01: Economic shocks, both negative and positive, have significant effects on religious activity and involvement, according to economist David Beckworth.
Presenting a paper at the conference of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture (ASREC), which met in Washington, DC, in April, Beckworth looked at quarterly figures of the Seventh Day Adventist Church (the only denomination keeping quarterly data) from 1950 to 2008. He found that negative economic shocks typically led to an increase of religious participation, but a decline in religious giving.
Thus, an unexpected increase in unemployment led to significant changes in the growth rate of converts and membership. Conversely, a one percent increase in real disposable personal income per capita led to larger than average growth rates in tithes and offerings. A one percent increase in real stock prices led to a growth of tithing, but a decline in conversions and membership, with the latter dropping more persistently.
Beckworth concluded that religious participation and religious giving act as substitutes for each other during economic booms and downturns. He added that economic shocks help explain one-third of the variation or “forecast error” in Adventist religiosity.
(Most of the papers presented at the ASREC conference can be found on the association’s website, at http:// www.religionomics. com/asrec/ASREC09_Papers/)
02: Bad news and world crises do not put a damper on evangelical financial speculation and investment and may even encourage it, according to Christopher Crowe of the International Monetary Fund.
Crowe, who presented a paper at the April ASREC conference, hypothesized that evangelicals would see an upside to economic turmoil, since it would be a sign of Christ’s imminent return, and it would therefore not deflate speculative excess as it would with other people. To test this idea, Crowe looked at the relationship between house price growth in metropolitan areas and the presence of high proportions of evangelicals shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Between the second and fourth quarters of 2001 there was a “statistically significant upward shift in house price growth for areas with a high share of evangelicals, but a marked drop in areas with a low share,” he said. This pattern was not discernible in 2000. Using the “Rapture Index,” an evangelical Internet resource that monitors world events and rates whether they may be indicators of the end-times, Crowe compared it with housing prices in areas with high and low proportions of evangelicals.
He found that house prices fell significantly in response to increases in the Rapture Index in non-evangelical areas, but that the effect shrinks as the share of evangelicals in the area increases. Crowe also finds from a survey of religious beliefs and personal finances that endtimes beliefs are associated with significantly lower asset holdings. This supports his theory that these end-times beliefs provide an “insurance function” for evangelicals, and therefore result in “lower precautionary demand for financial assets to smooth consumption.”
Crowe concludes that evangelical believers’ “psychic insurance” could actually generate positive spillovers for non-believers by “smoothing the housing cycle.”
03: A comparative study of megachurches with other churches finds that the two types of congregations are not as different as many might think.
A paper at the April ASREC conference, attended by RW, presented a survey of about 2,500 megachurch attenders and then compared the findings with those from the Presbyterian Congregational Survey. Scott Thumma of Hartford Seminary, who conducted the survey, noted that the average age of the megachurch attender is 40, while the average age of the non-megachurch attender is 50.
Fifty-two percent of megachurch attenders are college graduates, versus 41 percent of nonmegachurch attenders. But megachurch attenders are about on par with those from other churches in tithing, at 33 percent. Thirty-six percent of nonmegachurch attenders say they serve in the wider community, while 46 percent of megachurch attenders do. Yet 45 percent of megachurch attenders say they never volunteer.
Thumma found that megachurch attenders are distinctive in several areas. They are not hesitant to invite people to church—31 percent invited 3–5 people to church in a year and only 13 percent did not invite anyone. It was also found that they were more likely to attend other churches and not have an exclusive membership allegiance.
Megachurch attenders did not report a conversion experience from their involvement as much as an intensification of faith (evidenced in the finding that 40 percent are giving more to the church than before). Yet the survey found that not even one-third of megachurch attenders are involved in a small group and, more surprisingly, 41 percent are not involved in any group.
04: A follow-up survey from last year’s Pew study of religious switching finds that even more Americans than previously thought may have changed their religions and that most people who switch do so before the age of 24.
The new survey is a follow-up to the 2007 Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which found that 44 percent of American adults have changed their religious faith or denomination from the one in which they were raised. But the new survey found that among the 56 percent of the population that belongs to the same religion in which they were raised, one in six (16 percent) say there was a time in their lives when they had a different faith to the one they have now.
