01: Sociologist Kathleen Jenkins examines the rise and fall of the International Churches of Christ in her book Awesome Families (Rutgers University Press, $22.95).
While the movement’s strictness and control over members’ lives were its most publicized features, Jenkins focuses on how the ICC drew so many of its members–mainly from the middle and upper classes– because of its promises to build successful marriages and families, as well as create new family of church “brothers and sisters.”
Jenkins gained access to an ICC congregation, as well as interviewed leaders, members and ex-members across the U.S. up until the movement fell apart around 2004. Jenkins finds that the movement’s unique discipleship program, where more experienced members mentored new members in the faith, served as both the catalyst to its amazing growth during the 1980s and 90s (although it always had a high dropout rate as well as inflated membership rolls) as well as its eventual downfall a decade later.
The practice of discipling created close, family-like bonds with fellow members and also sought to therapeutically address dysfunctions in their natural families. It was the contradictions between these two visions, as well as between modern individuality and adherence to the ICCC institution, that broke up the unified movement, leading to weakened and competing breakaway groups. Jenkins does a good job of capturing a middle ground between noting the abusive, controlling aspects of the movement while discounting over-simplified theories of brainwashing.
02: Holland has often been seen as a leading example of how rapidly much of Europe became secularized during the past 40 years. But, as the new book The Dutch And Their Gods (Uiteverij Verloren, P.O. Box 1741, NL-1200, BS, Hilversum, The Netherlands) reveals, that characterization is contested even in the Netherlands itself.
The book, edited by Erik Sengers, makes the case that religious transformation and experimentation defines the nation as much as secularization. A historical overview divides modern Dutch history into a “high tide” of religious subcultures (1945-65), a period of religion translated into social action and solidarity (1965-1985), and a “return to the spiritual” since 1985.
The current stage is marked by the emergence of the New Age movement and a more generic interest in spirituality. In another chapter, Anton Van Harskamp writes that interest in religious belief does not seem to be declining and is actually increasing, but at the same time, the “meaning of religion for the individual is diminishing,” as it is squeezed out of the public square.
The rest of the book’s contributions attempt to show how this interplay between the secular and the spiritual is present in new organizations, movements and practices. For instance a chapter on Catholic liturgy reports on the decline of regular liturgical observance (although first communions have become popular form of rites of passage), but the growth of sporadic participation in Masses, pilgrimages and special liturgies (such as Taize).
Meanwhile, evangelical growth in such groups and phenomena as the Alpha course (never as successful as in the UK and US) and Pentecostalism has slowed in growth some since the 1980s and 90s, but its predicted death has not occurred. Evangelical music festivals and social agencies show a new appeal. A concluding chapter in the New Age movement suggests that it has been integrated into the Dutch mainstream, especially “New Age capitalism” and spirituality in the workplace.