01: American youth tend to espouse a generic and practical faith that has little relation to particular beliefs and practices, according to a major research project.
In an interview with Books & Culture (January/February), sociologist Christian Smith discusses findings from the National Survey of Youth and Religion he conducted, one of the largest studies of its kind. Smith found little open rebellion against traditional religion among youth, as well as far less preference for the tendency to stress “spirituality” over religion” prevalent among baby boomers.
At the same time, most teens do not want to be considered overly religious nor do they spend much time speaking about religion with their parents or peers. Smith adds that what “legitimizes the religion of youth today is not that it is the life-tranformative, transcendent truth, but that it instrumentally provides mental…and social benefits that teens find useful and valuable.” The majority of American youth adhere to what he calls a “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism,” where one doesn’t have to get too involved with God, but that He is out there to help solve problems.
Most of those surveyed believe religion is about being good, not so much about faith or justification. Although Catholics and mainline Protestants most closely adhere to this position, a significant number of Mormons and conservative Protestants do as well. Yet Smith concludes that religious teens, however vague their beliefs, tend to be better adjusted and more socially concerned than non-religious teens.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
02: In the 2004 elections, George W. Bush “was able to reach beyond his base of frequent worshippers to pick up a majority of voters who said they attend religious services ‘a few times a month,’ according to political scientist John C. Green. Writing in the journal Religion in the News (Winter), Green notes that while the exit polls have been questioned for their accuracy, they do track results from earlier, more accurate polls and can provide a “broadly dependable portrait of the impact of religion on the election.”
The group of less than weekly attenders, which Bush lost to Al Gore in the 2000 vote, emerged as the “religion gap’s new swing vote.” Green notes that Bush also made small gains among those who said they attend services a few times a year or not at all.
(Religion in the News, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)
03: A survey of religious programming finds that televangelists devote less time to fundraising than commercial television.
The survey, conducted by a researcher from Grand View College, found that on average, televangelists use 17 percent of their air time fundraising and promoting their programs, while commercial television devotes 28 percent.
The programs of Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham and Paul Crouch of Trinity Broadcasting Network were among the least focused on fundraising, devoting less than two percent of their airtime to such appeals, reports Christianity Today (March).
04: Friendship and even the sharing of meals among fellow church members are important indicators of satisfaction with congregations and spiritual commitment, according to a Gallup Poll.
The poll, conducted by Gallup for Group Publishing, found that church members who have a best friend at church are 21 percent more likely to report attending church at least once a week and are 26 percent more likely to report having a strong and active religious faith. The survey also found that 77 percent of highly satisfied members have eaten a meal with fellow members at some point over the last year; only 56 percent of the somewhat satisfied or dissatisfied members have shared a meal together. Those eating meals together reported higher rates of religious devotion than those not doing so (62 percent versus 49 percent)
05: Atheism is most common among those who lack strong social and family bonds and have low fertility rates, according to a recent study.
Sociologist William Sims Bainbridge writes in the charter issue of theInterdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (Vol. 1, No. 1) that the lack or weakness of social obligations reduces the need for many of the “compensators” (or rewards) that come with religious belief, such as the sense of community and other forms of social support. In an analysis of a web-based survey conducted by National Geographic and the General Social Survey, Bainbridge finds that males without children are 3.2 times more likely than women with children to be athiests (6.8 percent versus 2.1 percent).
On the statement that children should not be brought into the world due to its condition, about 25 percent of atheists agreed or strongly agreed, compared with 5.9 percent who disagreed. When asked if they would like to go to a family reunion, 15.9 percent of atheists disagreed and only 3.4 agreed. In comparing regions, 6.2 percent of the respondents from the Pacific coast are atheist compared to 3.9 percent of respondents from other regions. The National Geographic survey was not a random sample but provided a large enough pool of atheists to make comparisons within this group.
(Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion,http://www.bepress.com/ijrr)
06: The belief that a soul lives on after the body dies and watches the living may be a factor in the tendency to speak well of the dead, according to a study by University of Arkansas psychologist Jesse Bering.
In an experiment showing photographs of strangers to subjects, Bering found that they tended to modify their views of these people in a more positive direction after they learned that they had recently died. Another experiment found that a group of subjects were less likely to cheat on an exam than other groups when they learned that the (fictional) creator of the test had died and that his ghost had been sighted in the room.
Bering speculates that on a subconscious level, even those professing no belief in ghosts may have a visceral and emotional belief in this phenomenon. Both experiments suggest that “If I perceive that someone is evaluating me, whether it be my dead grandmother or God, I’m less likely to commit a transgression, possibly because I’m afraid of the consequences,” Bering says in Science & Theology News (February).
(Science & Theology News, P.O. Box 5065, Brentwood, TN 37024-5065)
07: Religion is alive and well among Indian youth, who generally seems to hold rather conservative values on family and motherland, and show pride of being Indian, according to a recent survey.
The Indian newsmagazine India Today devoted its entire Jan. 31 issue to what young, middle-class people in Indian cities “think, do and want to be.” It also paid some attention to religious beliefs and values. More than 2,00 respondents aged 18 to 35 were interviewed in 10 major cities across India.
Over 70 percent of Indian youth in those cities claim to visit a place of worship at least once a week (only 3 percent answer “never”). Even if the figure may be inflated, it still indicates a strong level of religious involvement. Interestingly, the figure is still higher in Bangalore, the high-tech capital of India: obviously, being modern and being religious is not seen as contradictory.
Another indicator which confirms the attachment of young Indians to religion is the fact that 66 percent of them report fasting for religious reasons. This does not necessarily translate into a support for politics based on religion: secular values are obviously widespread even among religious people, and most of them want a separation between religion and state. 81 percent of them want a uniform civil code for all religions in the country — an issue much debated regarding Islam in India.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
08: A pluralistic environment where Muslims are offered a diversity of religious choices may prevent the growth of extremism in such societies, according to a recent study.
In the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (volume 1, number 1), Massimo Introvigne applies the market theory to explain the growth and decline of Muslim extremism. The market or religious economy theory, which holds that de-regulation of the religious economy (for instance, allowing greater church-state separation) encourages greater competition and allows for a higher level of overall participation, has rarely been applied to Islamic societies.
Introvigne cites the case study of Turkey as showing how Islamic diversity defuses extremism. The nation has moved from a strongly secular stance seeking to regulate Islamic groups to allowing religious expressions ranging from strict fundamentalist to liberal and secularist. A statistical analysis shows that as the Turkish religious market has become deregulated, “ultra fundamentalism” has declined as well as extremist terrorism.
Recent terrorist incidents in the nation have been attributed more to foreign influences than home-grown groups. What is unique about the Turkish example among Islamic societies is its broad range of “conservative-moderate” groups — ranging from mystical Sufi orders to nationalist yet moderate Fethullah Gulen movement.
Introvigne writes that where these groups abound and the state limits its interference, “fundamentalism is contained and ultra fundamentalism is marginalized…The situations in Indonesia and Malaysia, large non-Arab Islamic countries where the religious economy appears to be in the process of being similarly deregulated, would tend to confirm these conclusions.”