01: As a result of a growing interest in religions and their role in society, new websites and newsletters in different languages are making an appearance. Several of them are edited by people with a background in religious studies. A few months ago, Yunus, a new website on religion, was launched (http://www.yunusnews.com). It describes itself as “dedicated to collecting, filtering and analyzing religious news.” Its editor is Jonas Slaats, a young Belgian theologian currently based in Istanbul. During its first few months of existence, most of the website was accessible to subscribers only. Since September, however, the entire content can entirely be accessed for free. Yunus mixes reprints and summaries from other publications with articles and analyses of its own.
For those who read German, another new source is religionen:info. This monthly newsletter started in June and can be downloaded for free in PDF format (http://www.remid.de/newsletter/index.html). Its editor is Steffen Rink, and the newsletter is part of REMID, an information service launched in 1989 by young researchers in the field of religious studies in order to provide balanced information on all religious groups. religionen:infofocuses on Germany. The 11-page long September issue contains articles on converts to Islam in Germany and on Hasidic Judaism. It also offers an overview of recent publications and websites of interest, as well as announcements of forthcoming conferences in Germany.–By Jean-Francois Mayer
02: Robert Wuthnow’s new book After the Baby Boomers (Princeton University Press, $29.95) is bound to raise the level of discussion about the religious attitudes, beliefs and practices of American young adults. Wuthnow is reluctant to take a generational approach to what has become known as GenX or the baby busters. Unlike the baby boomers, the younger generation is not defined by specific national or world events as much as by demographic and social changes that affect everyone, but especially young adults (those under 45, according to Wuthnow). The book is clear on the fact that young adults today are less conventionally religious (on such measures as church attendance) than their baby boomer predecessors were at their age. He attributes this to the aforementioned demographic changes: young people are delaying or forsaking marriage and childbirth–factors that have traditionally raised religious participation.
The large increase of women in employment drives down the participation of women who have filled the pews in the past. Many young adults, particularly in matters of spirituality, are “tinkerers,“ piecing together available practices and beliefs that help them meet contemporary problems. Education is seen as shaping the main cleavages taking place among young adults, and not always in expected directions. For instance, the college-educated were more likely to score higher on levels of religious orthodoxy than those not attending college.
But on issues of religious tolerance, those young adults without college education were more likely to be intolerant of religious and ethnic minorities. Wuthnow sees a similar split among young adults running through the so-called “culture war“ issues; they are more polarized than the baby boomers in the early 1980s (with 56 percent leaning toward religious liberalism and 38 percent toward religious conservatism). Wuthnow concludes that congregations are ill-equipped to deal with young adults and the changes they represent. To remedy this, they have to become an important resource for “networking, for maintaining intergenerational ties, and for transmitting values” to the upcoming generation as they do for older adults and children.
03: Writing as both an anthropologist and an Episcopal seminarian and soon-to-be-priest, Miranda Hassett admits to a conflict of interest in her recent book, Anglican Communion in Crisis (Princeton University Press, $39.50). But she succeeds admirably in exploring the unusual yet significant alliances and networks that have emerged between conservative American Episcopalians and their allies in Africa. The continuing crisis in the Episcopal Church over gay rights and revisionist theology has split the Anglican communion, with most of the Third World, especially African churches, condemning the liberal U.S. church.
Hassett finds that the American conservative-African alliance did not take shape without a lot of work and planning–often through international conferences and the Internet. But she discounts the view that the Africans were coopted or even bought out by well-off, white conservatives to make the issue of homosexuality the centerpiece of the North-South divide. There was more of an “exchange” of perceived resources between the two groups; In fact, African concern about homosexuality under Western influence in both the church and society also encouraged this alliance.
Hassett also challenges the view that conservative religion stands apart from and is even a reaction against globalization. Both the African churches and the American conservatives share a global outlook and resources (spiritual and material) that have filtered down to the parish level. In studying one parish that left the Episcopal Church and joined a network of churches under the authority of a bishop from Rwanda, the author finds that the white parishioners have taken up Rwandan causes and even view African Christianity as superior to their own faith. Hassett concludes that these new partnerships based on networking and decentralized decision-making over hierarchy and centralized leadership will reshape world Anglicanism.
