01: The current issue of the Religious Studies Review (October) carries a special feature on Internet resources for religious studies. The section will probably be of interest to others besides religious studies professors as the articles cover web resources on Christianity, Wicca and Paganism, new religious movements, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, religion and the media, and religious statistics and data. For more information on this issue: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/rsr/32/4
02: Seeking A Sanctuary, (Indiana University Press, $29.95) by Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart is a classic examination of the beginnings and development of Seventh Day Adventism that has been substantially updated in this second edition. The book weaves together the history and sociology of this influential movement, covering everything from Adventist changes in its end-times teachings to its subsequent health teachings, with side trips on Adventist music, education, racial relations, and even an account of Adventist schismatic David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.
Readers will be interested in Bull and Lockhart’s chapter on patterns of growth, which shows that by 2001 only seven percent of the church’s world membership was comprised of Americans. The SDA’s U.S. membership (of 900,985 members) had grown to be 27th largest in the country, but its geography is quite different than other Protestant denominations: it has its greatest concentration in the unchurched West Coast, and its membership is increasingly made up of racial minorities and a diminishing number of whites. Bull and Lockhart conclude with the interesting point that Adventism promotes mobility not so much within wider society as within Adventism. Upward mobility is easier within the church than it is outside.”
03: There have been few attempts by a single scholar to provide what Peter Clarke promises in his book, New Religions in Global Perspective(Routledge, $29.95). Clarke has actually done research on this broad topic on various continents, including Africa, Asia, and South America, and on various religions, including Islam and Japanese new religions.
Here and there, he quotes from interviews he conducted in places as varied as Thailand, Angola, and Brazil. This is not a volume most readers will read from cover to cover, but every chapter can be read for itself. After three introductory chapters, each area of the world is considered, although some are not studied (e.g. Eastern Europe). There are bibliographic references at the end of each chapter, exclusively in English. Some parts are stronger and more in-depth: the chapter on North Africa and the Middle East is less rich than other ones, being limited to a presentation of a few well-known Islamist movements and one Jewish movement.
But the purpose of such a book is obviously not to be an encyclopedia: rather, as suggested by its subtitle (“A Study of Religious Change in the Modern World”), it should be understood as an attempt to illustrate, through a variety of cases, the continuing creativity in the field of religion today, leading to renewal movements within traditional religions as well as to new religions.
And even scholars with an expertise on new religious movements will be rewarded with some discoveries and new insights. The benefit of a global perspective becomes obvious when Clarke considers both Christian and Buddhist reactions to the New Age movement. Examples however make clear how significant the local religious contexts remain for an adequate understanding of contemporary movements. There are attempts at inculturation too, for instance, when Soka Gakkai in Mexico adjusts to local dates (early November) for paying respect to the dead.
At the same time, one should not underestimate how ethnic Buddhism remains vital in a country such as a the United States. Although the concluding chapter deals with the future, Clarke remains cautious. He is (rightly) reluctant to make sweeping statements about “Westernization” or “Easternization,” since “all religions are exposed to the porous pluralism of late modernity.” With the possible exception of some parts of the Muslim world, Clarke expects individualization and privatization of religion to continue.–By Jean-Francois Mayer
04: Both religion and the family have been major areas of life changed and challenged by the forces of modernization, making the new bookAmerican Religions and the Family (Columbia University Press $40), edited by Don S. Browning and David Clairmont, an important volume. The book brings together essays on the tensions between modernization and the family, involving sexuality and marriage traditions, in Judaism, Christianity, Mormon, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Native American religion.
As might be expected, Christianity is divided into several chapters–evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Catholic, as well as African-American Christians. The contribution on mainline Protestantism, by W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Williamson, finds that there is a contradiction between holding traditional family practices and yet–at least in their leadership–making “progressive” ideological commitments on issues such as feminism and gay rights. The chapter on evangelical families, meanwhile, reflects current research finding a paradox of strict and traditionalist rhetoric on family issues and a “softening” in attitudes and practices that allows for greater equality for evangelical women in marriages and more investment by men in family life.
Other noteworthy findings and subjects in the book include the surprising endurance of American Indian family patterns, even among those in Christian churches; the tendency of Jewish families and religious leaders to be the most adaptive and accepting of modernization, even though it may have detrimental effects on the Jewish dimensions of family life; the defacto feminism in Mormon families and its extreme elevation of marriage, similar in many ways to that of evangelicals; and the uneasy negotiations between traditional family life and modernity underway in American Muslim and Hindu communities.