01: A Mormon and Evangelical in Conversation is the name of an unusual dialogue touring the U.S. Longtime friends Robert Millet, a prominent Latter-day Saint author and educator, and Greg Johnson, a Baptist pastor, seek to demonstrate how Mormons and evangelicals can converse and build bridges through staging public dialogues and conversations in churches, colleges, and Mormon temples across the U.S.
In 2003 and 2004, Johnson and Millet took their traveling conversations to 24 cities from California to Canada, often facing protests by conservatives in both groups. The conversations often address dividing issues–such as differing doctrines of salvation–between both groups as well as trying to clear up misunderstandings. Johnson recently founded Standing Together, a group funded by Christian churches interested in building better relations with Latter-day Saints. The pair also have a radio show and are publishing a book about their ongoing conversation.
(Source: Salt Lake Tribune, March 21)
02: The Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour is causing controversy among American Muslims for its unabashed avowal of women’s rights in mosques.
The tour, led by Asra Nomani, author of the recent book, “Standing Alone In Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle of the Soul of Islam,” has organized mixed sex prayer services with women in leadership. Critics charge that the tour is trying to make a political statement rather than attempting true reform of Islam.
They add that the act of a women leading a prayer service is still too radical for most American Muslims. The most recent meeting of the tour was held at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, since no mosque would sponsor it.
(Source: Time, March 28).
03: World Mate, a religious organization founded in Japan in the mid-1980s by Toshu Fukami, is a striking example of the way in which a number of modern Japanese groups are mixing entertainment and religious marketing.
But it also claims that Shinto has a universalistic message. Observations on World Mate, based on field research, were presented by Inken Prohl (Free University, Berlin) at the 19th Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions in Tokyo in late March. Compared with other modern religious organizations — an expression which Prohl prefers to the more common term of “new religions” — World Mate is not a large organization, since it counts only around 34,000 members.
But it reaches a wider audience, since Fukami’s best-seller, Lucky Fortune, is reported to have sold 950,000 copies. Fukami is not only a religious leader, but also a multimillionaire businessman and a composer and musical performer, who rented Carnegie Hall in New York for a concert. Its consulting firm has organized lectures with guests such as Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher and Fritjof Capra. As a religious organization,
World Mate offers a variety of rituals and considers itself as based upon Shinto. Fukami has co-founded an International Shinto Foundation, and sees the “universalistic values of Shinto” as capable of bringing salvation to mankind: this strong emphasis on Shinto also helps to project a respectable image of World Mate to the Japanese public. World Mate offers to its members a variety of programs and practices from which to choose. Interestingly, not only does World Mate conduct market research, but it also analyses activities of other religious organizations.
The attitude toward business and profit is a positive one. In his publications, Fukami compares the world of business to the world of the gods. Prohl sees in World Mate a striking example of religious commercialism, the “diversification of religious programs in response to public demands” in Japan, and of religion as entertainment. In her opinion, those are issues which can be expected to require further research, not only in Japan, but in the global context as well.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer