01: The March issue of the Journal for the Scientiﬁc Study of Religion features a special forum on racially and ethnically diverse congregations.
An introduction by Michael Emerson notes the relative absence of research on these mixed congregations up until the 1990s, but with the growth of ethnic diversity, this subject has received more attention. Current research on interracial churches ﬁnods that these congregations are shaped by unique factors, such as speciﬁc denominational traditions, and have their own interactions and impact on civic participation. But there is no clear theoretical orientation in such studies, nor has there been much comparative work between religions.
The forum includes four articles that volume 22 new ground, attempt to break new ground, covering topics such as the difference between evangelical and Catholic racial integration in congregations, and how race is both transcended and reconﬁgured in these congregations.
For more information on this issue, write: Journal for the Scientiﬁc Study of Religion, Commerce Pl., 350 Main St, Malden, MA 02148.
02: The March/April issue of Society carries a special section on “Neo-Darwinism and Its Discontents,” which, as one might guess, has a lot to do with the Darwinist critique of religion as recently advanced by popular authors and scientists Richard Dawkins and Daniel Denne .
Most of the articles tend to counter Dawkins’ and Denne ’s view that religions are maladaptive features of evolution that are bound to disappear and be replaced by science. Contributors, including sociologist Andrew Greeley, literary critic Frederick Turner, Catholic philosopher Peter Augustine Lawler and anthropologist Lionel Tiger, range from critics of Darwinism (though not necessarily evolution) to supporters of theistic evolution, and those (like Tiger) viewing religion as having a more positive and adaptive function.
For more on this issue, write: Society, Springer, 233 Spring St, New York, NY 10013.
03: The spring issue of the Review of Faith & International Aﬀairs is devoted to the issue of black clergy and American policy in the Middle East and North Africa.
As R. Drew Smith notes in an opening article, if one looks at AfricanAmerican denominations, the impression would be that they have not played an activist role on Middle Eastern issues; in general, they do not have the oﬃcial apparatuses, such as advocacy ofﬁces in Washington, to engage social concerns as have mainline and Catholic churches (except through their participation in the National and World Council of Churches).
But Smith notes that on issues such as the Iraq war, black churches and leaders have cooperated with anti-war groups and mass action eﬀorts to extend their voices. In an important article on black churches and U.S. policy in Sudan, Allen Hertzke found that they developed a strategy that served as a signiﬁcant source of pressure on the regime to end its assaults against southern tribes. He notes that such a program of action was in response to the wider faith-based movement for human rights, but the black church strategies, honed in the civil rights movement, were central to this successful eﬀort.
The program of action started with marginal black pastors (and eventually new leaders) being drawn into the anti-slavery eﬀort in Sudan with white evangelicals and then convincing and networking with other African-American church groups to speak out on the issue until the cause reached the black establishment, who then put pressure (often through civil disobedience) on legislators to enact disinvestment and cease-ﬁre proposals. This eﬀort was then duplicated and applied to the related crisis in Darfur.
Other articles in this issue include an interesting study by Lawrence H. Mamiya on African-American Muslims and the war in Iraq, noting that Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam have gone beyond the critical yet “accomodationist” stance of other Muslim groups to embrace a radical anti-Americanism, believing the war has ushered in the period of Armageddon.
For more information on this issue, go to: http://www.cﬁa.org.
04: In 2007, Equinox, a dynamic, UK-based publishing house, launched a new journal, Religions of South Asia, which is published twice a year.
In the second issue, Tracy Pintchman (Loyola University, Chicago) pays attention to new developments in the Western academic study of Hindu traditions, linked to the critique of earlier Indological work. Field research on lived religions has gained an increasing place, and the split between ethnographic and textual approaches has become increasingly eroded. Due to the involvement of a number of scholars in Hindu groups or practices, the insider/outsider dichotomy has been put into question.
The same has also happened to the category of Hinduism itself—as evidenced again by the conference “Rethinking Religion in India”, which took place in New Delhi in January and which RW a ended, where both the category of Hinduism and the concept of religion itself (as a Western construct) came under strong criticism. According to Pintchman, scholars are now having new opportunities for research, linked to the globalization of Hindu traditions around the world and the emergence of “Western Hinduisms” (new religions). Technological changes also call for new research, for instance, on the varied consequences of the Internet, which has provided opportunities for “the creation and promulgation of a wide variety of Hinduisms that transcend all manners of divides.”
Television and ﬁlm are also oﬀering new interpretations of traditional narratives. Provided the category of Hinduism itself is valid, globalization might push scholars to reconsider its boundaries. In the same issue, Véronique Altglas (University of Cambridge) summarizes her research on the global diﬀusion and Westernization of Siddha Yoga and Sivananda Centers. According to her observations, the approach of neo-Hindu teachings is revealing of attitudes toward religion in modern societies: religious individualism, inner-worldly orientations, relativism and subjectivism, as well as pragmatism.
