01: The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way To Spirituality (Blackwell Publishing, $59.95) by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, takes the middle ground in the debate between scholars arguing for the continuing secularization of Western society and those forecasting a revival of traditional religion.
The book is based on field work in the British city of Kendal, where the research team surveyed both traditional churches and what they call the “holistic milieu,“ consisting of New Age and alternative spiritual and healing practices and teachings. They find that the “congregational domain,” following the national trend, has declined by around a half since the 1960s. Meanhwile, the “holistic milieu” grew by about 300 percent during the 1990s.
Of course, a far smaller percentage of the city’s population were involved in holistic activities (1.6 percent) compared to the congregational domain (7.9 percent), but Heelas and Woodhead speculate that a continuous growth rate of the former and shrinking of the latter could well lead to a “spiritual revolution,” meaning a widespread turn to subjective spirituality (finding one’s self and the sacred within while rejecting external religious authority).
The authors enlarge the canvas in the second part of the book to look at the U.S., where they find the turn to subjective life and spirituality more widespread and spreading into congregational life, especially among charismatic churches. In fact, the growth of these experiential congregations may work to stem the decline of the congregational domain in general. But Heelas and Woodhead also see secularization growing alongside the expanding holistic milieu, since some groups, such as men and young people, will not be particularly drawn to the expressive and relational subjectivity found in the latter domain.
02: Most people would not spontaneously associate globalization with Eastern Orthodoxy. And most of the authors contributing to a new volume, edited by Victor Roudometof, Alexander Agadjanian and Jerry Panhurst, Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the Twenty-first Century (AltaMira Press, $59) tend to believe that “global religion” cannot “be meaningfully applied to Eastern Orthodoxy” to the extent it has been to Western forms of Christianity.
But this does not mean that Eastern Orthodoxy is not affected by such trends or that it does not make any adjustment to the new global context. The volume is divided into two parts: articles in the first part deal with the Eastern European experiences and offer assessments of a more general nature regarding Russia, Serbia, Greece, Romania and Ukraine.
In the second part, besides an important and insightful essay by Vasilios N. Makrides on Orthodox Christianity, rationalization and modernization, one finds case studies dealing mostly with Orthodox Churches in the United States. Throughout the book, the significance of local identities as stronger than Orthodox universalism is clearly evident. Due to historical developments, Orthodox Churches have come to develop “a critical link with national identities,” which was actually part of a process of modernization.
While there is a strong traditionalist tendency and a resistance to changes within Orthodox Churches, they are far from being immutable or frozen in times past, and they have also had their share of reformers, Makrides observes. There is no doubt that there is a lot of suspicion across the Orthodox world toward globalization. But several authors emphasize that reactions to globalization are not unique to Eastern Orthodoxy, and that the revival of public religion is a much wider trend across the world – with the exception of Western Europe. Moreover, articles such as one on Serbian Orthodoxy make it clear that there are various practical attitudes towards this process rather than uniformity.
Several authors wonder what might come next. All acknowledge that there are challenges ahead, but few contributions go as far as describing possible scenarios. One exception is the article by George A. Kourvetaris on the crisis which led to the removal of Metropolitan Spyridon from the helm of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States in 1996. According to the author, the crisis has left unsolved issues such as the role of the laity, self-governance and the place of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Constantinople).
Kourvetaris comes to the conclusion that the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA won’t be able to survive the next century as it is structured now, and that with all the other Orthodox Churches it will follow a way toward autocephaly and Americanization. The Church is to become much less closely connected to ethnicity. Intermarriages and conversions will accelerate the trend toward unity between various Orthodox jurisdictions. Those are obviously hypotheses which deserve further discussion and research.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
03: Since the highly publicized case of the controversy around author Salman Rushdie in the 1980s, with various Muslim authorities labeling him an apostate to the extent that he has had to enter into a semi-clandestine life under the protection of bodyguards, the Western public has become familiar with the serious consequences for a Muslim accused of apostasy.
However, there are not many academic books by Muslim scholars dealing with the issue. Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam(Ashgate, $29.95), written by Abdullah Saeed (University of Melbourne) and Hassan Saeed (Attorney-General of the Maldives), is a welcome volume that will inform Western readers on these issues. The authors argue that the law of apostasy and its punishment by death is no longer acceptable in the modern context, but – while not making a mystery of their own views – the book offers a serious overview on the history of the concept and the various approaches existing among Muslims.
In addition, a section of the book is devoted to a case study on Malaysia, providing an informative account of developments, debates and difficulties in a country outside of the Middle East. Today, three main positions regarding apostasy seem to emerge: 1) a pre-modern position with no change; 2) a pre-modern position with restrictions; 3) total freedom to move to and from Islam. An examination of the different views shows how divided Muslims actually are (even if the pre-modern position is widespread), but also how human rights discourse has a global impact.
Pluralism and unprecedented interaction with the non-Muslim world also create pressure toward changes – although it can be conducive to restrictive attitudes, since the enforcement of the law of apostasy is sometimes seen (among other things) as a way of erecting hurdles against Christian missionary activities. It is also obvious, as the authors show, that the law of apostasy offers a dangerous potential for abuse by authoritarian and dictatorial governments.
Beside its intrinsic documentary interest, this 220 page long volume provides an insight into the way a religious faith can find in its own tradition, resources and tools for adjusting to a changed environment; there is no dearth of arguments from the Quran and from early traditions for supporting a lenient attitude toward apostasy. Apostasy is only one instance of an issue debated in the Islamic world today where leading Muslims – and not only liberal ones – are using the possibilities of creative interpretations and reinterpretations in order to pursue different perspectives. Due to considerable tensions created today around some radical views of Islam, such intra-Islamic debates are of interest not only to Muslims, but also to people not belonging to the Ummah.
— By Jean-François Mayer