When combined with the 44 percent of the public that currently hold to a faith different than their childhood religion, this means that roughly half of all American adults have changed religion at some point in their lives. The new survey also showed that roughly two-thirds of those raised Catholic or Protestant, but now say they are unaffiliated, have changed faiths at least twice in their lives (including those who have changed within the unaffiliated camp, such as from atheist to agnostic). It was found that very few report changing religions after reaching age 50; most who did leave did so before reaching the age of 24.
05: Enrollments in religious colleges and universities grow more than in secular colleges, particularly at those institutions with a strong faith component, according to University of Georgia economists Neil Meredith and David Mustard.
The economists presented a paper at the ASREC conference studying the degree to which enrollment grew from 1991 to 2005 in religiously affiliated colleges relative to their counterparts. Meredith and Mustard found that just being a religiously affiliated Catholic or Protestant school is correlated positively with growth. Enrollment in religiously affiliated colleges and universities grew 13 percent more among whites, 19 percent more among blacks, and 13 percent more among Hispanics than in other institutions.
The largest increases in enrollment consistently occurred among the most intensely religious institutions affiliated with the evangelical Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). The researchers found that the CCCU schools experienced 25–26 percent more growth than their non-CCCU counterparts.
06: By the year 2043, Catholics will be the largest American religious group due to immigration, while Protestants will continue to decline and Muslims will outnumber American Jews, according to a paper presented at the ASREC conference by demographer Eric Kaufman of Harvard University.
Basing his projections on the General Social Survey, census immigration statistics and Pew small religious group data, Kaufman noted that Hispanic immigration will power the Catholic growth to outnumber Protestants, enabling this group to grow from 10 to 18 percent of the American population between 2003 and 2043. Meanwhile, high Muslim fertility and a young age structure will propel the growth of this religious group past that of Jewish Americans, who have low fertility and a mature age structure, by the year 2023.
Within the white population, there will be continued decline among liberal Protestants. “White Catholics will also lose due to a net outflow of converts. Fundamentalist and moderate Protestant denominations will hold their own within the white population, but are set to decline as a component of the national total,” according to Kaufman. He does not see a clear winner between secularism and fundamentalism by 2043.
The secular population will grow because of religious defections and because of its young age structure. However, the low fertility of this population and the continuing flow of immigrants will cause this “secularization process within the total population to plateau before 2043.” As for contentious moral questions, the mix of all these groups and trends will likely produce “stability on the homosexuality issue and a slight increase in the proportion opposed to abortion…However, in the very long run, i.e. to 2100, the fertility advantage of traditionalists point toward a more conservative society.”
07: A survey of Buddhists in the U.S. finds a large, if unstable denominational system emerging, according to new religious movements specialist J. Gordon Melton.
At the ASREC conference, Melton presented preliminary results from a “Buddhist census” he is conducting, particularly regarding his efforts to track down the myriad Buddhist centers and zendos (meditation centers) around the country. Melton said that it is particularly difficult to categorize Buddhist groups, because much of organized Buddhism has a “fuzzy” identity, trailing off into various new religious movements and Theosophy.
Melton has so far found 1.5 million Buddhists, representing 0.5 percent of the population. He also found that 70– 80 percent of the Buddhists are from immigrant or ethnic backgrounds, while 20–25 percent are Euro-American or “white” Buddhists. There are 199 Buddhist denominations in the U.S., ranging from one group representing a half-dozen zendos to the denominational network of Sokka Gakkai, which may be the largest.
Melton said that there are approximately 2,300 Buddhist centers in the U.S. and that 90 percent of them are attached to one of these Buddhist associations. But these centers tend to be weak and unstable, frequently moving from one home to another or lacking property. The most Buddhists were found in Hawaii, followed, more surprisingly, by the New England states. Yet 40 percent of ethnic Buddhists live in the counties of Southern California.
08: The growth of the welfare state in Western Europe is a primary factor in the secularization of this region, according to a new study by Raphael Franck and Laurence R. Iannaccone.
