01: The U.S. is becoming a more secular country judging by the decreasing amount of time Americans spend on religious activities, including Sunday worship, according to a recent study.
Drawing on time-use data (which is obtained through respondents recording their own daily activities) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, researchers Ariela Keysar, Barry Kosmin, and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi find that Americans show “very low levels of religiosity in terms of actual behavior.” In a paper presented at the early November meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC) in Tampa, the researchers found that the average American spends a total of three minutes on “religious and spiritual activities” on a normal weekday, meaning that only 4.4 percent of the population actually reports participating in this form of behavior.
In ranking activities in terms of hours expended by the U.S. population, personal care, including sleeping, was first while religious and spiritual activities were last, even lagging behind telephone calls. More significantly, even on Sunday the amount spent on religious activities has changed. In calculating the total amount of time on Sundays devoted to work and religious participation, the former “far surpasses” religion (1.0 average hours for work versus 0.6 hours devoted to religious and spiritual activities).
Much of this change has come about as blue laws prohibiting work on Sundays have been eliminated in most states, creating a new “24/7” society. Sports and other volunteer activities surpass religion on weekdays and score the same on Sundays. In comparing participation rates, or the proportion of people engaged in an activity, the number of people attending church still exceeds those engaging in work, sports and volunteering but they “fall well short of those shopping on Sunday.” (40.4 percent for shopping and 26.5 for religious activities). Still, those attending services have tended to maintain a traditional “Protestant Sunday,” shopping and working less than other Americans. .
02: The commonly held view that bad economic conditions may increase religiosity may be more valid for evangelical rather than mainline Protestants, according to a new study. Texas State University economist David Beckworth presented a paper at the November meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC) based largely on an analysis of Pew Research Survey data collected in 2001 during a nationwide recession.
The probability of weekly church attendance was calculated by an estimation based on the employment status of respondents. Beckworth found that while evangelical Protestants had an overall higher probability of attending church than other Americans, that probability increased by 11 percent if the evangelical respondents were unemployed.
Through analyzing additional studies of Seventh Day Adventist conversions, he further found that the expansion of converts and members related to a recession lasts for 1.5 years after a “macroeconomic” shock. Mainline Protestants were significantly less affected by recession, most likely due to their higher economic status. In fact, a good economy and a booming stock market pushes up the mainline membership growth rate by 0.21 percent, most likely because such conditions give higher income groups more leisure, including more consumption of religion. .
03: The potential for religious radicalization is higher in situations where socio-economic differences are also translated into religious terms, and is often hastened by trigger events in which religion has become the main mobilization force, according to a new study. An article on Christian militancy in Tripura (India), Northern Uganda and Ambon (Indonesia), published in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (November) makes it clear that while most recent attention has been given to radical Muslims, perpetrators of faith-based violence can be found in all religions, hence an interest in understanding the dynamics which leads to violence in some cases, while not in other ones.
The three cases are more different than similar; but in all three, Christian symbols and references are used to reinforce cohesion and encourage sacrifice. In Tripura, there is no official reference to Christianity in founding statements of a movement – the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) – which was primarily born out of a reaction to the huge influx of Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, making the indigenous population a minority. Nevertheless, a militant form of Christianity has played an increasingly large role, the authors note. 90 percent of the NLFT leadership is Christian, primarily first-generation Baptist. According to the study, in a tribal culture undergoing rapid change, Baptist Christianity has served purposes of mobilization and nation-building beyond local tribes and sub-clan differences, creating a distinct religious identity that can resist assimilation into Hindu culture.
The case of Northern Uganda is different, since it incorporates elements from the local Acholi tradition and even from Islam since 1994, in recognition of Sudanese support; and thus falls outside of mainstream Christianity. But the movement was fed by feelings of marginalization of the Acholi community. Regarding Christian militias in Ambon, they have never been a unified movement. Christian symbols and prayer sessions served to strengthen the internal cohesion of the militias. What had started as a conflict between Protestant Moluccans and Muslim migrants became a conflict between the entire Christian and Muslim communities, with both experiencing a massive turn to religious practices and identities. The authors conclude that the trend in Ambon of insert local issues into a global context is typical of developments worldwide since 2001.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and director of the Religioscope Institute.
(Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Taylor & Francis Group, 325 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.)
04: A new report finding a connection between religious liberty and capitalism is also seeking to challenge older paradigms of religious freedom, reports Touchstone magazine (November).
The report, “Religious Freedom in the World 2007,” will be published by the conservative Hudson Institute’s Center on Religious Freedom next year, but some of its findings were released on its website. The report found that the most religious freedom was in the U.S., Estonia, Hungary, and Ireland, with the second highest ranking found in countries such as Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Botswana, Japan, Mali, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine. The least religious freedom was found in Burma, China-Tibet, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Although some countries may have official policies of religious freedom, such as India and even France and Germany, their treatment of religious minorities (such as Muslims) puts them in a lower ranking than previous religious freedom surveys have done. Such a broadening of the definition of religious freedom has partly been the result of new indexes created to measure these liberties [such as found in Brian Grim’s work on the largely non-governmental social regulation of religion, which is featured in the new report].
But the report also makes the more controversial move of correlating religious freedom with free markets, using Europe as its main case study. Although it is noted that such Muslim countries as Senegal and Mali outrank Germany and Belgium, on the whole, Catholic and Protestant nations are rated the freest. The report argues that religious freedom allows for the growth of personal responsibility and “moral purpose” that can encourage “every kind of capital,“ including the free market, to flourish.
The authors hope the report will move governments and corporations to press for improved human rights in countries seeking foreign aid and investment. However, writer Joan Frawley notes that the link between religious freedom and prosperity is more questionable for religious systems and ethics that view the free market with “wariness rather than glee. Policymakers who implement these proposals may be disappointed when their `investment’ in religious tolerance doesn’t yield quantifiable results.”
(Touchstone, P.O Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641).