01: The new U.S. Congress is one of the most religiously pluralistic in American history, with a Muslim joining the ranks for the first time. The e-newsletter Sightings (January 4) reports that along with African-American Muslim Keith Ellison (who raised controversy by requesting to take his oath of office by swearing on the Koran rather than the Bible), there are two Buddhists in Congress, and for the first time in U.S. history, Jews will outnumber Episcopalians.
There are 30 Representatives and 13 Senators who are Jewish compared to 27 Representatives and ten Senators who are Episcopalian. Catholics are the largest group represented in the newly elected Congress (with 129 Representatives and 25 Senators), followed by Baptists and Methodists. Ten Representatives and five Senators share the Mormon faith, with the new Democratic majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, coming from that faith.
02: There is a growing support for secular politics and nationalism in Iraq despite the escalation of sectarian conflict and violence, according to a recent study. The study is based on surveys conducted by the Iraq-based Independent Institute for Administrative and Civil Society Studies during 2004 and then again in October, 2006. It found that while most Iraqis doubted positive motives for the U.S. invasion, there was also an increasing majority who opposed establishing an Islamic government where religious leaders would have absolute power (like in Iran).
Footnotes (January), the newsletter of the American Sociological Association, cites the study as showing that support for an Islamic government decreased 26 percent in December of 2004 to 18 percent in October of 2006. Such support decreased from 35 to 28 percent among the Shi’i Muslims, and among the Sunnis from 17 percent to six percent.
There was also an increase in the percentage of people supporting the separation of religion and politics. Those who “strongly agree” that Iraq would be a better place if religion and politics were separated increased from 24 percent in 2004 to 43 percent in 2006, with the Sunnis showing the highest increase (from 22 percent to 56 percent). The study also found a more modest decline in support of religious parties during this time, and a growth in favor of such a secular party as the Iraqi National Alliance.
(Footnotes, 1307 New York Ave., NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005-4701)