01: Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Wordwide (Cambridge University Press, $24.99) by political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, represents a major attempt to chart the rate of secularization on a global level.
Relying on the World Values Survey, the European Values Survey, longitudinal data, and a large collection of sociological literature, the authors break new ground in examining religion beyond the West and Christendom. In reworking the secularization thesis, Norris and Inglehart find that the rich nations are becoming more secular while the world as a whole is becoming more religious.
This is because rich nations produce fewer children while poorer nations have more children, thus contributing to a larger religious population. This is related to their thesis that “human security“ drives secularization; those societies, such as in Western Europe, that have a high degree of economic, health, welfare and income security show decreasing rates of institutional and personal religiosity.
When it comes to the U.S. things are more complex., but Norris and Inglehart argue that the entrepreneurial and thus less secure nature of American society generates a higher degree of religiosity than in other Western societies.
Other related but distinct chapters cover: the gap between Islamic and other nations, suggesting that it is not so much democracy but sexual and gender issues that are the dividing factors; how the historic Protestant countries now have among the “weakest” work ethics in the world; and how involvement in religious organizations apart from congregations generate the most civic involvement and social capital.
02: There have been several books on religious colleges and the effects of secularization on their identities within the last few years. As it’s subtitle implies, Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book God On The Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America, (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95) turns the tables on this approach, examining how these schools impact secular society.
Riley visited 20 colleges across the U.S., interviewing faculty, administrators and students. The schools are mostly conservative and represent, according to Riley, “Red America– a questionable generalization, since several of the schools are in “blue” states and few of them fall easily into a predictable, politically conservative slot.
The colleges profiled include fundamentalist Bob Jones University, evangelical Baylor University, conservative Catholic Thomas Aquinas College, Brigham Young University, Jewish Touro College, and Buddhist Soka University. It is the schools most recently established, such as evangelical Patrick Henry College, the independent Mormon Southern Virginia University and Catholic Ave Maria University, that tend to be the most aggressive in pressing for the integration of faith and learning.
While acknowledging problems of isolation from the wider society (especially with growing ranks of home-schooled students), lack of real racial diversity (though no more so than at secular schools) and confusion about the faith-learning connection, Schaefer maintains that these schools are turning out a new class of educated Americans intent on injecting ethical and moral concerns into their work.
Most of the students seek to negotiate between their faith and modern life, particularly the women (whom outnumber the men at such institutions) who question feminism but (even at a fundamentalist institution such as Bob Jones) are moving beyond traditional roles.