01: The rise of “political anti-fundamentalism” is largely a reaction to messages about conservative Christians from the media, according to a recent study by political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio.
In a paper presented at the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture (ASREC) in Tampa, Florida in early November, Bolce and De Maio analyzed data from the 1988-2004 American National Election Studies and found those most tolerant of others holding moral values different than themselves were also most likely to feel antagonistic toward fundamentalists. That the liberal “sophisticated classes” are opposed to “fundamentalists” or conservative Christians during a time when they became more politically active might be considered natural But Bolce and De Maio found that it was those most attentive to political media during these years who were the most likely to conflate conservative Christians with the New Christian Right and to view them as extremists having “too much influence” in society.
The researchers added that the animus toward conservative Christians or fundamentalists as a group are classic signs of political prejudice that was once (but no longer) reserved for Catholics and Jews. Bolce and De Maio also found that respondents living in counties with the lowest concentrations of evangelicals displayed higher levels of prejudice, suggesting that negative impressions were influenced from information picked up from external sources.
02: An update of a major study of American congregations finds an aging pastorate, a sharp growth of the use of computer technology, an increase in minority clergy, and more congregations using contemporary styles of worship. The “second wave” of the National Congregations Study, first carried out in 1998, found the average age of clergy increasing from 49 to 53, with the graying taking place most among mainline Protestants.
The study, which was presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Tampa, Fla., found that the use of computer technology, such as e-mail and websites, by congregations has increased by 20 to 40 percent. But some things haven’t changed at all. The average size of congregations is exactly what it was in 1998. The same goes for the percent of female head clergy, which may mean a leveling off or even decline of “feminization” of the ministry. The political activity of congregations is also relatively flat, although more black churches have received public funding for faith-based ministries, according to Mark Chaves, director of the study.
03: Recent research suggests that younger evangelicals are shifting away from the Republican Party and Christian right views. A study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that support among younger evangelicals for President Bush has dropped from 87 percent in 2002 to 45 percent today.
While younger evangelicals are still more conservative than their contemporaries, Republicans now only having a 2-1 advantage over Democrats among this group compared to the 4-1 edge in 2005, according to the Christian Century (October 30).
04: Attending church may be an important factor in women having more children, according to a paper presented at the SSSR meeting attended by RW. Conrad Hackett of Princeton University presented his ongoing research on the religious factor in fertility and found that levels of orthodoxy, devotion, denomination, tradition, and prayer had little effect on fertility.
But church attendance did have a notable effect in families having three or more children. Hackett said that congregations mediate religious influence, “nudging“ people who worship regularly in a certain direction. While some congregations explicitly advocate fertility and having large families, most exert a subtle influence that congregants are not aware of. For instance, churchgoers may compare themselves to and feel influenced by fellow believers who have large families.
Thus, members in denominations with high attendance, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God, tend to have larger families. While lack of education and participation in the labor force are likely factors in the larger families in such churches, it is frequent attendance that is a decisive factor.
05: Attendance at religious services may be one reliable predictor of sympathy for terrorism among extremist Muslims and Jews, according to a new study. Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia, who read a paper on the religious motivations and support of terrorism at the ASREC in Tampa, found in a 2006 survey that respondents who were regular mosque attenders were three times more likely to answer in the affirmative about sympathy for terrorism than the other respondents.
Whether or not the respondent engaged in regular prayer had no effect on such support. Other studies have reported similar findings. One study on Israeli support for Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who attacked Muslims, found that synagogue attendance increased support for his actions by 23 percent. Prayer if anything reduced the support for Goldstein as a hero. The research concludes that prayer is the strongest measure of religiosity and that “devotion” is largely unrelated to sympathy for terrorism.