01: The World Religion Database (WRD) is a new online publication based on the research of the International Religious Demography project at Boston University’s Institute for the Study of Culture, Religion and World Aﬀairs.
The WRD collects, collates and oﬀers analysis of primary and secondary source material on religious demography for all major religions in every country of the world and makes estimates from these sources available to the scholarly community. The WRD, electronically published by the Dutch publisher Brill, speciﬁcally aims to provide adherence data, where it is available from censuses and surveys, at the province and eventually city level.
It also aims to account for subgroups of each major religion to the maximum extent possible based on the best social science practices.
Since its launch in 2008, the WRD has provided the most comprehensive collection of census and survey data on religious adherents in subSaharan Africa. The second phase of the WRD’s work, to be completed in 2009, concentrates on Muslim-majority countries and countries where Muslims make up a signiﬁcant proportion of the population.
This phase will include providing countryby-country Sunni–Shi’a estimates, as well as estimates of other important Muslim subgroups. Subsequent phases will focus on other major religions, including Hindus, Buddhists and Jews.
For more information on the WRD, visit: http://www.brill.nl/wrd
02: The Association for the Sociology of Religion has created an excellent online Bibliographical Database that covers a vast range of topics, books and journals according to terms (allowing for multiple-term searches), authors and publication dates.
It’s probably the most extensive online bibliography in the sociology of religion. The site also allows for visitors to make corrections and additions.
Visit the site at: http://www.tnstate. edu/sociology/bibliodb/browse.asp
03: One Nation Divisible (Rowman & Li leﬁeld, $44.95), by Mark Silk and Andrew Walsh, is the culmination of a series of books called the Religion by Region project, which attempted to map out the relation of American religion and regionalism.
For those who didn’t read the books on the speciﬁc regions (which were reviewed in RW several years ago), the new book succinctly summarizes their ﬁndings, while updating the discussions. The various chapters are quite prescient about how the various regions are changing religiously and the social ramiﬁcations of this.
A chapter on the Mountain West (comprising Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana) reports on how these states comprise a new swing region due to the increase of Latino Catholics and religious pluralism—a fact borne out in the recent presidential election. Another chapter on the Paciﬁc Northwest missed the debut of Sarah Palin by a few months, but accurately notes how the region has developed its own kind of non-denominational evangelicalism with a very cohesive identity (more so than in other regions), even if a spiritual environmentalism has become its new “civil religion” (especially in Washington State and Oregon).
The concluding chapter attempts to tie together these regional trends and tendencies and explain how they contribute to the main narrative of American religion. Silk and Walsh argue that the Midwest’s blend of personal piety, pluralism with a concern for unity, moderately conservative morality and a moderately liberal economic stance best deﬁnes American society today, noting that Obama’s “determination to run for the 2008 Democratic nomination on a platform of bringing people together was very much in keeping with his Midwestern identity.”
04: Religious America, Secular Europe (Ashgate, $29.95), by Peter Berger, Grace Davie and Eﬃe Fokas, is, as the title suggests, a comparative examination of European secularism and religious vitality in the U.S.
In seeking to understand just why there is a secular–religious divide between America and Europe, the authors pay particular attention to these areas’ diverging histories and legal (especially church–state) arrangements. The book occupies the middle ground between secularization theorists, who see the US as inevitably following in the trail of Europe in losing its religious vitality, and market theorists, who argue that European church–state restrictions and the resulting lack of competition are the reason for the continent’s secularization.
Berger, Davie and Fokas argue that Europe is an exceptional case in its secularity, and that its speciﬁc histories and cultures will keep it distinct from the US and other more religious regions of the world. There is some acknowledgement that there is secularism (or, at least, non-aﬃliation among the younger generations) in the US and religious resurgence in Europe, and it is especially in the case of the latter where there are signs of growing interest and even understanding of the public role of religion.
It is the presence of religious (usually Muslim) immigrants that is expected to turn European countries toward a more “accomodationist” or, at least, accepting stance on religion.
05: The Emerging Movement, which expounds a postmodern Christianity, has been hailed as portending promise or peril, depending on one’s perspective, but nowhere is it seen as heralding new Christian and societal change as markedly as in Phyllis Tickle’s new book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Baker Books, $17.99).
