01: The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) is exploring the possibility of setting up an international research program on the globalization of Asian new religious movements (NRMs), announces its director, Max Sparreboom.
The institute devotes its Spring 2008 newsletter to NRMs. In an introductory article, Wendy Smith (Monash University, Australia) notes that several researchers on Japanese NRMs have drawn parallels between those movements and Japanese multinational corporations. But globalization brings challenges to NRMs: should rituals be translated; would foreign branches be staﬀed with people from the home country of the movement; how should they recruit and retain members in diﬀerent cultural environments?
Those are some of the questions raised in articles on “six representative Asian NRMs” in this newsle er, including the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, Seicho-No-Ie, PL Kyodan, Soka Gakkai, Church of World Messianity (Sekai Kyusei Kyo), and Sukyo Mahikari.
For more information, write: IIAS, P.O. Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands, or visit: http://www.iias.nl.
02: Religioscope Institute has recently issued its ﬁrst report on contemporary religion.
The Frenchlanguage report, authored by Malik Tahar Chaouch and entitled L’Actualité de la théologie de la libération en Amérique latine: déclin et héritages, examines the decline of Liberation Theology in Latin America, as well as the ways in which it has evolved and inﬂuenced sociopolitical movements in the region. Liberation theology’s twilight is usually related to the fact that it did not develop a political project matching its theological and religious approaches, as well as due to the end of the Cold War era. Moreover, the author stresses the point that the concept of the “revolutionary subject” itself (the people or the poor) went into crisis, just as did the notion of the “historical subject” coined by Marxism.
A second factor in the decline of Liberation Theology is the hostility faced by most of its proponents from the Catholic hierarchy. Nonetheless, Chaouch highlights the ways in which diﬀerent Catholic networks (including both lay people and priests) have successfully engaged the Latin American sociopolitical fabric, oscillating between the center and the periphery of the Catholic Church. Given the existence of such widespread networks, the usual account that victimizes the Liberation Theology actors to justify its decline does not hold up. On the contrary, internal repression has helped to spread many of the ideas of the Liberation Theology project.
Moving from ecclesial settings to secular, civil ones, many of its key actors have built strong networks, both theological and civil, which have displaced some of the Church institutional arrangements. Chaouch convincingly argues for a reading of Liberation Theology’s recent developments, according to which, instead of fading away and receding to give way to Catholic conservatism and Protestant “fundamentalisms,” it has gone from aspiring to a revolutionary rupture to a defense of plurality and the acknowledgment of a multiplicity of historical subjects. Therefore, according to Chaouch, the Liberation Theology project has followed the trends of many social movements and transformed itself into what some have called a “self-regulated revolution.”
Two things distinguish the new ventures from the all-encompassing Liberation Theology of the past: the secularization of its reﬂections (and the integration of social sciences within the theological discourse), on the one hand, and the increasing recognition of a plurality of collective actors, on the other. Thus, rather than only one Liberation Theology project, nowadays we can ﬁnd several theologies emerging, which are linked to new social movements: indigenous peoples, women, and ecological movements have their own theological approaches that put forward new understandings of the old libertarian paradigm.
One such case is indigenous theology. The author puts forward the case of Mexico, showing the way in which diocesan structures (mainly San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas), religious orders (Jesuits and Dominicans), and the Episcopal Mexican Conference operated to give rise to distinct modes of organization and theological reﬂection among the indigenous Catholic ﬂock. The report is a product of Chaouch’s doctoral dissertation at the Institut des Hautes Etudes de l’Amérique Latine de la Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris.
The author is currently associate researcher at the Center de Sociologie des Religions et d’Ethique Sociale de l’Université March Bloch, and director of Political Science and Public Administration at Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Hidalgo (Mexico).
More information about the report can found on the Religioscope Institute’s website, at: http://www.religioscope.org, or at: http://www.religion.info.
– By Marisol Lopez-Menendez, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the New School for Social Research
03: The debate over secularization is far from over, according to the contributors of the recent book The Role of Religion in Modern Societies (Routledge, $120), edited by Detlef Pollack and Daniel V. A. Olson.
Whether you agree with it or not, the book does show how the arguments about secularization have grown more complex and many sided in recent years. The helpful introduction by Pollack, a German sociologist, outlines the various schools of thought involved. In fact, the secularization camp itself is divided, with the various theorists citing conﬂicting causes and scenarios in this process (whether it be modernization or pluralism).
Pollack challenges the claim that the major theorists posit that secularization is inevitable. The strongest critics of secularization are those holding to the economic market model, which sees pluralism and modernity as beneﬁcial to religious growth. Another model critical of the secularization thesis is the individuation theory, which argues that modernity may change religion (making it less institutionalized, for instance), but not eradicate it.
