01: Fifty percent of Americans report that they have had religious experience, according to the first nationally representative study of spiritual transformations.
The study was conducted by Tom Smith of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, who added a special National Spiritual Transformation Study module to the GSS. The study found that of those reporting a spiritual or religious experience, about 65 percent reported a “born-again” Christian experience. In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (June), Smith writes that, contrary to expectations, there was a lack of association of such experiences with either socioeconomic status or age (61 percent had such experiences by age 29).
There was a higher level of spiritual experiences in the South and among blacks than in other regions and among other races. Most “changers” reported enduring effects from such experiences , most often involving religious beliefs and practices, but also touching on improvement in general behavior and character.
(Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, Blackwell Publishers, 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148)
02: Although the majority of American congregations find that their financial condition is good or excellent, that figure has dropped noticeably since 2000. Hartford Seminary’s Faith Communities Today study of 884 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States found that 57 percent of congregations report good or excellent financial situations; in 2000, 66 percent of congregations said their situation was good or excellent.
The financial health of congregations varies considerably by faith community, the new survey found. Less than half (48%) of mainline Protestant congregations reported that their financial situation was good or excellent, compared to 62 percent of other Protestant congregations and Catholic and Orthodox parishes.
03: Interfaith activity among congregations has more than tripled since 2000, according to the Faith Communities Today 2005 survey. The survey of 884 randomly selected congregations found that slightly more than 2 in 10 (22.3 percent) reported participating in an interfaith worship service in the past year.
Nearly 4 in 10 (37.5 percent) congregations reported joining in interfaith community service activities. In an earlier 2000 survey of 14,301 randomly sampled congregations. only seven percent of congregations reported participating in interfaith worship in the previous 12 months, while only 8 percent reported joining in interfaith community service activities.
David A. Roozen of Hartford Seminary said that many expected that the surge of interfaith activity after September 11 would eventually die down, but that has not happened. “The Sept 11 upturn in interfaith awareness has been accompanied by a fundamental change in the United States’ perception of the American religious mosaic.
Our public consciousness has had to acknowledge in the most powerful way in our history that the religious liberty-in-diversity that Americans cherish has moved from ecumenical Christian to interfaith, and that this American, interfaith consciousness will forevermore include Islam.” As one might expect, the minority faith traditions outside of Christianity were the most involved in interfaith activity, followed by mainline Protestant congregations (30 percent).
04: Fans of celebrities have often been compared to religious believers for their single-minded devotion to a person or cause, but the worlds of fandom and religion have little in common, according to recent research.
An article in the electronic Journal of Religion and Popular Culture (Spring) notes that some observers have claimed that fans are the secular carryover of religious believers with their need to establish contact with celebrities through collecting paraphernalia and visit sites associated with them. But a survey of 169 secular fans and religious believers (mostly belonging to the Assemblies of God) finds that religious believers were more likely to have become involved in their interest through parents or other family members, while secular respondents were drawn in through media sources.
Religious respondents were more likely to claim that religion had helped or changed them and say that other people view their interest and involvement in religion as positive. The secular group of fans thought others viewed their interest as neutral or negative. When dealing with those with whom they disagree, the religious respondents were more likely to express love or pray for them while the secular fans would ignore these people. Secular respondents were more likely to measure their devotion to their interest by the time they spend on it, while religious respondents viewed their loyalty in terms of what they would give up (including their lives) for their religion.
05: A study of membership in voluntary associations finds that Protestants are more likely than Catholics to be members of such groups. The study, conducted by Pui-Uan Lam of Eastern Washington University and published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (June), looks at participation in voluntary organizations across 29 nations.
Previous research on Protestant and Catholic attitudes toward social welfare and similar policies has found that the individualistic emphasis of Protestants makes voluntary groups more appealing for enacting social change, while Catholics’ communal emphasis tend to favor government action.
Lam finds that the Protestant-Catholic difference holds up in the cross national variation in membership in voluntary groups. While Protestants were more likely to be members of voluntary associations than Catholics, there was no significant difference between Protestants and those who belong to “other”or “no religion.” This suggests that there is a “double negative Catholic effect”– not only that individuals who live in Catholic nations are less likely to hold voluntary association membership, but also that Catholics, regardless of the religious tradition of the nation they reside in, are significantly less likely than Protestants to be members of any voluntary group.
06: The Russian Orthodox Church is gaining authority in the eyes of the young, according to a recent survey. The study, conducted by sociologists from Moscow State University and the Russian Sociological Society, asked 1,800 young people in seven federal districts about their attitude towards the Russian Orthodox Church.
Eight percent of respondents said they are Orthodox churchgoers, and another 55 percent believe in God but do not go to church. Thirty-three percent said they feel positive about the Russian Orthodox Church regardless of their own religious convictions, and only 4 percent said their feelings are negative. “Obviously, the Russian Orthodox Church has become an authoritative social institution in the eyes of young Russians. The society of militant atheists is gone,” sociologist Igor Ryazantsev said. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that the Russian president should be an Orthodox believer, and 33.5 percent said that the opinion of the – patriarch must be taken into account when making state decisions, reports the newsletter Interfax (June 5).