In her work as the religion editor of Publisher’s Weekly, Tickle pioneered a new method of tracking religious trends by paying close attention to the reading habits of American believers. In the new book, Tickle is convinced that we are living in a second Reformation, because the older models of Catholicism and Protestantism are collapsing, as are traditional sources of authority, especially the Bible. While that claim is not new, Tickle does provide an interesting map of how Christianity might be changing.
She sees a “gathering center” forming, as Christians from liturgical, “renewalist,” social justice and conservative sectors increasingly swap ideas and practices and then sometimes organize informal gatherings (because established churches can’t accommodate such ill-deﬁned presentations of the faith) to explore such “emergent” forms of faith in venues ranging from house churches to pubs. As these sectors experience cultural changes as well as these innovations, there is a certain segment in each that will resist, forming counter-movements, -organizations and -denominations.
Tickle estimates that 60 percent of practicing Christians will be inﬂuenced by emergent forms and an unfolding emerging theology; between 9 and 13 percent will be in resisting movements; and another 30 percent will maintain traditional expressions, while accommodating new currents. To complicate things more, Tickle sees a growing split between “emergent” and “emerging” leaders and congregations, with the former holding less strongly to the Bible as the only source of authority and making more room for tradition and experience.
06: While there have been recent research ﬁndings about the charitable giving patterns of religious Americans as compared to secular Americans, the new book Passing the Plate (Oxford University Press, $19.95), by Christian Smith and Michael Emerson, with Patricia Snell, takes a more critical look at the giving habits of US Christians.
The book starts oﬀ with a good deal of empirical data showing that American Christians don’t really give much to their churches and other religious and secular causes in general. American Christians give a mean average of 2.9 percent (with Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelicals giving the most and Catholics giving the least), which is below the mean average of non-Christian American believers, who give 3.3 percent of income.
The authors ﬁnd that only a small minority of Christians are generous givers; higher-income Christians give little or no more money as a percentage of household income compared to lower-income Christians. Smith, Emerson and Snell conclude that most Christians are not taught that their faith traditions demand more generous giving. Another reason is that there is a lack of trust toward the churches and other charitable organizations to which American Christians would give their money.
The book concludes with a section oﬀering practical suggestions on how churches and other organizations can connect with their members and constituencies to strengthen giving habits, such as showing greater transparency and encouraging discussion and programs on ﬁnancial matters in congregations and seminaries.
07: North American Buddhists in Social Context (Brill, $99), edited by Paul Numrich, is a full-scale examination of the various Buddhist groups active on the North American scene.
It includes Buddhist groups in the Asian diaspora, as well as the more home-grown Western types of Buddhist groups. Throughout the book, the writers show how diﬃcult it is to make clear-cut deﬁnitions of Buddhism as it is practiced by these different groups. Not only does this show the developing stage of the ﬁeld itself, but also the development of very diverse Buddhist expressions in North America. For example, a comparison of Thai, Lao and Cambodian Buddhists shows how, even with their similar orientations, the three Buddhist groups have different experiences, due to the Thai Buddhists’ level of homeland government support and the lack of such ties stemming from many Lao and Cambodian Buddhists’ refugee status.
Studies of immigrant Buddhist groups often focus on how the immigrants preserve their culture; however, Carolyn Chen’s chapter indicates that this is not always the case. Chen writes that “Taiwanese immigrant Buddhists do not regard their religion as a vehicle to preserve ethnic traditions but to purge ethnic traditions.” The redeﬁnition of Buddhism as a Western science by this group, according to Chen, is ironically marking an ethnic boundary by equating modernity and the host culture of the US against Taiwanese Christians.
The contribution on Korean Buddhists depicts the “double minority” status of these Buddhists (among co-religionists and among non-Buddhists). Although the motivation to become Buddhists varies, there is a distinctive development of “Western Buddhism” among nonimmigrant North Americans. While the book illustrates the ambiguity of North American Buddhist Studies as an established ﬁeld, it does a superior job of depicting the importance of these communities for those who adhere to them.
— Reviewed by Ayako Sairenji, a New Jersey-based writer and researcher
08: Part polemic and part empirical study, Society without God (New York University Press, $35), by Phil Zuckerman, holds up the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Sweden as the model of full-scale secularism.
