01: Recent research of mosques in both southern California and northern England finds that the most successful tend to create social integration between members and their respective societies. The Christian Century (Jan. 13) cites the journal Muslim World as finding that the mosques in these two areas with the highest concentration of post-1965 immigrants who tend to “primarily use English, actively pursue outreach and public relations and reject foreign funding” demonstrated the most success.
Researcher Vincent Biondo found that in southern California some of the more assimilationist of the mosques are modeled after evangelical megachurches; they tend to use the name “Islamic centers”, and deal with issues such as premarital sex and the risk of gang and drug involvement, and often address educational concerns.
(Christian Century, 104 S. Michigan Ave., Suite #700, Chicago, IL 60603)
02: Door-to-door recruitment by such groups as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons hardly ever works and expends enormous amounts of their members’ energy and time, and yet this strategy “failure” has contributed significantly to these religions’ worldwide growth, argue Laurence Iannaccone and Rodney Stark.
In a preliminary paper presented at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Louisville last October, Iannaccone acknowledged the counterintuitive nature of the theory that he and Stark call the “logic of long shots.” Past research has shown that most religious conversion within a movement takes place within existing members’ social networks rather than among strangers.
But a movement such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses has required members to conduct hours of “cold-call evangelism,” even when it’s been shown that each dedicated Jehovah’s Witnesses evangelizer “faces a 95 percent chance of failing to convert any strangers in any given year….” Members of the Family, formerly known as the Children of God, face an equally dismal rate, getting one new convert per 7,619 hours of street evangelism. (The Mormons’ conversion rate among strangers is similar, though it is more difficult to estimate due to members’ high rate of unofficial evangelism and the larger numbers of nominal members of the movement.)
Iannoccone and Stark theorize that most successful religious movements, if they survive long enough, will face the “threat of network exhaustion,” which means that the social base from which they recruit (such as family and friends) will eventually become depleted. It then becomes necessary to “transcend the strong-tie barrier and grow through ‘weak-ties’ and totally new ties,” according to Iannaccone and Stark.
This weak-tie growth may be small and difficult, but over a long period of time it results in exponential increases, as seen in the global growth of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Most religious bodies are satisfied with the growth and stability resulting from strong-ties outreach, and it takes a specific “organizational logic” for a highly evangelistic group to grow through weak ties. For this reason, these groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, the Family and Salvation Army, tend to have functionally similar patterns of hierarchy, control, monitoring (maintaining a “culture of counting”), volunteerism, resource mobilization, and ideology, even with their different theologies.
03: Religious behaviors such as attendance at services, childhood religiosity, spirituality, biblical literalism and even being born again appear to be the product of both genetic and social factors, according to a recent study by Matt Bradshaw and Christopher G. Ellison.
Writing in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December), the researchers note that the social-scientific study of religion has tended to dismiss biological factors in religious belief and behavior, but that recent evidence is pointing in that direction. Bradshaw and Ellison examine data from the National Survey of Midlife Development, which is a large national sample of twin siblings covering a wide range of social and religious behaviors. The researchers find that especially on such matters as making a spiritual or religious commitment and being born again, there was a large degree of genetic influence (65 percent in explaining individual variation).
Genetic factors are sizable also for such measures as religious service attendance (32 percent), spirituality (29 percent), daily guidance and coping (42 percent) and biblical literalism (44 percent). Although Bradshaw and Ellison were unable to explain how genetic factors influence religious outcomes, they add that it is likely that shared environmental influences are of prime importance during the earlier stages of life and that genetic and non-family influences become more important in adulthood and old age.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Dept. of Sociology, 2040 JFSB, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT 84602)
04: A review of 50 studies on the relation of religion to altruistic behavior finds that there is “an association between self reports of religiosity and pro-sociality,” but that the association “emerges primarily in contexts where reputational concerns are heightened.”
