01: The anti-cult movement is paying new attention to terrorism, believing that many of its methods and concepts can apply to a wider range of religious violence. This trend is clearly seen in the current issue of theCultic Studies Journal (Vol. 5, No. 2), which is devoted to understanding terrorism through a variety of anti-cultist models.
The first article by Stephen Bruce Mutch stresses that the patterns of recruitment and radical change among members is common in both radical Islamic terrorist cells and groups generally known as cults. He also makes the provocative argument that the insights and methods of the various warring camps of anti-, counter-, and “cult apologists” may all play a role in fighting terrorism. The anti-cultists and particularly the evangelical counter-cultists have based their work on dealing with ex-members of cults, and may have more success with former members of terrorist groups than the government which tends to demonize and antagonize such informers.
Social scientists are sometimes considered defenders of cults or new religious movements because they tend to be suspicious of ex-member accounts, but for this reason they can gain access to extremist groups that also shun “apostates.”
Other articles include a comparison of the religious violence of Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo and Al Queda; and a study of the mind control methods of Heaven’s Gate, Al Queda, the Iraqi insurgents, and Sadam Hussein. The last article by Michael Langone argues that “brainwashing” may not be as important in terrorist recruitment as the fact that there is a large supply of individuals whose violent belief systems are similar to those of certain groups even before they come into contact with them. In this case, prevention is the most important role anti-cultists can play.
For more information on this issue, write: Cultic Studies Review, P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133.
02: In a recent lead article in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs (fall), Walter Russell Mead turned evangelical heads when he pronounced the evangelical movement as the leading actor and even a new establishment in the world of American foreign policy.
The winter issue of the evangelical-based Review of Faith & International Affairs brings together several evangelical leaders and scholars to discuss Mead’s provocative article. Most applaud Mead’s distinctions between evangelicals and fundamentalists, but are less enamored with his claim that support of Israel is an earmark of the evangelical foreign policy platform. For instance, James Skillen argues that support of Israel is not central to evangelical identity but is rather the result of a political theology peripheral to the faith.
Other contributors criticize Mead for ignoring the formation of an “evangelical center” on such issues as Darfur and human rights. Mead responds with a concluding article, agreeing with some critics that evangelicals may reflect the short-term approach of American foreign policy in general, but they are nevertheless positioned to replace the mainline as the new establishment.
For more information on this issue, write: Council on Faith and International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044.
03: A special issue of the journal Sociology of Religion (Winter) is devoted to the analysis of the National Jewish Population Survey (2000/2001).The survey–the latest and most in-depth attempt to gauge Jewish beliefs and behavior–and the resulting commentary are particularly focused on the question of Jewish identity.
The survey’s initial findings of fewer self-identified Jews proved controversial and contested among American Jews and researchers. But the debate goes to the heart of the complicated problem of Jewish identity: does one count Jewish ethnicity without Jewish religion or religion without ethnicity, and what if the Jewish ethnicity or religiosity are mixed, as in the case of children from intermarried families?
The contributors arrive at few solid answers, although interesting findings are presented and promising directions are probed. The concluding chapter argues that the experiences of children of interfaith marriages are challenging the idea that one religious affiliation precludes all others. Rather than based on switching, such a religiosity would resemble the less static and more “personalist” approach to ethnicity.
Other chapters include studies on the importance of formal and informal social networks in strengthening Jewish religious identity, and a comparison of Jewish identity in the U.S. and Israel.
For more information on this issue, write: Sociology of Religion, 618 SW 2nd Ave., Galva, IL 61434
04: The rise and dynamics of multiracial congregations are examined in Michael O. Emerson’s new book, People of the Dream (Princeton University Press, $24.95). Emerson and researchers surveyed 2,500 members of interracial congregations, which are defined as having more than 20 percent of the membership racially different than the largest racial group.
Emerson, who estimates that only seven percent of American congregations are multiracial, finds that these kinds of churches just don’t happen. Although there is some relationship between these congregations and their presence in multiracial neighborhoods, the book finds that the churches are 40 percent more diverse than their neighborhoods. The key factor in forming such congregations is an intentional approach to bring about racial diversity through leadership, music and other cultural changes in the congregation.
Those congregations that became multiracial through top-down “pre-existing organizational packages” (such as through denominational strategy) are less stable and may even return to being uniracial. Emerson notes that it is unclear whether these members are more open to other races because of their church involvement or whether they were of that mindset before they joined.
But he finds that these congregations may act as bridging organizations that “gather and facilitate cross-race social ties.” Emerson concludes that these congregations are in the vanguard of a growing trend, and the churches that follow in their trails are likely to have learned the lessons to become “more sensitive, more intelligent.”