01: Why after 9/11, when many Americans including the government took up a conciliatory posture toward Islam, did evangelicals seem to become the main antagonists of the religion?
That is the question that the article by RW’s editor, entitled, “No God In Common: American Evangelical Discourse on Islam After 9/11,” seeks to address in the December issue of the Review of Religious Research. Without giving away too much, the article finds that new patterns of interaction between Islam and Christianity and greater pluralism in American society are challenging evangelical identity, leading to the erection of new boundary markers between evangelicalism and other religions.
A longer version of the article is on the RW website, at http://www.religionwatch.com/doc/2005-Cimino-Evangelicals-Islam.pdf
02: Against The Stream: The Adoption of Traditional Christian Faiths By Young Adults, by RW’s editor, is now available for the low cost of $6 (hardcover).
The book is a sociological study of the trend of young people turning (and returning) to conservative branches and movements in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Reformed (or Calvinist) Protestantism. Since this 1997 study, there have been several popular accounts of this trend. Based on 30 case studies of these converts and returnees, Against The Stream is unique in examining how this turn to tradition both challenges and reflects religious consumerism.
To obtain a copy, send payment (made out to Religion Watch) to: P.O. Box 652, North Bellmore, NY 11710.
03: Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe is a new scholarly online journal that takes an interdisciplinary approach to the changing religious scene in these regions.
The journal is sponsored by the International Study of Religion in Eastern and Central Europe Association, which in the 1990s has served as a forum for younger and older scholars in exchanging information and theories about the rapid religious changes that have taken place in these countries. The journal will examine the beliefs, practices, organization and trends in both traditional and new religions. Recent articles appear to take a strong historical and sociological approach.
The address is: http://rs.as.wvu.edu
04: Fieldwork in Religion is the title of a new journal recently launched in the UK by Equinox Publishing and edited by Christopher Partridge and Ron Geaves, both teaching religious studies at University College, Chester.
The journal – which seems to be the first of its kind – will be of interest not only to experienced academics, but even more so to young scholars engaging into field research and eager to learn about relevant issues. The purpose of this peer-reviewed journal is to offer a specialized avenue for the publication of empirical research as well as to discuss methodologies, problems and ethics of fieldwork. Slightly less than 100 pages long, the current issue (April 2005) offers four articles, as well as a few reviews. Of special interest is a contribution by Sophie Gilliat-Ray (Cardiff University) on her unsuccessful efforts to obtain research access to four Deobandi Islamic “seminaries” in Britain.
The article does not only describe difficulties experienced, but also reflects on successful strategies when dealing with sensitive topics. As she rightly comments: “By not hearing accounts of failed research (which, of course, are usually not reported!) we are denied a sense of the field as a whole, and the way in which it might be ‘skewed’ by reliance upon studies which have been undertaken and which have not presented insurmountable difficulties.”
Another article by Stephen Hunt (University of the West of England) shares observations about his research on a widespread contemporary evangelical initiative, the Alpha program. The article explains the approach chosen, relationships with the leadership, difficulties encountered, but also unexpected results (such as the modification of the program by some groups at the local level following the publication of Hunt’s study). For more information visit: http://www.equinoxpub.com.
— By Jean-François Mayer
05: The reader of Religion & Public Life In the South: In the Evangelical Mode(Alta Mira, $24.95) is struck by the familiarity of the issues and trends discussed, suggesting how much of contemporary American religion has its roots in the South, as well as how Southern culture is now being affected by the new pluralism.
The book, edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and Mark Silk and part of a series on religion and regionalism, documents how the South is still the most evangelical part of the U.S., particularly focusing on such key institutions and movements as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Christian right. But even in politics, Southern evangelicals are learning that they may influence the vote but often can’t control it, especially on such issues as gambling, and must build coalitions to stay in power.
Other contributions on the changing roles of women in churches (even those not ordaining women have women in leadership roles) and on religious minorities suggest other ways that the normative role of the evangelicals in the region is changing if not being directly challenged. A chapter on the religious demography of the South reveals enough anomalies to complicate the picture further: counties that are largely Catholic, Lutheran or, in one county in Florida, even Mormon.
Veteran scholar of Southern religion Samuel Hill examines how Florida and Appalachia make up the “peripheral South,” with the former state being far more diverse than the surrounding region and the Appalachians holding fast to a localist, familial and non-proselytizing ethos that stands in sharp contrast to the “conversionist evangelicalism” marking the rest of the South.
Religion in the Contemporary South (University of Tennessee Press, $21.95) edited by Corrie Norman and Don Armentrout, covers some of the same ground as the above book, though it tends to focus more on the changes in the region and illustrates these shifts with interesting case studies and field work. Contributor Thomas Tweed finds a catalyst for change in Southern religion coming from Asians and Latinos (representing 14 percent of Southerners).
Bill Leonard writes that Baptist identity is being challenged at different levels, not least of which is the growth of megachurches de-emphasizing denominational identity. Another contribution looks at the growth of Catholicism in the region by studying of the children in two parishes; even these youngsters show a mixing of evangelical style with Catholic piety.
But a study of the struggle of women priests of the Episcopal Church to find acceptance among Southern parishioners is another indicator of the region’s remaining conservatism. Since the book has its origins in an Episcopal Church conference, other chapters look at that church’s longtime minority and now countercultural role in the South. A comparison of liberal and conservative evangelical parishes in South Carolina’s low country raises interesting questions about the meaning of traditional Southern identity.