The review, published in the journal Science and cited in the newsletter Sightings (January 8), further finds that behavioral studies searching for a “good Samaritan” effect in an anonymous encounter experiment document that “unobtrusively recorded offers of help showed no relation with religiosity in this anonymous context.” It was also found that “active members of modern secular organizations are at least as likely to report donating to charity as active members of religious ones.”
The authors suggest that more research is needed to “establish the specific conditions under which costly religious commitment could evolve as a stable individual strategy and whether these models need to take into account intergroup competition … the extent to which religion is implicated in human cooperation, and the precise sequence of evolutionary developments in religious prosociality” are important questions.
05: The high rate of out-marriage between American Hindus with Christians and Muslims may have been overestimated, according to a recent study cited in Hinduism Today magazine (January–March).
Informal community estimates of Hindu out-marrying have ranged as high as 50 percent and even 90 percent. In an analysis of Macy’s extensive online marriage registry, Dilip Amin found the Hindu out-marriage rate to be a good deal lower. For instance, 170 of 494 individuals named Patel, or 34 percent, married partners of Abrahmic religions.
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholalele Rd., Kapaa, Hawaii 96746-9304)
06: A new Gallup poll finds that two-thirds of Americans think religion is losing its influence in society, a sharp increase from 2005, when Americans were nearly evenly split on this question.
The poll found that 67 percent of Americans agree that religious influence is on the wane, while only 27 percent say it is increasing. The record low in confidence regarding the influence of religion in American life was in 1970, when just 14 percent said it was increasing. Christian News (January 12) reports that another finding of the poll was that the view that religion “can answer all or most of today’s problems” has reached an all-time low (at 53 percent).
07: Organized religion is far from making a comeback in Europe, according to a recent poll.
The survey, commissioned by the BAT Foundation for Future Development in Germany, asked residents in nine European countries to what degree they thought that religion was important for their contentment and happiness. The German newsletter idea (Dec. 18) cites the survey as showing that while Italy was the most religious country, less than one in two Italians (48 percent) agreed that religion is essential.
Finland came next with 32 percent, followed by Russia and the UK with 31 percent each, Hungary (28 percent), Belgium (27 percent), France (26 percent), Switzerland (25 percent) and Germany (24 percent). When asked about what they considered sacred, 71 percent of Germans answered “the family.” Faith in God (18 percent), religion (14 percent), and prayer and church (10 percent) are least important to them. Horst W. Opashowski, scientific director of the BAT Foundation, said that instead of a comeback of religion, we are seeing the substitution of the “sacred family” for religious institutions.
(idea, P.O. Box 1820, D-35528, Wetzlar, Germany)
08: Religious affiliation is gaining momentum in China, according to a paper presented by Yuan Cai and Roderick O. Brien at the conference “Globalising Religions and Cultures in the Asia Pacific,” which took place during the first days of December at the University of Adelaide (South Australia), and which RW attended.
While most of the research published on religion in China used to be normative or descriptive, more statistical data has started to become available in recent years, in the context of a growing interest in religion. Data can thus be gleaned from a variety of sources and provide a more detailed picture, although it remains uncertain how far results of specific studies can be extrapolated: samples tend quite often not to be representative, observes O’Brien. More than 30 percent of the Chinese are reported to consider religion as important. If such results are representative, it might indicate more than 300 million believers in China—in contrast to the figure of 100 million that has been quoted for years in official literature and websites.
Interest in religion is especially strong among young people: there is a significant decrease of percentage among the population above 60 years of age. The prime sources of beliefs are family and friends, not missionary activities by religious groups. Any analysis of religion in China should also keep in mind important movements of internal migration: currently, there are 200 million people not living in their birth areas. This involves changes in religious geography, for instance, mosques now being built in regions where there was previously no Muslim population.
The Communist Party clearly feels the need to be able to assess what is happening. Some party ideologues would like to continue to promote atheism, but are not very imaginative: atheist propaganda tends to be repetitive. An important question for the future is to determine if additional religious groups should be recognized and, if this is to be the case, how many and which ones.