Hinduism “becomes an individual religion at the same time that it becomes global.” Hindu traditions are de-ethnicized and delinked from their cultural heritage, since the assumption is that religions share a universal and unique truth. Another new periodical is the Journal of Religion in Europe, published by Brill. The ﬁrst issue was published in 2008. In their introductory article, editors Hans G. Kippenberg (Max Weber Kolleg, University of Erfurt) and Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Amsterdam) stress that recent research has shown a sometimes overlooked complexity of religious life in Europe.
A pluralism of religious communities is not new, and has shaped religious identities and practices. Regarding the concept of secularization, some researchers now place the concept in the European context, while others prefer to emphasize the existence of diﬀerent developments in diﬀerent regions of Europe. An article by David Nirenberg pays attention to the diﬀerent dialectics regarding the relation between Islam and the West—one of exclusion, another one of inclusion, but inseparable from each other.
Generally speaking, the new journal combines attention paid to contemporary developments with a strong interest in their historical background.
For more information, visit the websites of these new publications at: Religions of South Asia, http://www.equinoxjournals.com/ojs/index.php/ROSA; Journal of Religion in Europe, http://www.brill.nl/jre.
05: The Party Faithful (Scribner, $25), by journalist Amy Sullivan, documents the changed strategy of Democrats in the U.S. to appeal to religious voters that has been taking place for several years.
Sullivan traces the alienation of the Democratic Party back to the late 1960s and ’70s when the crises of the Vietnam war and Watergate and changes such as the women’s movement led to disillusion with traditional religious institutions among liberals. The “culture wars” over abortion and gay rights similarly created new divisions between secular and religious Americans, often expressed in the political aﬃliations of Republicans versus Democrats.
Sullivan writes that the realization that average Democrats (who are often Catholic) also shared a concern over values, and issues such as abortion propelled Democratic operatives and a new breed of religious advisors to plan a more eﬀective religious strategy, particularly after the defeat of John Kerry by George W. Bush in 2004. The strategy has included advising Democratic leaders and candidates to address matters of religion “early and often” in their campaigns and to work with clergy and congregations in a manner similar to that of Republicans.
The emergence of new organizations, such as Common Ground, and the re-energization of older ones, such as Sojourners, often serve to mediate between Democratic politicians and their advisors and moderate and liberal congregations.
06: God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion (Jossey-Bass, $24.95) makes for interesting reading about a topic too long ignored by scholars and journalists.
Most books on science and religion deal with the “big” questions—the existence of God, evolution, the nature of humanity—but tell us very little about the everyday nature of religious and scientiﬁc life. While Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer and Jesuit brother, starts the book by addressing the larger matters, he quickly settles for more practical answers to questions on how scientists and engineers (he tends to combine the two professions) approach personal religious matters.
He does this biographically at ﬁrst, but then interviews several engineers, IT professionals and scientists, ﬁnding that his stereotypes about how these professionals would approach questions of faith did not always hold up. Consolmagno found that the rule-based and logic-driven mindset of his interviewees did not translate into a similar kind of religious faith. The “techies” tended to value religion as much for providing a sense of community as for guiding them in the search for truth.
The last part of the book turns into an apologetic account of how, in the opinion of the author, Roman Catholicism provides the best set of answers for techies.
07: Christian Citizens in An Islamic State: The Pakistan Experience (Ashgate, $29.95), by Theodore Gabriel, is a sobering account of how the extensive Islamization of political life aﬀects religious minorities in Pakistan.
Gabriel makes the somewhat controversial claim that the founders of Pakistan never intended to create an Islamic state, but rather were seeking only a nation protecting the full rights of Muslims. Nevertheless, he notes that even though most Muslims do not strongly believe in an Islamic state, the government (even its moderate leaders) has supported Islamization in most aspects of public life to appease radical Muslim groups. In this process of Islamization, Christians—who lived in the region for more than a hundred years before the formation of the nation—have been relegated to second-class or even alien status.
This is especially the case after 9/11 and the Iraq war, when Christians are identiﬁed with the U.S, even though they have made signiﬁcant eﬀorts to indigenize their worship and theology. Far more than their lives or homes, it is the churches and many Christian schools (which often educate more Muslims than Christians and avoid proselytizing) that are targeted by militants. Gabriel remains somewhat optimistic about the plight of Christians, largely because of the growth of inter-faith eﬀorts and dialogue groups (often started by Christians), which have built bridges to the many moderate and intellectual Muslims in Pakistan.
08: While RW rarely reviews books in languages other than English, we should make an exception for Internet et Religion (Infolio, €17), by Jean-François Mayer, associate editor of RW and Director of the Religioscope Institute.
