01: The March issue of Atlantic Monthly features a cover story on religious competition and conﬂict around the world.
The lead article by Eliza Griswold is a photographic essay on the Christian-Muslim conﬂict in Nigeria, where she ﬁnds new forms of competition and even hints of reconciliation. Griswold reports that while the conﬂict continues, some of the most violent ﬂash points in the country have seen a decline of violence. Part of the reason is the realization that the corruption and poverty endemic to the region has not been alleviated through implementing sharia.
Some Muslims are also borrowing the Pentecostal’s prosperity gospel, number economic volume 22 making 8 development an important component of the faith. Another article by Alan Wolfe sees religious competition on a world-wide scale as leading to an Americanization of religions, where, with a few exceptions, tolerance and accommodation trump religious warfare.
(Atlantic Monthly, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200 803)
02: Charisma magazine (February) features a cover story on African-American leaders and what they see as the most important issues in the black church.
Although the respondents come from the more evangelical and charismatic wings of black churches, they represent fast-growing movements that have gained wide inﬂuence in recent years. Most of the respondents cite racism and racial divisions as an important unresolved issue for these churches, though they give as much space to internal matters. D.L. Foster writes on the growth of “sexual immorality” in black churches and how “religious gays and lesbians are on a relentless quest to establish theological credibility for same-sex relationships in the black church today.”
Claude e Copeland argues that the growing independence of many black churches resulting from the severing of denominational alliances has produced a lack of accountability of clergy and the dangers associated with a “celebrity” mentality.
For more information on this issue, write: Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd, Lake Mary, FL 32746.
03: The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Observatory on Islamophobia has released its ﬁrst report, which has been submitted to the Eleventh Islamic Summit Conference held in Dakar, Senegal in March.
While it believes that “Islamophobic incidents” will continue, the 58-page report also states that both the Danish cartoon aﬀair and the controversial remarks by Pope Benedict “succeeded in making an impact on the international community on the gravity of the issue” and in creating a general awareness. Islamophobia is deﬁned in the report as “an irrational or very powerful fear or dislike of Islam.” It is “a religion-based resentment” incorporating “racial hatred, intolerance, prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping.”
The report speciﬁcally denounces scholars such as Samuel Huntington, Daniel Pipes, Steve Emerson and Bernard Lewis as proponents of Islamophobia who are said to have “accentuated” it through their writings. The report lists both what its authors see as issues of concern—such as “Islamophobic” statements by politicians in various countries—and positive developments—such as the appointment by President Bush of a special envoy to the OIC and work done by the Council of Europe for countering anti-Muslim prejudices.
In accordance with the ten-year action program decided by the OIC in 2005, the Observatory will make eﬀorts to project Islam “as a religion of moderation, peace and tolerance.” The publication of the report is indicative of trends toward coordination among Muslim countries on such issues, with various potential consequences. On the one hand, those eﬀorts are meant to allow governments of Muslim countries to show that they care and to keep such developments under control, instead of leaving them to the streets. On the other hand, it might contribute to spreading concerns on such issues even more widely across the “Muslim world.”
The full report can be downloaded from the OIC website: h p://www.oic-oci.org/ oicnew/is11/English/Islamophobia-re p-en.pdf.
04: Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation (Rutgers University Press, $19.95) by Richard Flory and Donald E. Miller covers the now familiar territory of the post-baby boomers, but sheds more light on the subject through its in-depth research on congregations and ministries dealing with this generation.
Flory and Miller categorize post-boomer ministries into four camps: innovators, appropriators, resisters and reclaimers. The innovators include the “emergent” movement stressing “authenticity,” community and intimacy in their experience-based worship and social outreach. The appropriators, such as Harvest Fellowship and Christian rock groups and skate boarders (and other “extreme” Christian sport groups), try to adapt to popular secular culture in order to ﬁnd a hearing.
Resisters, as their name implies, actively resist the inroads of relativism and postmodernism in the culture and the church. Such ministries and organizations as the Discovery Institute (in its promotion of intelligent design) and much of the Christian right and other groups stressing a “rational Christianity” and a “Christian worldview” fall into this camp.
The reclaimers include those post-boomers who have been drawn to ancient tradition and ritual-based churches, such as Eastern Orthodoxy and conservative Anglicanism and Catholicism. Many churches and ministries catering to baby boomers and older people can probably be placed in at least two or three of these categories, whose boundaries the authors themselves agree are fuzzy to begin with (the resisters and reclaimers seem to share so many features that they may represent just diﬀerent dimensions of one category). But Flory and Miller do capture the complexity of the young adult religious search and its institutional expressions.
They make the interesting point that the reclaimers, appropriators and innovators all hold to—in one way or another—an “expressive communalism” that stresses embodied and experiential forms of Christianity. Flory and Miller clearly see the resisters as ﬁghting a losing ba le, particularly since they rely on an “expert system” of approved theologians and teachers that seems to be out of touch with the more democratized approach of post-boomers.
05: Theories of globalization often appear so vague and amorphous that their value seems questionable and diﬃcult to apply to religious institutions. But the new book Religion, Globalization, and Culture (Brill, $99), edited by Peter Beyer and Lori Beaman, is noteworthy in how it looks at this process as it is played out in speciﬁc religious and national contexts.
