01: A new study of church growth in the South and Southwest shows an unexpected and sharp increases of Catholics, as well as modest gains among mainline Protestants.
The study, presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in Philadelphia, reanalyzed data from the Glenmary Research Center that allow for comparison over a ten year period for metropolitan areas in the South and Southwest. Robert Beckley, who conducted the study with D. Paul Johnson and Jerome Koch, said that the unexpected finding was that Roman Catholic membership growth exceeded all Protestant membership growth in all six metropolitan areas.
In four out of the six areas, Catholic growth was greater than 100 percent. Hispanic population growth accounted for much of the membership growth, but “within country” migration of non-Hispanic groups also played a role in such an increase. This particularly is the case in suburban areas and counties within the metropolitan areas. Beckley noted that Roman Catholic membership has grown far more than the numbers of parishes, particularly in the last five years. Although on record with steady decline, mainline Protestants showed some growth, but the increases were not enough for much expansion in their proportion of the religious populations of the six metropolitan areas.
02: One reason that pollsters predicted a dead heat between George Bush and John Kerry may be due to the under-representation of fundamentalists in surveys, according to a recent analysis by sociologist Darren Sherkat.
In a paper presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) conference, Sherkat examined patterns of religious influence in respondent cooperativeness and found that those Christians espousing biblical inerrancy are significantly less cooperative than other respondents. In analyzing General Social Surveys (GSS) data, Sherkat found that as the non-response (or refusal) rate to sample surveys has increased in recent years, the proportion of “white sectarians” and “inerrantists” has gone down.
When survey researchers were able to get higher response rates, the more sectarian whites turned up. Sherkat said that both sectarians and inerrantists have exclusivist beliefs and mindsets that would make them less cooperative with social scientists who they believe represent the wrong side of the culture wars.
03: Fundamentalism came under scrutiny again as Sherkat presented another paper at the conference finding fundamentalists to have significantly less cognitive skills than other religious groups and secular Americans.
Using data from the GSS on scores of vocabulary exams (which correlate with other measures of general intelligence) and religious identification measures, Shekat found that across all levels of educational attainment, fundamentalists (using biblical inerrancy as a measure of fundamentalism) show significantly lower levels of verbal ability.
The differences were even greater among more educated respondents (non-sectarians with a graduate degree averaged 8.2 correct answers on the verbal test, while sectarians with a graduate degree scored 7.3). These findings remained when Sherkat controlled for race, rural origins, income and education, leading him to theorize that the fundamentalists’ absence of networks and ties outside of their subgroup and a de-emphasis on reasoning can influence verbal acuity and even intelligence.
Sherkat added that there is a dearth of survey research on the negative effects of religion at a time when social scientists, spurred on by conservative think tanks and foundations, are focusing “myopically on the laudatory effects of religion on well being.”.
04: Many American denominations have “Washington offices” that seek to provide a faith-based perspective to policy makers, but these institutions are largely ineffective, according to a new study. In a paper presented at the ASR, Rachel Kraus of Ball State University confirmed the common criticism of denominational Washington offices as being out of touch with their constituents.
In interviews with Washington office leaders and by examining their literature, she found that “very few offices mention their constituency and laity in their work, even if their religion tradition stresses” such accountability. Some groups even acknowledged tensions between their offices and the laity. Whether mainline, or conservative Christian or non-Christian, all of them focus on social welfare, though with different references. Mainline and liberal offices often cite Old Testament calls for justice while evangelicals exclusively cite the New Testament in their literature.
05: American comic strips have become more religious in the last decade and have also tackled more religiously diverse themes, according to a recent study.
A paper presented at the ASR meeting by Pamela Leong of the University of Southern California, found that the interplay between humor and religion was frequent in the syndicated comic strips in the Los Angeles Times she studied in 2004. Leong found a total of 639 references to religion and 203 comic strips with largely religious content in this one year period; in contrast, an earlier study of comic strips in the L.A. Times found only 365 cartoons from mid-1979 through mid-1987.
The most religious comic strip was 9 Chickweed Lane, which features a Catholic school student, with 35 daily strips containing religious content. Get Fuzzy was the second most religious comic strip and was the most religiously diverse of the 35 comic strips studied. Leong attributes this to the fact that the two main characters are animals and thus are not held to the same standards as human characters, avoiding controversy.
06: Christian missions have made a noticeable impact on improving education in Third World nations, even long after missionaries have left the scene, according to a study by Robert Woodberry of the University of Texas.
Woodberry, who presented his findings at the ASR conference, said that missionaries tended to push for more access to schooling when colonialists restricted education to the few. Regions of the nations with a strong missionary presence in the past continue to show more widespread education patterns than in those areas where they had not penetrated, according to Woodberry. For instance, in mission-penetrated areas of India, such as South India and Kerela, which are far from centers of commerce and education, the literacy rates were higher than in regions with historically less missionary presence.
Women‘s literacy and infant mortality rates were especially impacted by a past missionary presence, as were the groups of people, such as the Dalits (or untouchables), who converted to Christianity from these efforts,. according to Woodberry. The mission factor was found to have a strong correlation with the move to political democracy in the non-Western nations studied.
07: Following the July terrorist attack in London, several polls have been conducted in order to learn about the feelings of British Muslims. As expected, polls reveal contradictory trends, from estrangement to assimilation.
Only five percent consider that further attacks by British suicide bombers would be “justified,” according to an ICM poll conducted in July 2005 and commissioned by the Guardian newspaper (July 26). The July incidents have created fears about a possible backlash: 63 percent acknowledge that, following the incidents, they have considered whether or not to remain in the UK. About half seem to stand more or less clearly on the side of deeper integration within British society: 52 percent agree that foreign Muslims inciting hatred should be deported, 40 percent feel that the Muslim community should do more in order to integrate into mainstream British culture, and 50 percent think that British Muslims are not doing enough in order to prevent the infiltration of extremists.
Another poll dealing with multiculturalism was conducted in August by MORI on behalf of the BBC (August 11). British Muslims remain strongly attached to a multiculturalist approach: 82 percent agree it makes Britain a better place to live (in contrast with 62 percent of the national average). Fifty nine percent of Muslims (35 percent national) feel that people who come to Britain should be free to live their lives by the values and traditions of their own cultures.
At the same time, 88 percent of the British Muslims feel proud when British teams do well in international competitions. Similarly, 90 percent of Muslims feel it is normal that immigrants who become British citizens should be made to learn English, 95 percent agree that they should accept the rights of women as equal citizens, and 65 percent of Muslims would back a move stating that clerics should preach in the English language.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope