01: The effort to scientifically measure the effects of prayer on medical outcomes was complicated by a new study showing neutral and even negative effects from prayer on recovery from heart disease.
The $2.4 million study supported by the John Templeton Foundation and presented in the American Heart Journal, randomly divided bypass patents from six hospitals into three groups. In the first group, 604 patients were prayed for by strangers after being told that they might or might not receive prayer; 597 did not receive strangers’ prayer after being told that they may or may not be prayed for; and 603 patients in the third group received intercessory prayer after being told they would receive it.
It was found that group 2, which did not receive the strangers’ prayers, fared the best, while group 1 (which received the prayers) fared worse. The biggest surprise was that 59 percent of patients in group 3–who knew of the strangers’ prayers– suffered from complications. It is conjectured that knowing that one is being prayed for by strangers may increase anxiety levels. The researchers, however, cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from the study, noting that it did not include personal prayer or prayer by a patients’ relatives or friends.
02: While foreign policy issues, such as religious freedom and AIDS prevention in Africa, are receiving increasing attention in evangelical leadership, there is little evidence that the concern has reached evangelical activists long captivated by domestic concerns, according to a recent study. In the Review of Faith & International Affairs (Spring), political scientist Kevin den Dulk notes that evangelical elites and laity have clearly rejected isolationism in favor of a “foreign policy that is globally-focused…” Surveys show that most evangelicals support their leaders in addressing such concerns as religious freedom and often unilateral American engagement on global issues.
But in examining evangelical activist publications, such as from Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, den Dulk found that global issues command very little attention compared to domestic issues. For instance, from 1998 to 2004, CWA committed 17.3 percent of its releases to the issue of same-sex relations and 15.7 percent to domestic abortion policy, but only 6.7 percent of its releases to global issues of any kind. In Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine, only 5.7 percent of its articles were devoted to all global issues combined. The lack of a “mass movement” among evangelicals on global issues may be because “attention to domestic policy remains the primary way to meet the requirements of organizational maintenance” among such groups, den Dulk concludes.
(Review on Faith & International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044)
03: Among immigrants, men are more likely to be religious than women, according to a recent cross-national study. The study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (March) notes that women, both immigrant and non-immigrant, have long been viewed as more religious. In analyzing 20 surveys of immigrants from eight Western countries, researcher Frank Van Tubergen of Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that while women were more often affiliated with a religion than male immigrants, they did not attend religious services more often than men.
On the contrary, once the percentage of immigrant men not affiliated to a religion is taken into account, immigrant men more frequently attended religious meetings than immigrant women. One explanation for this may be that Van Tubergen placed all religions into one category and past studies have shown that in Muslim communities, men attend services more than women.
04: The Boston area is experiencing a “quiet revival” of evangelical Christianity, according to research cited in Christianity Today (April).
Over the past 30 years, the number of Protestant churches in Boston has doubled while the population has remained stable. The recent growth marks the first time that since the 17th century that church growth has not mirrored population growth, with the number of churches in Boston growing from 300 in 1970 to 600 today. The Emmanuel Gospel Center, a Boston ministry seeking to strengthen inner-city congregations, has done research finding that 90 percent of all new churches are planted by minorities and immigrants.
While there are churches like the Park Street Church, which attracts a large professional membership (and is even known as one of Boston’s premier places to meet singles), the center’s research shows that Boston’s cultural elite of white professionals are the least churched segment of the population. Much of the growth in immigrant churches has been powered by the training and leadership of nearby Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60145)
05: Claiming an Irish heritage remains widespread among both American Catholics and Protestants because such ancestry serves to bolster both religious and national identity, according to sociologist Michael Carroll.
About a decade ago, when surveys and historical studies revealed that more Americans of Irish descent are Protestant rather than Catholic it caused a good deal of surprise. Carroll, writing in the journal Religion and American Culture (Vol. 16, No. 1), finds that most of the Irish who settled in the U.S. before the Famine were Protestant. But, contrary to most popular history, these Irish were not devout Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who had maintained their faith intact from Northern Ireland. In fact, most of the pre-Famine Irish of both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds were unchurched and were culturally more similar than different from each other.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, many of these Irish-Americans staunchly supported the American revolution and likewise participated in its religious counterpart, the evangelical revivals, becoming Baptists and Methodists. Eventually these Irish evangelicals gravitated to the South, where today they represent about 20 percent of all Southerners (whereas the later post-famine, largely Catholic immigrants stayed in the North). But since most of these Southern Protestants are by now of mixed ethnicity, why do they still claim a primary Irish identity? Just as claiming an Irish heritage for Catholics is a way to demonstrate that one is a strong Catholic, the Southern Protestant claim to being Irish supports a cultural identity, Carroll writes.
The Irish or Scotch-Irish support of the Revolution and the related evangelical revivals and their reputed values of independence and patriotism makes the Irish designation important for many Southerners, Carroll concludes.
(Religion and American Culture, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Cavanaugh Hall 341, I.U.P.U.I., 425 University Boulevard, Indianapolis IN 46202-5140)
06: Orthodox Judaism is likely to become a more influential force in the coming decades, reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (April 27). The survey, released by the American Jewish Committee, finds that Orthodox Jews – who comprise 11 percent of all American Jews – rose to 16 percent among 18 to 29 years olds; the percentage might be even higher among people under the age of 18.
Similarly to conservatives in other religious traditions, Orthodox Jews have more children (and they also tend to marry at a younger age).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
07: Orthodox Muslims are more likely to support the idea that the state should help the poor than reformist Muslims, according to a recent study. In the study of seven Muslim countries published in the American Sociological Review (April), researchers Nancy J. Davis and Robert V. Robinson found that orthodox Muslims, like their counterparts in the Christian and Jewish faiths, tend to have a “theologically communitarian” worldview (which they call “moral cosmology”) that inclines them toward enforcing divinely mandated moral standards on family and sexual matters.
This communitarian position also applies to economic issues. Davis and Robinson hypothesized that orthodox Muslims support for Sharia law would naturally make them more favorable to Islamic practices, such as zakat, where the state provides for the poor than liberal or reformist Muslims.
In analyzing results from World Values Surveys in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, the authors found that the reformist Muslims were likely to support measures taking a pro-market even libertarian position. However, the orthodox Muslims went beyond the tenets of their faith in supporting such measures as the “equalization of incomes and nationalization of businesses and industries.“ Such support “cannot be attributed to Islam per se but rather to the economic commutarianism that we have argued characterizes the orthodox of all the Abrahamic faith traditions.“
08: According to figures released by the statistical office of the Roman Catholic Church on April 29, the number of Catholics in the world has grown by 45 percent from 1978 to 2004, which is on par with the global growth of the world’s population. The newspaper Le Monde (May 3) reports that there were 757 million Catholics at the beginning of John Paul II’s pontificate and now are 1.098 billion.
The Catholic population in Africa has nearly tripled (from 55 to 149 million). But there has also been a significant increase on the American continent: 79.6%. Only in Europe has the development been below demographic growth. Roman Catholics represented 40.5 percent of the European population in 1978, compared to 39.5 percent in 2004.– By Jean-Francois Mayer
09: Even significantly reducing membership losses may not be enough to prevent the extinction of liberal Protestant denominations in England, reports Quadrant (May), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association. Mathematician John Hayward writes that if a church’s reproduction potential falls below a certain threshold, the church heads for extinction. Growth depends not only reversing losses but producing enough “enthusiasts” who convert and bring in unbelievers or renew lukewarm believers. The Methodist Church, United Reformed Church, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are all below the “extinction tipping point,” but only the first two denominations are not producing enough enthusiasts to survive, and “even if their losses were reduced extinction will be reached well before the middle of this century.”
Hayward cautions that there is a natural inertia in the system and there will be a significant delay in the starting of growth for all of these declining denominations. So, for instance, even if The Church of England, produces enough enthusiasts and moves into a “revival growth” mode, it will not be until 2020 before the growth is actually evident and 2030 before it is back to its current levels. Because of this inertia, Hayward adds that the current growth of charismatic and evangelical churches may be the “result of the 1970s working through.”
(Quadrant, Vision Bldg., 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ UK)