In the Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Summer), Chong writes that women have played a central role in the evangelical expansion in South Korea, which today has some of the world’s largest congregations. Economic and cultural changes have raised the educational and occupational levels of women, yet the traditional Confucian family structure remains the same, with arranged and semi-arranged marriages the norm. The high expectations that these modern changes have raised outside the home clash with “loveless marriages” and family conflict, leading women to seek healing and escape.
Through ethnographic research in congregations, Chong finds that a significant segment of these women converts suffer from stress-related illness and seek healing through their evangelical faith. Because there are few channels in Korean society where women can speak about domestic troubles, the churches have become important places of emotional release and healing, especially through the practice of prayer and the sharing found in small groups, writes Chong. The strong social dimension of these congregations serves as an “extra-domestic, female-centered community that serves as a crucial source of female autonomy.”
While these churches teach obedience and submission to husbands, the sociologist finds that women can turn submission into a way of reforming their husbands (leaving them in a “debt of long-term gratitude”) and make them more domestic. The evangelical church serves a “double role…providing women with the means with which to cope with domestic distress,” while “revalidating their conservative longings and internal ambivalence” about the family structure.
(Harvard Divinity Bulletin, 45 Francis Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138)