The editors introduce the 608-page anthology by noting that the discussion of globalization since the late 1980s has tended to exclude religion, with the exception of the much-disputed concept and movement of “fundamentalism” (speciﬁcally by trying to link the various fundamentalist expressions as part of one global phenomenon). There is little mention of fundamentalism by the contributors, but quite a lot on other major currents in contemporary religion. As Beyer and Beaman suggest, it is now diﬃcult to discuss secularization, the deinstitutionalization of religion and religious conﬂict without touching on matters of globalization.
Various contributors claim that the concept of globalization itself has religious elements. One chapter looks at how “global rationalism” functions as a religion, while another contribution argues that spirituality and religion have shaped how globalization has been expressed—from spiritual environmentalism and “global consciousness” to the global war on terror. Other noteworthy contributions include a study of religious international NGOs by pioneer globalization theorists John Boli and David Brewington, which ﬁnds that Christian organizations of this kind still predominate throughout the world, though they have an increasingly secular orientation and are joined by Muslim, Jewish and other religious groups.
A few chapters look at religious opposition to globalization, focusing mainly on developments surrounding Islam, such as the Danish cartoon controversy. The last part of the book focuses on regional cultures and politics and how almost all religions—from indigenous African churches to Suﬁ Islam—are enmeshed in local, transnational and global networks.
06: In the Autumn of 1962 bishops from all around the world gathered in Vatican City to start what would be the twenty-ﬁrst Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church.
By 1965, when the Council ended, it had changed Catholic Church priorities and radically transformed both the way in which the Church would relate to other Christian denominations and the secular world at large. In Vatican II: A Sociological Analysis of Religious Change (Princeton University Press, $35), Melissa Wilde attempts to explain the reasons for this change based on a careful reading of the Council documents as well as statistical analyses of voting patterns on several contentious issues.
Wilde’s basic assumptions are that traditional sociological approaches to religious change are insuﬃcient to explain the exceptional outcomes of Vatican II. Relying heavily on interviews conducted by the Italian scholar Rocco Caporale, she explains the extent of the changes generated within the Council by looking at the organizational strategies of progressive bishops clustered around the Domus Mariae group. In her view, progressives in search of a new ecumenical church involved in social justice were able to come together because of their strong organizational culture and their trust in episcopal conferences.
While progressives became organized and developed eﬀective means of communicating and reaching agreements, conservatives remained skeptical about those assemblies─believing that bishops’ collegiality would undermine papal authority─and were thus unable to thwart the power of their opponents. Wilde aims to substantiate her insight by studying four contentious issues and looking at the ways in which progressives and conservatives from diﬀerent geographic regions voted in the Council. Unlike previous examinations of Vatican II, she rejects the claim that it was pressure from below (i.e. the faithful) that moved progressive bishops towards ecumenism and social justice.
To prove this, she analyzes the Council’s failure to liberalize birth control (a major lay claim in the turbulent 1960s, mainly in developed countries). Other interesting topics are the way in which the declaration of religious freedom was obtained, as well as the role played by the Virgin Mary in Catholic doctrine and its de-accentuation in the Council as a means to build bridges with other Christian denominations. Although well crafted and relying on an impressive amount of raw data, the book fails to explain at least part of the progressive wing by almost ignoring its thrust toward social justice and the preferential option for the poor, which were to prove so inﬂuential during the later turbulent years marked by the theology of liberation.
– By Marisol Lopez-Menendez, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the New School for Social Research
07: In an ambitious comparative study, Joseph M. Palacios’s The Catholic Social Imagination (University of Chicago Press, $25) aims at sociologically understanding the diﬀerent ways in which Catholics from Mexico and the United States have approached social justice issues during the last three decades without relying on the most obvious explanation: their diﬀerent histories.
Palacios’s analysis begins with a sophisticated theoretical approach based mostly on classic sociology. Nonetheless, most of the book is based on ethnographic research carried out in both countries between the early 1970s and the early 2000s in Oakland, California and Guadalajara, Mexico. At the core of his comparison between the two Catholic “social imaginations” is the assumption that the existence of freedom of religion in the U.S. has allowed Catholics to organize and put forward a clearly deﬁned social agenda. Meanwhile, their Mexican coreligionists have been mostly constrained in their public activities both by Mexican laws and Mexican history.
Palacios accurately identiﬁes the Catholic Worker movement, the United Farm Workers Union, the anti-death penalty movement and the School of the Americas Watch as cultural sites where Catholic social justice has expressed itself while forming a distinctively American Catholic openness to the secular world. His take on Mexican Catholic social imagination is insightful inasmuch he distinguishes the complex political entanglements between the oﬃcial Catholic Church and the Mexican government and the culturally loaded meanings they have had for socially active Catholics in the country.
However, there are stunning absences. While Palacios clearly depicts the U.S. Catholic social imagination and the several ways in which it is practiced by activists, he fails to provide a similar account when it comes to Mexico. His research seemingly went in the wrong direction: he found civil society groups that emerged from Catholic settings, but did not look in the one place where Catholic activism has clearly made an impact in public Mexican life: human rights organizations.
Most of these national, regional or tiny local NGOs have a strong Catholic component, are frequently led by priests and were founded by dioceses (like Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center in Chiapas) or by religious orders (like the Jesuit Miguel Agustin Pro Human Rights Center in Mexico City). It is not unfair to say that human rights are the only Catholic social justice initiative in which natural law and positive law discourses have entwined, and the only one that has been available well beyond local initiatives. Moreover, human rights organizations have successfully organized to put pressure on the Mexican government and have been able to create the kind of cultural sites that Palacios identiﬁes in the U.S.
– By Marisol Lopez-Menendez