Right from the beginning, Zuckerman admits that he (somewhat unusually for a sociologist of religion) likes what he sees in these two nations—a disinclination toward and disinterest in basic religious belief on the part of citizens of cultured and innovative societies with humane social policies. Going against a main current of sociological thought, Zuckerman’s argument is that these societies prove that religion is not necessary for ensuring good order and a beneﬁcial social climate (lack of crime, good education and health care, general happiness).
Through in-depth interviews with 149 Danish and Swedish residents, Zuckerman tries to unlock the mystery of why Scandinavia in general is so secular. Along the way, he reports several interesting ﬁndings. He divides secular Danes and Swedes into three nuanced categories, the ﬁrst being reluctance/reticence, where religion is basically a non-issue or viewed as something marginal or even embarrassing (even among the many who admi ed that there may be an elusive “something out there”).
Half of Zuckerman’s sample were in the “benign indiﬀerence” camp, which is close to what sociologists have called “belonging without believing”—seeing the church and its rituals as good, even if not to be taken too seriously. Zuckerman was more surprised by the orientation of “utter obliviousness,” where respondents had not even considered questions of God or meaning for most of their lives.
As to the reasons for Scandinavian secularity, Zuckerman cites a whole range of factors: a monopolistic state church that discourages competition; a historical background where religion was imposed rather than freely accepted by the people; secularization among women as an overwhelming majority entered the work force and lost the religious inﬂuence they typically exert in society; the social democratic policies that marginalized religion as a social force; and the possibility that these societies were never very religious in the ﬁrst place (although this was challenged by the respondents’ claim that their grandparents were devout Christians).
Unfortunately, not much attention is paid to the way in which environmentalism may function as a surrogate religion for a segment of Scandinavians. Zuckerman’s most promising insight, however, is how Danes and Swedes hold to a cultural religion, in a similar way to that of American and Israeli Jews, rather than to atheism (which few claimed), as they retain Christian holidays, rituals (often for purposes of national identity) and ethics while emptying them of theological content.
09: The new book The Spirit of Generation Y (John Garra Publishing) could be considered the Australian and somewhat more somber version of Soul Searching, the popular American study of teens and religion (also known as the National Survey of Youth and Religion).
The book, coauthored by Michael Mason, Andrew Singleton and Ruth Webber, draws on a national survey and over one hundred interviews with Australian young people born between 1981 and 1995. The authors identify four types of spirituality held by Australian youth: traditional (espoused by 46 percent), New Age (17 percent), secular (28 percent) and “other” (nine percent). What strikes the authors is not only the fairly large percent of New Age and particularly secular youth, but also the growing ranks of Christians of various backgrounds joining the secular camp, and even embracing the New Age (though more in the realm of belief than practice).
Generation Y young people are making the move away from the churches at an earlier age than did their baby boomer parents. Before they reach the age of 25, about 18 percent of those who used to belong to a Christian church are already ex-members. Only those young members of conservative churches were more likely to hold on to their faith through adolescence. Far more than its American counterpart, The Spirit of Generation Y upholds the secularization thesis, viewing youth as the leading edge of a quiet societal abandonment of traditional religion and its institutions.
Given their acceptance of one or another version of the secularization theory, the authors argue that the US youth’s similarly individualistic and therapeutic spirituality (as found in Soul Searching) is likely a precursor to a general loss of religious belief.
10: Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge in Europe (Ashgate, $29.95), edited by Rik Coolsaet, is one of the more balanced, if conﬂicted, treatments of radical Islamic terrorist activities.
The collection shows how pressing the radicalization challenge is (four out of ﬁve incidents of suicide terrorism perpetuated worldwide between 1968 and 2004 have occurred since 9/11) and, at the same time, how elusive, slippery and debatable current theory and research ﬁndings are, even among experts. Several chapters take aim at the idea that the wave of religiously inspired violence since 9/11 actually represents a new more lethal form of terrorism that is distinct from the older kinds.
For instance, Monica Crenshaw questions whether the new terrorism is really as religiously based as is often claimed, citing research showing that only nine of the 20 most lethal terrorist groups can be classiﬁed as exclusively religious. There is also a clash over whether there is a typical jihadist proﬁle in Europe. Most chapters cite the importance of networks based on family ties and close friends, but that doesn’t help law enforcement oﬃcials distinguish these networks from uncountable family and friendship groups that are not jihadists; at the same time, a number of jihadists operate as “lone wolves.”
