01: The state of preaching around the world is the focus of the Winter issue of Theology News & Notes, the magazine of Fuller Theological Seminary. In general, the older styles of preaching which involve expositing biblical texts and exhortation still remain in the Global South, though there are exceptions to that rule. Lay-based Pentecostal preachers in Latin America follow an experiential model that seeks to demonstrate the presence of kingdom of God rather than deliver learned discourses on doctrines and biblical teachings. Revival-style “health and wealth” preaching has swept through the African continent, particularly Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa.
Secularization In Europe has created a “crisis of language,” leading preachers to seek assistance in communicating their message through film clips, PowerPoint presentations and dynamic graphics. Although biblical scholarship has moved on to new paradigms, Enlightenment-style historical criticism of the Bible is still popular among the clergy, along with a mix of traditional and post-modern views, causing a “lack of clarity” in most preaching. Meanwhile, the postmodern “emerging” church preaching popular in the U.S. and other Western countries downplays dogmatic preaching and “church-speak” that uses art more than oration. For more information on this issue, write: Theology News & Notes, 135 N. Oakland Ave., Pasadena, CA 91182)
02: The February issue of the journal Nova Religio is devoted to religion and the media in Japan. While religion and the media may seem poles apart, the articles suggest how they reciprocally influence each other, and also how difficult it is to differentiate between “religious” and “non-religious” practices in Japanese culture. Ian Reader traces the history of media presentation of pilgrimage in Shikoku Japan as an example of positive presentation of religion in the Japanese media as opposed to the negative presentation of religion especially in the post Aum (sarin gas attack) era.
This innately “religious” practice is constantly covered by the Japanese media and by doing so they actually assign a new meaning to pilgrimages as a “form of cultural expression.” At the same time, he points out that this new assigned meaning does not mean the loss of the religious aspect of the practice itself. Although not addressed, it would be interesting to see if a connection between so called “State Shinto” as a political practice and the representation of pilgrimage exists.
Contributor Benjamin Dorman reminds us the difficulty of defining religious practice in Japan especially in the post war era. Christal Whelan introduces the reader to a religious group known as GLA, or God Light Association, and how it has changed its way of presenting itself after the death of its charismatic leader. The GLA’s main practice was once speaking in tongues but today the group presents itself in the media as a rational group through a technique centered around personality tests. Whelan’s study suggests how media presentation and globalization which have, prima facie, no direct association with GLA can possibly change the group.
Another article looks at the relationship between entertainment or play and religion, using Hayao Miyazaki’s films as an example of this. The article seems to have the presupposition that religion is something that has to be “serious,” but Japanese religion has an “entertaining” aspect as is evident in the Matsuri, or festivals.
Another question concerns whether we could apply this concept to the “players” who potentially do not regard their activities as religious. In a responding article, George J. Tanabe, Jr. provides a noteworthy distinction between religion and entertainment: religion makes “a real change in one’s life,” while entertainment’s influence is only temporary. For more information on this issue, write: Nova Religio, University of California Press, 2000 Center St., #303. Berkeley, CA 94704–By Ayako Sairenji, a New Jersey-based writer and researcher.
03: Passing on the Faith (Fordham University Press, $22) edited by James L. Heft, S.M., deals with questions of youth and young adult religion through a broad interdisciplinary approach. The contributors use ethnographic case-study approaches, as well as survey and anecdotal accounts from religious leaders to flesh out the problems and promises of the “next generation.: The much cited findings from the National Youth Survey which found a “moral therapeutic deism” (meaning a large degree of indifference to religion except where it might help solve teens’ personal issues) are grappled with by most of the contributors.
The trend of being more spiritual than religious is prevalent, though there are important exceptions. American Muslim youth have retained both the communal and spiritual dimensions of the faith, while a survey shows that Jewish youth value the social over the spiritual components of their religion. The case studies show some success in turning indifference to interest and involvement. Ranging from liberal synagogues, mainline and evangelical congregations and mosques to such an international phenomenon as Taize, most stress spirituality with a strong emphasis on community and social involvement.
04: The recent book Religion and Politics in the International System Today, by Eric O. Hanson (Cambridge University Press, $26.99) proposes a new paradigm capable of understanding the interaction between the globalizations of the political, economic, military, and communication systems and the political role of religion at every level, from the very local to the global. Hanson’s point of departure is that the religious response to political situations depends on the level of political-religious interaction, the nature of the religion in question, and the form of interactions between the political and the religious realms…
The book analyzes the several ways in which religion and politics interact and how religious practices are relevant to political activity. The author sketches some of the ways in which the general types of religious experience, such as the doctrine and morality of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, or the meditative experiences of Buddhism and Hinduism, have developed different identity patterns and different kinds of relations with politics. Issues such as immigration, the rise of the religious right in the US, the educational difficulties related to religion in the European Union, and the challenges to secularism in the Middle East and Central Asia are only some of the topics covered.
The book is very well documented and provides a wealth of examples and data to support its claims.
— By Marisol Lopez-Menendez, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the New School for Social Research.