01: A widely publicized survey on religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life either shows a growing rate of disenchantment with organized faiths or greater religious pluralism and dynamism, depending on one’s own place on the religious spectrum.
The survey made headlines around the world for its finding that more than one-quarter of American adults (28 percent) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at all. Including those who have changed from one Protestant denomination to another makes the switching rate jump to 44 percent.
The percentage of those who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith (16.1 percent) is more than double the number of those who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Catholicism experienced the greatest net losses as a result of the affiliation changes (one in three or 31 percent said they were raised Catholic, while today fewer than one in four, or 24 percent, described themselves as Catholic).
Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero writes in USA Today.com (March 14) that a host of religious groups can “read the tea leaves” to find either success or failure in the survey’s data (e.g. secular humanist and atheist groups have— as with previous studies—asserted that the figures indicate a growing secularist tide). But Prothero argues that the Pew study does not show the decline of religion as much as the growth of faiths built on the popular maxim of being “spiritual but not religious.”
More interestingly, Prothero traces the rise of the “nones” (those with no religious affiliation) to a “decline in the stigma of being a religious free agent, and an increase in the stigma of being a church member.” The association between conservative politics and organized religion may have tended to convince liberals who might have described themselves as “Christians” to discard that affiliation.
At the same time, scandals among the clergy and the decision by many young parents not to raise their children with any faith at all may have contributed to the growth of the nones. But Prothero also notes that 44 percent of the respondents did call themselves “evangelical” Christians, particularly those in nondenominational churches stressing personal choice. Prothero concludes that “faith is becoming more political. But it is also becoming more personal at the same time.”
02: Astrological signs have no influence on the probability of marrying (and staying married to) someone of any other sign, even for believers in astrology, according to statistical research carried out by David Voas of the University of Manchester.
Writing in the Skeptical Inquirer (March/April), Voas notes that popular astrologists have regularly promoted the idea of “love signs,” where people are compatible with their partners by having the right combination of birthdays. Voas did a statistical breakdown of husbands and wives by day and month of birth from the 2001 Census of England and Wales, looking for evidence of any combinations of signs that could be found more or less often than would be expected to occur by chance.
At first, the spousal star sign table showed a “very small but significant tendency for people to marry partners of the same sign.” After the breakdown of husbands’ and wives’ birthdays, Voas did find that the number of couples for whom the same birthday was recorded for husband and wife is 41 percent higher than expected (39,800 rather than 28,300).
But he argues that these resulted from “response error,” since it is not uncommon for the Census to be completed by one member of the household, who might mistakenly list their own birthday for that of their spouse or estimate the month of their spouse’s birthday. Even those who listed birthdays in the same month more often selected dates that were far apart enough to fall under different astrological signs. Voas found that even the belief in astrology had no apparent influence on partner choice.
He concludes that “If enough people believed that signs matter and were prepared to act on those beliefs, then some combination would appear more often than expected even if they had no bearing on compatibility.”
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03: An Oxford University study confirms that there are a disproportionate number of engineers in Islamist groups up to the present day.
There has long been anecdotal information on the large number of applied science professionals in fundamentalist and militant Muslim groups. Through compiling information on the educational attainment of 178 members and participants in violent non-Western Islamist groups, sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog found that engineering was most popular field of study (78 out of the 178 studied engineering, compared with 14 cases in medicine, 12 in economics and business, and seven in natural sciences).
Although Western-based Muslim extremists had low educational levels, engineering also showed up as the predominant profession. The researchers venture that there may be a universal “engineering mindset” that is predisposed toward the conservative and exacting approach of Islamism. But they also note that in countries where engineers don’t experience the “relative deprivation” of low occupational prestige and unemployment (such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia), the correlation between engineering and extremism is weak or non-existent.
04: Muslims are more likely than any other religious group in England to consider themselves British, according to a study by economists Alan Manning and Sanchari Roy of the London School of Economics.
Using data from the Labour Force Survey, a quarterly sample survey of households in Great Britain, Manning and Roy found that groups thought to be resistant to integration, such as foreign-born Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, were actually more likely to self-identify as British than were their counterparts from other Western countries, such as Canada, Western Europe and Japan.
Although the religious factor was weaker than nationality in identification with Britain, the study found that Muslims were more likely than the other religious groups represented by different immigrant groups to think of themselves as British. The study, which is cited in the March issue of Reason, found that by the third generation, all differences by religion or nation or origin in the responses had disappeared.
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