01: The Fall issue of the journal Nova Religio is devoted to the question ofwhether Islamic jihadism can be considered a “new religious movement” (or NRM). Increasingly, both specialists in terrorism and anti-cult and new religious movement scholars have been exchanging and borrowing ideas and concepts to deal with the terrorist threat.
The issue opens with an overview of the different kinds of jihadism and how NRM perspectives and theories can be applied to the phenomenon. Writer Mark Sedgwick tries to untangle such concepts as pacifist or non-violent jihad and defensive jihad from Islamist jihad, which is espoused by al-Queda. He argues that NRM scholarship, especially its theories of sect growth, does shed light on the internal history and mechanics of terrorist groups and why individuals join them. But NRMs have less in common with jihadist groups in the way the latter are often surrounded by “supportive milieus”–those that don’t join but broadly support terrorist actions. Other articles include one on how jihadists often divine meanings and even gain authority among other terrorists by their night dreams.
The final article on the under-studied but important movement and teachings of Said Nursi provides a clear example of the scope of the aforementioned non-violent jihad. The Turkish-based Nursi movement and its founder did not forsake the concept of an external jihad on behalf of Islam, but such a battle is to be fought through persuasion and demonstrating the truth of Islam rather than through violence and politicization.
For more information on this issue write: Nova Religio, University of California Press, Journals, 200 Center St., #303, Berkeley, CA 94704.
02: Charisma magazine devotes much of its November issue to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Church of God in Christ. The issue provides interesting historical background information as well as current trends of the six million member denomination. An increasing number of megachurches–often in inner city locations–and community development ministries have given the COGIC a new public stature among both white and African-American Christians.
The Pentecostal body has also become more involved in international ministries, such as AIDS programs in Africa. What is also interesting is the way Charisma, largely a white charismatic magazine, has increasingly made space for coverage and advertising of black ministries, while at the same time becoming a vocal advocate for Republican politics.
For more information, write: Charisma, 600 S. Rhinehart, Lake Mary, FL 32746.
03: No longer seen as an inevitable and monolithic force (at least in the U.S), many social scientists now treat secularism as definable movements that exists alongside religiosity and emerges in specific social contexts. This is evident in the new book Secularism and Secularity, (Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture), edited by Barry A Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. The book presents studies of secularism in the U.S., Canada, England, France, Denmark, Australia, Iran, and Israel. All of these varieties are shaped by these countries’ religious cultures and dynamics.
Among one of the most interesting chapters is on how secularism in Denmark has evolved into a “neo-tribalism” hostile to ethnic and religious minorities, especially Islam. Other noteworthy chapters include a survey of American atheists and how they are different than agnostics and the “no religion” population, and an account of how the Pacific Northwest forms the epicenter of secularism in the U.S.
The book can be downloaded free of charge at:http://www.trincoll.edu/secularisminstitute
04: God Needs No Passport (The New Press, $26.95) is the result of sociologist Peggy Levitt’s pioneering research on transnational religion among American immigrants. She bases her work on Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, and Protestant immigrants in a city in Massachusetts. The point of the book is that these religious and ethnic communities are not solely based in the U.S. Because of greater mobility and communications technology and developments in their home country it is becoming more common for immigrants to have an identity in both the “sending” and “receiving” societies.
Not all religious immigrants accept such transnational identities; Levitt categorizes immigrants either as fully assimilated “Americans,” those who maintain their ethnicity and religion while remaining in the U.S., “cosmopolitans,” who freely move between their home countries and the U.S., and “religious global citizens,” who embrace a global identity that values ties between fellow coreligionists more than those between fellow ethnics and nationals. Religious organizations and congregations are likewise reconfigured to function in some cases as franchises and “transnational supply chains” that move resources, people, and leaders between countries.
Levitt concludes by arguing that despite the fears of terrorism by immigrants with divided religious and national loyalties, transnational religious immigrants tend to value American ideals and in some cases could play an unofficial diplomatic function in U.S foreign relations.
05: Bishops, Wives and Children (Ashgate, $99.95), by Douglas Davies and Mathew Guest, takes a “dry” subject such as the families of Church of England bishops and renders it relevant in explaining how religious identity and “spiritual capital“ are transmitted across generations. Davies and Guest follow the careers of Church of England bishops and the place of their wives and children in their ministries. The transmission of faith to the bishops’ children was, as one might expect, shaped by many environmental factors, yet they were found to profess a set of values that were not radically different from their parents (support for “traditional British values”). Much also depended on the times in which the children were raised.
It seems that in homes where the bishop was influenced by the liberal currents in the church while retaining a strong liturgical orientation, the children often felt they were, on one hand, never introduced to basic Christian teachings and, on the other, that the church was distant from them with its focus on ceremony and formality. Also of interest is the chapter on the “social capital” transmitted in bishops’ homes. A majority of the children ended up working in professions stressing caring and nurture, public and business leadership, as well as creativity and the arts. Public service to the wider community was also a strong motivational force in these clerical families.
06: Ukraine has long been considered the “Bible belt” of the Soviet and post-Soviet region, but the new book Communities of the Converted (Cornell University Press, $24.95) suggests that the country is also becoming a center of global missions. Anthropologist and historian Catherine Wanner begins this important book with a recounting of how Ukrainian evangelicals—mainly Baptists and Pentecostals—resisted communist atheism and forced secularization by creating their own counterculture.
The nearly two million strong evangelical Ukrainian community (both in Ukraine and the U.S.) retains this countercultural and highly communal nature. With their modest clothing (with women covering their heads), maintaining of ethnic traditions and communal bonds (including pacifism), the Ukraine evangelicals seem more like Anabaptists than Baptists; in fact, they see the Amish as a model for their communities. Using numerous case studies, Wanner argues that although there is some assimilation among the younger generations (especially in language and ascetic practice), the Ukrainian-American evangelicals’ attachments to the former Soviet Union remain strong. She sees an “active transnational social field of believers that is connected to both a country of origin and an adopted country via religious commitments to evangelize.“
With the relatively open religious market in Ukraine (in contrast to Russia) and with strong transnational ties (accepting many foreign Christian workers), the country is serving both as a base of training and missions to the former Soviet Union and to other parts of the world. Ukrainian evangelicalism’s increasingly global nature is illustrated in Wanner’s chapter on the Embassy of God–a charismatic megachurch led by a Nigerian with satellites in the U.S and Europe. Yet the “ambassadors” increasingly see a political and economic role for charismatic Christianity in Ukraine, even as they expand globally.