04: Prema Kurien’s new book, A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism (Rutgers University Press, $26.95) is one of the few sociological overviews of American Hinduism. The book provides a historical background to the establishment of Hinduism in the U.S., but mainly focuses on how Hindu groups, practices and beliefs are changing as they are transplanted to America. Her chapters are based on the various structures of American Hinduism and how they reflect important themes and trends. The establishment of home fellowships and study groups, known as bala vihar, show a “defacto congregationalism” emerging in a religion traditionally based on individualized temple worship.
Another chapter on Hindu temples examines how these structures have become increasingly “ecumenical,” including different deities and Indian regional traditions, to satisfy American Hindus from a wide range of backgrounds (although the chapter includes an interesting case study of the more sectarian Swaninarayan sect and its temples in the U.S.). The most controversial chapters deal with Hindu nationalism and its expression in the U.S. Kurien writes that virtually all Hindu umbrella organizations (including the moderate Hindu Students Councils) have “adopted some aspect of the Hindu nationalist ideology.“ She adds that multiculturalism has ironically served to promote Hindu nationalist currents, since it enhances ethnic pride and is defensive about “outsiders” (Western scholars) studying these traditions.
05: Religion and the New Immigrants: How Faith Communities Form Our Newest Citizens by Michael W. Foley and Dean R. Hoge (Oxford University Press, $35) is based on three years of study on the immigrant congregations in the Washington D.C. area. Previous books published on immigration and religion in cities were often anthologies on different religious traditions and congregations. In contrast, Foley and Hoge’s book focuses on the effect of faith communities on civic engagement.
Foley and Hoge used census data on faith communities that had more than 20 percent of immigrants of the same kind to illustrate the diversity of the ethnic and religious communities in the D.C. area, which “has had no urban ethnic enclave.” They then turn to a closer look at religious traditions and immigrant communities and how those communities engage in civic activities. The findings on how the terrorist attack of September 11 stimulated different groups to engage in activism outside of their immigrant and religious communities are especially noteworthy. The study also suggests that the longer an immigrant group is present in the United States, the more specialized social services are available to that particular immigrant group; in the process, their faith communities are less likely to serve as “community centers.”
In their conclusion, Foley and Hoge challenge a previous study by Stephen Warner suggesting that the adaptation of new immigrant faith communities function similarly to that of Protestant congregations. Their study found more diverse components forming congregations, including religious traditions, immigration backgrounds, member’s economic conditions, and even religious leaders’ engagement in civic affairs. For those expecting “thick description” of immigrant worship communities, the book does not provide as many lively illustration of immigrants and their faiths as might be hoped. Having said that, this book provide a clear picture of new immigrant groups and their faith communities and is an excellent contribution to the field.–By Ayako Sairenji, a New Jersey-based freelance writer and researcher.
06: American Sociology of Religion: Histories (Brill, $125), edited by Anthony J. Blasi, will not only be of interest to sociologists but also to anyone interested in the current shape and direction of research in American religion. In fact, the book makes it clear that much of the vigor of the sociology of religion worldwide today is related to the key trends in American religion–its new pluralism has generated fields of studying immigrant religion as well as new religious movements; the sharp growth and entrepreneurial spirit of evangelicals, charismatics and Mormons were influential in shaping the “new paradigm” theory stressing competition and pluralism. An early chapter on the “theoretical trajectory,” by Doyle Paul Johnson, provides an interesting narrative of how these changes took hold in the sociology of religion in the U.S. The new religious interest and diversity in American society informed the selection of other chapters: there are quite exhaustive chapters on the research literature, publications and scholarly organizations on Buddhism, religion and feminism, and new religious movements, but not much on mainline Protestantism nor even evangelicalism.