01: A special section on “Future directions in the sociology of religion” in the journal Social Forces (June) suggests that Islam is becoming an important concern for up-and-coming scholars.
Four of the eight articles in the section deal with some facet of Islam, including a study of “fundamentalism” among young Muslims in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and another one on women activists in Indonesia. Aside from Islam, Christian Smith writes in an introductory article that other issues likely to occupy a good deal of scholarly a ention include genetics, emotions, ecology, the role of elites in religion, cross-national religions, and beliefs.
This last topic may seem obvious for sociologists studying religion, but Smith maintains that more a ention is given to behavior and practices than to the actual processes and content of belief. Other articles of interest in this issue include an examination of secularization among elite scientists and a study of the social and genetic inﬂuences on religious a itudes and practices.
For more information on this issue, write: Social Forces, Rm. 168, Hamilton Hall, CB 3210, Dept. of Sociology, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3210.
02: A special issue of the evangelical Outreach Magazine reports on the 100 largest and fastest- growing churches in the U.S.
The magazine helpfully lists the churches by region, denomination (or lack of one, since the majority of these churches are nondenominational) and size. Coming in ﬁrst in the “largest” category is Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston with 43,500 attenders, followed by Second Baptist Church in Houston with 23,659.
The fastest-growing church is the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, which grew by 72 percent, or 3,418 attenders. The issue also includes articles proﬁling several of these churches.
For more information on this issue, write: Outreach, 2230 Oak Ridge Way, Vista, CA 92081 or visit the website at: www.OutreachMagazine.com.
03: The summer issue of the Review of Faith & International Aﬀairs covers the well-trodden ground of religious freedom and U.S. foreign policy with a variety of articles that deserve a wider reading.
Much of the issue could serve as a “wrap-up” of the issues and developments on this matter that unfolded during the Bush administration, with some forecasting about what may happen after the November election. Brian Grim’s article looks at the relationship between religious freedom and social wellbeing, drawing on extensive international data.
He ﬁnds that religious freedom is often “bundled” with other freedoms conducive to democracy and that religious freedom tends to reduce conﬂict by removing grievances religious groups have toward government and their fellow citizens. José Casanova takes a somewhat diﬀerent tack, arguing that the U.S. movement for religious freedom can best avoid conﬂict with other countries by recognizing the “creative tension” between individual religious freedom and the need of groups to maintain their cultural and confessional identity.
Other articles include an examination of how religious freedom has found a place in U.S. national security, starting with the Clinton administration, but accelerating under Bush, and how a host of unoﬃcial organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have “institutionalized” the concern with religious freedom. But an article by Tad Stahnke notes that even as religious freedom concerns have gained a place in U.S. policy, the ability of America to encourage these values in many parts of the world is shrinking.
For more information on this issue, visit the journal’s website at: http://www.cﬁa.org.
04: The ﬁndings of the extensive Baylor Surveys of Religion are succinctly explained and expanded on in Rodney Stark’s new book, What Americans Believe (Baylor University Press, $24.95).
Stark draws on all three waves of the surveys (2005–06) to discuss and challenge conventional wisdom on everything from megachurches (they really are not impersonal places of worship), denominationalism (it is not extinct), atheism (it is more embattled and has fewer adherents than claimed) and gender (the greater rate of religious belief and practice among women may not all be due to socialization) to religious media consumption (consumer behavior exposes many secular Americans to religion) and civic participation (there is more of it than popularly believed by social critics).
In his introduction, Stark compares the surveys to his early 1960s surveys, noting that the themes of stability and diversity underlie many of these ﬁndings. Many of Stark’s key concepts, such as the value of competition and strict standards in church growth, as well as new research that adds to the Baylor ﬁndings, are woven together in an engaging manner.
05: The Easternization of the West (Paradigm, $36.51) by British sociologist Colin Campbell has been published for several months, but has not received much attention.
Yet Campbell’s view that Western civilization is being replaced by Eastern religious and cultural worldviews is a unique one that will likely be hotly contested. For one thing, much of the evidence Campbell marshals for his argument can be read in diﬀerent ways. The decline of involvement in institutional religion, the growth of spiritual seeking, the syncretism of beliefs and the new interest in environmentalism can be—and have been—explained by theories of both secularization and de-secularization.
For instance, it could be argued that it is because people have lost faith in organized religion and a transcendent God that they have, in many cases, elevated the importance of the environment and given it a special meaning. Other critics will focus on the way Campbell tends to view any deviation from orthodox Christian belief as being Eastern in nature (even viewing the upsurge of charismatic Christianity within the framework of its aﬃnity to New Age tendencies), thereby glossing over the Western roots of much religious innovation and heterodoxy.
Campbell insists that an underground Eastern current has long co-existed with predominantly Western values. He painstakingly traces how a conjunction of forces came together in the 1960s to force this Eastern current to resurface and then be generalized to the wider public, largely via the New Age movement. Campbell concludes that Western civilization’s loss of inﬂuence to an Eastern worldview was inevitable, given its failure to provide meaning to the lives of younger generations shaped by societal disenchantment and secularization.