01: Americans tend not to be dogmatic on doctrine, especially when it relates to judging the value of others religions, according to a new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The recent survey is the second part of a comprehensive study of American religion that Pew Forum has conducted. The first study, which was released last winter, made waves for finding that a large number of Americans had switched to other churches from the ones in which they were raised. The main finding of the new study is that Americans are seldom dogmatic and often quite innovative in adapting their own belief systems to fit their own needs and purposes.
While the religious individualism of Americans has been noted in many other studies, the new survey suggests that such an attitude has led to uncertainty and a non-dogmatic view of their beliefs and of the value of other religions. Eighty-five percent of mainline Protestants and 79 percent of Catholics agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life,” and 82 percent of mainline Protestants and 77 percent of Catholics agree that “there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of my religion.” The figures for evangelical Protestants, however, show a somewhat different pattern.
Fifty-seven percent agreed with the first statement and 53 percent with the second one. In his eNewsletter Sightings (June 30), church historian Martin Marty adds that the new survey also reveals a growing convergence of mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics in the US: “At most four percentage points separate Catholic numbers from Mainline Protestants on all but four issues” of the 16 asked of respondents, Marty writes.
The only wide separation is on legal abortion, with only 32 percent of the mainline Protestants thinking it should almost always be illegal and 45 percent of Catholics thinking the same. Minorities in both groups think that “homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society,” but only 34 percent of mainline Protestants and 30 of Catholics agree with this statement.
The survey report can be downloaded at http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
02: Concerns over homosexuality may be far less divisive on the congregational level than deliberations that take place on the denominational level regarding this issue, according to a recent study published in the Sociology of Religion (June).
The study, conducted by Wendy Cadge, Laura Olson, and Christopher Wildeman, of 30 mainline Protestant churches in the northeastern US, looked at how denominations relate to their congregations on this divisive issue. Of the three denominations studied, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) provided the most extensive resources for clergy and laity to discuss this issue, while the United Methodist Church provided some assistance and resources, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) hardly any.
The researchers found that such denominational resources and materials influence how much attention congregations pay to the issue, but still only a small fraction of congregations (less than five percent) are responding to the homosexuality issue in a formal way. The study found a relative lack of division on the issue in its sample (which the authors acknowledge may not be representative of all mainline congregations). In only one of the congregations studied was there enough conflict to cause members to leave.
In fact, it is the division and controversies at the denominational level that often spark conversation and study about homosexuality in congregations, rather than vice versa. “Individuals with the leadership of their pastors and commitments to their congregations generally seem to be figuring out how to disagree and live together. The only question is whether the mainline denominations nationally will figure out how to do the same.”
(Sociology of Religion, 618 SW 2nd Ave., Galva, IL 61434)
03: Evangelical colleges appear to be among the only ones resisting the “hook-up culture” that dominates American campuses today, according to researcher Donna Freitas.
Her new book, Sex & the Soul (Oxford University Press) details the widespread casual sex occurring on US campuses based on surveys of students at seven colleges. A recent part of hookup culture is the use of theme parties, where students role-play soft-porn stereotypes. The National Catholic Reporter (May 30) notes that Freitas found that “with the exception of evangelicals, American college students see almost no connection between their religious beliefs and their sexual behavior.”
She claims that Catholic colleges have become adept at turning a blind eye to the hook-up culture partly in fear of losing applicants and their tuition-paying parents. Freitas did find widespread dissatisfaction about the hook-up culture and a desire for spiritual guidance on sexual matters.
Overall, she found that 45 percent of students at Catholic colleges and 36 percent at secular schools say their peers are too casual about sex.
(National Catholic Reporter, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111)
04: Both blacks and the poor are overrepresented among adherents to the prosperity gospel, but, contrary to expectations, they are not all evangelicals, according to preliminary research by Bradley Koch of Indiana University.
The prosperity gospel, which promises the believer health and wealth, has been the central component of what is called the faith movement in both white and black Pentecostalism. Through a telephone survey and in-depth interviews, Koch found that while born-again Christians do make up the vast majority of adherents to the prosperity gospel, “a significant (and likely growing) number are of the Mainline Protestant and Catholic traditions.”
Koch is currently working on explanations for the expansion of these teachings, as well as the reason why blacks and the poor are overrepresented among its adherents, according to the Newsletter of the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association (June).
05: A new study has found that baby boomers give less to religious causes than their parents’ generation did when they were the same age as the boomers.
And members of Generation X give even less than the baby boomers. The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 13) cites new research by the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy finding that those aged 35–49 gave an average of $789 to religious causes in 2000, while people in that age group in 1973 gave $991.
The difference in giving among the generations seems to be related to declining church attendance of those in the younger age groups today, according to one of the researchers.
06: The Poles are most likely to have a basic knowledge of the Bible, followed by the Americans, according to an Italian survey.
The Americans were the most likely to have a copy of the Bible in their houses, with more than 90 percent of them having a copy of the scriptures. The survey of eight European countries and the US on biblical knowledge was conducted by an Italian marketing firm in preparation for an upcoming international synod of Catholic bishops.
When asked a series of questions about the Bible’s contents and authorship, 17 percent of the Americans suveyed were able to answer all correctly, compared to 15 percent in all the other countries studied. The Poles took the lead for biblical knowledge, with 20 percent earning perfect scores. The lowest rank belonged to Russians, with only seven percent who were able to answer all the questions correctly, according to an article in Baptists Today (June).
(Baptists Today, 6318, Macon, GA 31208)
07: Scientists and engineers in India tend to hold strong spiritual beliefs while considering themselves secular and accepting of most biotechnological innovations, according to a recent survey.
The survey, the first of its kind, was conducted by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Connecticut among 1,130 scientists (34 percent of them engineers) from 130 universities and research institutions. Over 70 percent of the respondents said that they believe in God or a “higher power,” while 25 percent were atheist or agnostic.
Sixty-two percent believe that God (38 percent) or “holy people” (24 percent) perform miracles, and about half believe in the efficacy of prayer. Seventy-five percent agreed with teachings on life after death, Karma, or reincarnation, and the majority approved of degree courses in Vedic astrology. Yet most believe in evolution, and 77 percent also believe that scientific organizations should confront religious practices if they contradict accepted scientific theories.
A large majority had few problems in working with biotechnology innovations such as cloning, genetic engineering, and stem cell research (only eight percent would refuse to conduct such work).
The study is available from: http://www.trincoll.edu/secularisminstitute
08: Asia, in particular India, is the most “vocation-rich” region of the world in producing Catholic priests, according to a statistical analysis in the Catholic World Report (July).
While it has been well known that Asia and Africa have shown the highest enrollment of Catholic semnarians in the world, the magazine calculated the ratio of seminarians to Catholics in each of the world’s nations and territories based on 2005 data from the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclasiae, a Vatican-based overview of church statistics published in 2007. The ratio of seminarians presents a more accurate picture of how vocation rich a nation is rather than the total number of semnarians in each nation.
Worldwide there is one seminarian for 9,743 Catholics. In Asia, the most vocation-rich continent, there is one seminarian for every 3,877 Catholics. Fifteen of the world’s three dozen most vocation-rich nations are located in Asia. Over 45 percent of Asian seminarians are Indian. Although India ranks only 16th in the world in Catholic population, it has more seminarians than any nation in the world. The strongly devotional Catholic nature of family life and schools and the high social status of the priesthood in the southern Indian region of Kerala are among the reasons given for India’s top rank.
Africa and Oceania also rank high as vocation-rich continents, the magazine concludes.
(Catholic World Report, P.O. Box 1339, Ft. Collins, CO 80522)