The new book, which is the ﬁrst in a series of titles to be published under the Religioscope logo, describes various uses of the Internet by both mainstream and smaller religious groups and is especially interested in the impact of technological changes in the ﬁeld of religion. While the Internet oﬀers opportunities for religious groups to reach their faithful without any mediation, it also makes it easier to challenge traditional religious authorities and to make divergent, competing voices heard.
In the case of Islam, it worsens the current crisis of authority. Less dramatically, for other religious groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, it raises the issue of distinguishing between bona ﬁde teachings and sources considered as not legitimate. Even groups that initially were tempted to ignore the Web—from Shinto groups in Japan to Fundamentalist communities in the West—seem all to come ﬁnally to the conclusion that there is no escape from it. The Internet creates a pressure by making even internal controversies relatively public.
While the author acknowledges having been initially skeptical about the ability of the Internet to create virtual communities, he has come across instances that seem to go in that direction: for instance, prayer groups gathering online. Similarly, he mentions cases of small religious groups (e.g. neo-pagans) currently emerging out of forums. Rituals online are found in several religions, but they have not evolved into a speciﬁc kind of cyber experience, as some observers had initially expected: they mostly tend to replicate classical rituals to some extent.
Traditions putting a strong emphasis on visual components, such as Hinduism with its concept of darshan (seeing the sacred), ﬁnd themselves in the best position for making use of the Internet for rituals, as shown by websites oﬀering online puja.
[The book cannot be ordered from Religioscope Institute; but it can be ordered from any French language bookshop, or from Amazon.fr, the French counterpart of Amazon.com, which allows the use of the same customer ID.]
09: Although the Arab press has been faulted by the Bush administration and other critics as being tolerant of Islamism and even terrorism, a new study suggests that Arab journalists are largely critical of Islamic states and religious leaders involved in government.
The study, cited in the New York Times (May 25), by researchers Lawrence Pintak, Jeremy Ginges and Nicholas Felton, surveyed 601 journalists in 13 Arab countries in North Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. Overwhelmingly, the journalists wanted religious leaders to stay out of politics (78 percent).
The majority (60 percent) agreed that “national laws may contradict Islamic law.” Forty nine percent said it is “not necessary to believe in God to have good moral values,” and only 25 percent said “politicians who do not believe in God are not ﬁt for oﬃce.” The study, which is to be published in July in the International Journal of Press Politics, found that most of the journalists see themselves as agents of political and social change who believe it is their mission to reform the antidemocratic regimes they live under.
10: The new book Worship and Sin: An Exploration of Religion-Related Crime in the United States (Peter Lang Publishing, 34.95), by Karel Kurst-Swanger, a empts to integrate the often scattered theories and research on criminal behavior and religion found across the various disciplines into a more orderly and categorized approach.
The author, a criminologist at the State University of New York at Oswego, states at the beginning of the book that religion-related crime is far from a single phenomenon and that like other crimes it needs to be distinguished by its various dimensions. Swanger arrives at a threefold typology of religion-related crime: theologically based; reactive/defensive; and abuse of religious authority. She pays the most attention to the ﬁrst two kinds of religion-related crime, viewing them as most distinct from other types of criminal activity.
Often groups straddle the line between these two categories, as in the case of the polygamous Latter Day Saints groups; their “criminal” practices stem from their theology but they become involved in other such unlawful activities because of outside pressure and attack.
In contrast to the ﬁrst two categories, the abuse of religious authority is closely linked with occupational and corporate crime, although Swanger acknowledges the religious implications of such activity as clerical sex abuse. The purpose of the book seems to be to serve as a primer on the importance and complexity of religious crime for criminal justice professionals, providing a wealth of case studies and research ﬁndings, rather than proposing or advancing a particular theory or argument.
Swanger provides an evenhanded overview of such issues as religion, crime and the First Amendment, crimes against children (though she tends to be more receptive to charges of recovered memory/ritual abuse than many scholars), illicit drugs, and hate crimes. She tries to break out of the anti-cult and new religious movement debate (although taking a middling position on such a controversial issue as brainwashing) by creating the new designation of “destructive religious groups” regardless of whether they are labeled “cults,” sects, or established religions.
11: Religion Dispatches is an interesting online magazine devoted to exploring the interactions and intersections of religion, values, and public life.
Founded by religion scholars and journalists, the web magazine attempts to analyze religious news events for their wider political and social implications for the “common good.” Although the magazine views its work as “increasing attention to progressive expressions of religion and values,” its coverage is not heavily ideological or biased toward the left side of the spectrum. Recent articles include reports on signs of a new “evangelical center” in politics forming, the international charismatic television network God TV, the role of Buddhist clergy in the violence in Tibet, and new religious freedoms in Cuba.
The website has started featuring videos, the ﬁrst being a roundtable discussion of scholars and journalists with commentator E.J. Dionne on religion and politics.
Visit Religion Dispatches at: http://www.religiondispatches.org