Islamic specialist Olivier Roy is less hesitant in outlining characteristics that make up al-Qaeda, such as its bottom-up network structure, its increasing reliance on converts (with a good number originating from the West Indies) and its global rather than territorial or national orientation. Another chapter makes the distinction between the global jihadist terrorists, such as the ones ﬁghting in Iraq, and the jihadists who conﬁne their activities to Europe. For one thing, the global terrorists tend to be professionals (usually in the technical and scientiﬁc ﬁelds) and and engage in terrorism “full time,” while the European jihadists are mainly lower class or unemployed and are more sporadic in their activities.
One of the few things the contributors seem to agree on is that with the dismantling of al-Qaeda as an operational international network, the action is now found in the grassroots, which Coolsaet describes as a “patchwork of homegrown, self-radicalizing terror groups and freelance jihadis, each going their own way without central command, uniﬁed only [by] a common view of the world.”
11: The use of market concepts and terminology when referring to religion and spirituality may be most evident in the US, but the new book Salvation Goods and Religious Markets (Peter Lang, $50.95), edited by Jorg Stolz, suggests that it has also spread far beyond its birthplace.
The term “salvation goods” is actually taken from the sociologist Max Weber, and it means, to put it simply, the expression of religious values in and through human action. While most of the book’s contributors—who are largely Swiss—are hesitant to apply much of economic theory to religion (such as the concept of exchange and rational choice), they do provide interesting case studies showing the currency (pardon the pun) of market metaphors in academic thinking.
The spiritual marketplace is clearly more than a metaphor in the chapters on competing “cults” of the saints and their relics in Italy, and the new pluralism and deregulation of church–state ties in Latin America. In the case of the latter, JeanPierre Bastian argues that Pentecostal and charismatic churches increasingly function as producers and consumers of religious goods, yet adds that there are other motivations among these believers besides the logic of the market, such as the struggle for social recognition. RW’s own Jean-Francois Mayer concludes the book with a fascinating look at an esoteric theme park and how it operates under the logic of the religious market by its encouragement of the syncretism of practices and beliefs.
12: In The Plot to Kill God (University of California Press, $21) sociologist Paul Froese attempts to uncover the ways in which the Soviet state attempted to eradicate religious practices and, more importantly, religious beliefs from its population.
He accurately points to the fact that this was the ﬁrst time that not only the existence of religious institutions, but also everyday forms of religious beliefs, were targeted. Froese’s main premise is the paradoxical nature of a political system that not only attempted to get rid of religion, but also to supersede it by creating a new system of religious-like symbols and rituals. Unlike its French counterpart, the Soviet revolution’s endeavor was to destroy beliefs in a supernatural realm and instil a new form of faith in its citizens. This is, according to Froese’s account, the main characteristic of the “secularization experiment” carried out in the Soviet Union.
The author sets its early stages already in 1917 and makes a convincing argument about the existence of a policy going on into the Khruschev era and up to the Glasnost period. The book follows the several ways in which the religious issue was tackled by the Soviet state through, for example, monetary constriction and lack of support to religious institutions; persecution and open attack; and the creation of “atheist alternatives” to religious ceremonies such as marriages, baptisms or conﬁrmations.
Froese’s notion of secularization entails not only the separation between church and state and the existence of a political system free from religious constraints, but also the creation of a political religion in which a supernatural God was gradually replaced by the state itself. Froese’s study makes careful distinctions among the several tactics used to deal with diﬀerent religious denominations. Thus, the author provides an informed description of the aggressive policies developed against the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as Jewish, Protestant and Roman Catholic communities during the 1920s and 1930s.
Moreover, he pays attention to the complex ways in which the Stalin and Khruschev administrations dealt with Muslim believers. Froese’s main eﬀort is to connect historiographical research done by Sovietologists with theoretical takes advanced by sociologists of religion. Unfortunately, Froese has limited his scope only to secondary literature and English wri en or translated sources.
— Reviewed by Marisol Lopez-Menendez, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the New School for Social Research