01: The summer issue of Nieman Reports, the journal of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, is devoted to Islam and the media. The considerable diversity of topics covered in this issue suggests that the usual question of how reporters “missed” the role of Islam in world affairs is by now an old story. In fact, the opening article by Griff Witte of the Washington Post charges that religion has all too often become the main source of conflict in most reporting on the Middle East. He writes that the media often misses the ethnic and geostrategic elements in the conflicts of the Islamic world.
In another article, Geneive Abdo writes that another danger has been setting up a “good Muslim/bad Muslim” scenario where the most secular Muslims–even those who attack the faith–are portrayed in the media as the “good” ones, even if they are offensive to most of the world‘s religious Muslim. Abdo also describes the way American Muslims have created their own alternatives to the media, such as “Radio Islam.” Other interesting articles include an account by the New York Times Islam reporter on how she gained access to her sources, and an examination of how the media tends to portray women as the “good” Muslims favoring peace and freedom. This issue is available at: http://www.nieman.harvard.edu
02: The two words “evangelical” and “elite” may not seem to belong together but D. Michael Lindsay’s new book Faith in the Halls of Power(Oxford University Press, $24.95) is a convincing examination of the rising influence of a new type of evangelical leader in American society. Unlike recent conspiratorial treatments of evangelical influence in politics, Lindsay portrays the emerging evangelical elite as a diffuse movement of laypeople and clergy that have gained influence in many spheres of American society–from entertainment and journalism to business, academia, and politics.
Lindsay interviewed 360 such leaders and finds little conspiracy to take over America but a “remarkable cohesion” among them because of their shared identity and the overlapping networks of influence they have created. It is these networks often located in centers of prestige, whether it be the Fellowship, an exclusive organization for Christian politicians or the newly formed Christian actor guilds, that lend legitimacy to such evangelical elites.
These “cosmopolitan evangelicals” are different than the evangelical rank-and-file in various ways. They tend to distance themselves from the evangelical subculture, viewing it as tacky and unsophisticated. Unlike “populist” evangelicals, the evangelical elite tends to have a more “flexible orthodoxy” and weak relationships with congregational life, often preferring their parachurch networks for spiritual sustenance. Lindsay is ambivalent about the future influence of the new evangelical leadership While they undoubtedly have growing influence in American society due to their positions, it is not clear that they have the ear of a large evangelical constituency or can calm the fears of other Americans who fear evangelical domination.
03: There have been many books and studies on Pentecostal growth around the world, but Donald A. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori’s new book Global Pentecostalism (University of California Press, $24.95) focuses largely on how these Christians engage social issues. Miller and Yamamori study only what they call “progressive Pentecostals“- those that espouse a holistic ministry including social programs rather than those holding the “health and wealth” teachings (though there is not always a clear demarcation between the two camps). These Pentecostals cover the spectrum on the scale of social involvement–from operating “mercy” ministries (feeding the poor) to emerging community development projects (sometimes in partnership with NGOs) to, less frequently, seeking to change policy through political involvement.
Based on 300 interviews with pastors and others involved in Pentecostal social outreach, the book is in some ways a global sequel to Miller’s previous work on “new paradigm” charismatic churches in the U.S. Most of the traits that make new paradigm churches effective–informality, use of networks over bureaucracy, and charismatic leadership–fit the progressive Pentecostals. It is the informality and sense of ownership given to members in in these congregations that leads the laity to take up social ministry. The emotional intensity and emphasis on gifts provides a strong sense of self-worth to both ministry workers and recipients and the flexibility to avoid bureaucracy, at least in the first generation of believers. Miller and Yamamori agree that Pentecostalism is providing a Protestant work ethic to members, but not in the puritanical vein as much as a more joyful and communal version.