The contributors make their points in the subsequent chapters and along the way provide some interesting arguments and research ﬁndings. A chapter on secularization and the state by Anthony Gill (University of Washington) seeks to show how political actors (through government regulations), as well as social forces, can change religious behavior and encourage secularization. Another chapter by Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (Leipzig University) shows how science was used diﬀerently with varying outcomes, depending on its atheist, agnostic, or, more recently, religious contexts in East Germany, and how today’s youth may approach religion in scientiﬁc terms. The concluding chapter goes beyond the current debate and impasse to combine both market and secularization models to explain religious behavior.
04: For over a decade there has been a growing interest in Reformed or Calvinist Christianity among evangelical young adults.
This development has coexisted with post-baby boomer experimentation and involvement with “emergent” churches, which can be considered a polar opposite to that of Calvinism—non-doctrinal, experiential, and more teaching rather than preaching oriented. The new book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway Books, $14.99), by Colin Hansen, suggests that there are sharp diﬀerences and some similarities between the two evangelical camps.
While RW has covered this development, Hansen’s sympathetic portrayal provides important background information as well as an update on how Calvinism is turning up in unusual places in the American evangelical world. Most striking is the way that Reformed theology and charismatic worship and practices are being wed in the Sovereign Grace movement of churches, typiﬁed by Covenant Life Church in Maryland, led by the author-pastor Joshua Harris. Hansen also examines “ground zero” of the young Calvinist revival at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, ﬁnding both growing interest in and polarization over Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The emphasis on God’s transcendence, as well as a strong revivalist thrust (seen in the adulation of Great Awakening preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards and contemporary Baptist pastor and writer John Pieper), marks the new Calvinist turn much more than activism or political involvement. There are obvious social ramiﬁcation to this fervent Calvinism, as seen in the insistence on male headship, but there is little mention of such culture war issues as abortion or even home schooling, which were touchstones of an earlier wave of young Calvinist enthusiasm in the 1990s (as, for example, portrayed in RW editor’s 1997 book Against The Stream).
Hansen’s chapter on Seattle’s burgeoning Mars Hill Church (and the larger Acts 29 network of which it is part) as an outgrowth and conservative adaptation of the post-modern emergent church movement is particularly worth reading.
05: Getting Saved in America (Princeton University Press, $35), by Carolyn Chen, is the ﬁrst book comparing the experiences of both Christianity and Buddhism among one immigrant group.
The book provides everyday life stories from Taiwanese religious individuals in southern California. This book is a sensitive portrayal of personal narratives, and yet it successfully deals with important sociological questions on religion. This thoroughly ethnographic study shows how immigrants become religious after they have immigrated, and how they become Americans by becoming religious, which is the central argument of the book. Transnational research shows how immigrants use religious institutions, practices, and narratives to reconstruct “new communities” and “selves” in the US.
Chen argues that the example of the Taiwanese immigrant religious experience shows how Americans, not only immigrants, use their religions to solve issues of identity and belonging in daily life. Another distinct argument in the book is that previous scholarly writing regards immigrant religion in the host countries as a reinforcement/preservation of homeland traditions rather than a source of new habits, even if it is a convert religion. The contribution of Chen’s work highlights how religions challenge and transform certain ethnic traditions among Taiwanese immigrants.
–By Weishan Huang, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the New School for Social Research
06: Falun Gong and the Future of China (Oxford University Press, $29.95), by David Ownby, wrestles with an important question that is under debate in Chinese society: will religions continue to be relevant in the study of social changes in modern China?
Following his last book, A History of Falun Gong: Popular Religion and the Chinese State since the Ming Dynasty, Ownby argues that Falun Gong and qigong are twentieth-century elaborations of a set of historical popular religious traditions, such as “White Lotus Sectarianism.” Ownby believes that both Falun Gong and popular religions will indeed continue to have an impact in modern Chinese society.
One important contribution of Ownby’s book is that his survey of Falun Gong practitioners in Canada reveals the social and economic background of nearly 500 practitioners in North America. Signiﬁcant numbers of Falun Gong practitioners are found to be doing considerably be er than the average North American. Most of them are relatively young, well educated, and materially well oﬀ. Ownby’s book informatively includes the history of qigong practice in China, the history of Falun Gong in China before 1999, the proﬁle of Falun Gong’s founder, Li Hongzhi, a sketch of overseas Falun Gong practitioners, and an analysis of conﬂicts between Falun Gong and the Chinese state.
Diﬀerent from previous studies focusing on existing literatures, Ownby’s research includes a good deal of interview data, which provides ethnographic texture that enhances his analysis. Since Falun Gong is the most important and longest lasting resistance movement in China since the Tiananmen incident, this is an important study.
– By Weishan Huang