01: The cover story on religion in the “future of global civilization” in the September/October issue of The Futurist shows both the growing interest and the frustration over religion among futurologists.
The writers concede that religion often lies “at the heart of culture,“ but because of this close relationship, the much predicted–and hoped for–“global village” will be fragmented, or not at all. Thomas R. McFaul outlines three scenarios on the role of religion and world order by the year 2050: Exclusivism, where religions become increasingly violent and hostile to one another.
The second scenario is pluralism, where differences between religions remain but leaders and adherents try to find common ground and avoid conflict; and Inclusivism, where humanity becomes one family and the various religious ethics are melded into one new worldview. McFaul concludes that the most likely scenario will be one of exclusivism, at least until 2025, when the forces of pluralism become so strong that the norm of living with differences will become more universal. For more information on this issue, write: The Futurist, 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 450, Bathesda, MD 20814
02: The entire issue of the newly published issue of India Review (dated January) is devoted to “The State of India Studies in the United States.”
In a research article, Christian Lee Novetzke writes that the future of study of Indian religions within the wider field of religious studies is expected to remain stable, with a greater emphasis on Indian Islam, gender studies and contemporary religion. But scholars will increasingly come under the scrutiny of immigrant South Asian communities. Since the 1980s, there has been “a great emphasis on regionalism, regional languages, and non-elite religion.”
The study of Indian Islam is taking a much larger place, in contrast with earlier tendencies of Islamic studies to focus on Middle Eastern Islam. South Asian communities – especially Hindus and Sikhs – show an increasing desire to influence the portrayal of their religious traditions through funding programs and chairs. In some cases, such initiatives have been positive for both sides, and some leading universities are actively seeking endowments for new chairs in the fields.
In some cases, however, academic representations of Asian religions have been met with hostility by “watchdog” organizations, with aims such as “defending Hinduism”. This means that scholars – even if dealing with the past – have to be much more aware of the current political scene and debates in India.
Scholars will also be increasingly confronted with lobbying efforts, such as the ones of Hindu groups in 2005-2006 to have changes introduced in California textbooks to reflect a supposedly more “accurate” view of Hinduism. Novetzke remarks that, in such a case, South Asians were far from united, and some South Asian groups also fought against the requests for changes in the textbooks. For more information on this issue of India Review, write Taylor & Francis Group, 325 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106; http://www.indiareview.org.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
03: The publication of On the Road to Being There (Brill, $120) attests to the current interest in religious tourism and pilgrimage and how the two phenomena are related.
While studies in religious pilgrimage have a long pedigree in anthropology and sociology, the new collection of essays, edited by William H. Swatos Jr., focuses on how the spiritual pilgrim and tourist may be one and the same person today. He argues that the line between pilgrimages and tourism is increasingly blurred by third parties promoting the cultural and entertainment values of these once solely religious pilgrimage sites. The contributions to this expensive volume cover a wide range of places and pilgrimage sites, and most find that pilgrimage and spiritual tourism are also serving as alternatives to congregation- and denomination-based religion.
A chapter on the popular Neopagan goddess pilgrimages suggests that these devotees straddle the line between pilgrims and tourists, enjoying both the comforts, culture and spirituality of ancient sites spread from Turkey to Ireland to Mexico. Other pilgrimage sites and practices are malleable enough so that their meanings vary for different pilgrims/practitioners– such “interpretive freedom” is evident in the chapters on the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada and the labyrinth walks in mainline churches. Other notable contributions include a look at Japan‘s Gion Festival, a month-long urban street celebration that retains religious components, and a study on the Vatican-run Jubilee 2000. Sociologist Roberto Cipriani finds that while many Jubilee pilgrims were drawn to Rome for orthodox Catholic reasons and appreciated the role of the pope, they also showed an individualism that questioned or were ignorant of church teachings, such as on the subject of papal indulgences.