The researchers, who presented their research at the ASREC conference, used recent data from the International Social Survey Program (which asked respondents to retrospectively report their attendance rates) to reconstruct church attendance patterns in 30 countries in Europe and the U.S from the 1920s to the 1990s. They found that GDP per capita did not have any effect on the change in religiosity over time. Although church attendance was not influenced by health- and family-related expenditures, the results did show that the “growth in public spending on education and the growth in old-age expenditures led to a decline in religiosity.”
Franck and Iannaccone theorize that public spending on charitable activities had the effect of “crowding out ” the Protestant and Catholic churches who traditionally sponsored such works, thus making religious participation less valuable. “It changed the supply conditions of religious activities and triggered the secularization process that took place in the Western world during the 1960s, as individuals who looked to churches for social services were henceforth able to obtain them from governmental agencies.” Franck and Iannaccone suggest that the promotion of a secular welfare state may be the best way to undermine extremist religious movements in politically unstable regions, such as Muslim countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.
09: While recent research has shown an association between happiness and religious faith, a new study suggests that it is the social setting of religion that is most important for life satisfaction.
At the ASREC conference, Adam OkuliczKozaryn of Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science presented a paper drawing on the World Values Study and World Indicators that focused on the social context of happiness. He found that religion can bring negative or positive effects, usually relating to the society to which one belongs.
Although on average religious people are more satisfied with their lives than nonreligious ones and convinced atheists, there are also more “very dissatisfied” and fewer “quite satisfied” religious people than non-religious ones and atheists.
Kozaryn found that individual religious measures, such as belief in God and belonging to a religious denomination, were actually found to have a negative effect on happiness in some settings. “People who believe in God are less happy than those who do not believe in God, but if they live in countries where many people believe in God, they are much happier than non-believers,” he said, for instance, in religious countries.
This finding suggests that “[m]ost of the happiness that religion brings about seems to come from the social setting it offers. It satisfies the so-called ‘need to belong’ that is one of the most fundamental conditions for human happiness,” Kozaryn concludes. The study also found that work context may matter in whether religion has an effect on happiness. Kozaryn found that religiosity makes manual workers unhappy, even when controlling for education and personal income. The results are the opposite for professional workers, showing a significant correlation between their faith and happiness.
10: Religious beliefs and practices may have a significant effect on how people perceive and experience pain, according to recent research reported in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet (April 4).
Oxford University psychologist Miguel Farias reports on a study where 40 atheists, agnostics and practicing Catholics went through an experiment testing their tolerance of pain, in which they received small shocks administered by an electrode to the back of the left hand. Each subject was then shown images of both the Virgin Mary and a secular portrait. The painful stimulus would continue for 12 seconds while the subjects were shown the images, and then they were asked to rate their level of pain.
Twenty-four of the subjects took part in a brain scan as part of the study. Farias notes that “[r]esults showed the Catholics experienced less pain when presented with the religious image and that atheists and agnostics experienced the same level of pain, regardless of what image was being shown. For Catholics, looking at the religious picture was also associated with increased blood flow in a part of the brain known to be involved in the cognitive modulation of pain.” He adds that the Catholics who looked at the Virgin Mary reported feelings of peace, safety and compassion, as well as a feeling of respect for Mary’s humility in her relation to God.
It was not a matter of Catholics liking the picture better that set off these effects. The atheists and agnostics said they liked the secular portrait more than the religious one, but they did not experience less pain. Farias notes that the activation of the right ventro-lateral pre-frontal cortex has been shown to regulate emotion, which occurs not as a result of liking or distraction, “but of cognitive strategies of reinterpretation or cognitive detachment.” In other words, these Catholics were reinterpreting the painful stimulation by activating religious beliefs and experiences learned over a lifetime.
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)
11: Religious people show less activity in the region of the brain linked to anxiety, reports a new study cited in the New Scientist magazine (March 17).
Neuroscientist Michael Inzlicht of the University of Toronto tested 50 college students from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, including Christians (the majority), Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and atheists. Each subject was monitored with electrodes measuring the part of the brain known as the interior cingulated cortex (ACC), which tends to show high activity for people with anxiety disorders.
Subjects were given a test to measure anxiety involving identifying corresponding or contradictory letter and color patterns, and then were asked about their religious beliefs. Even after accounting for self-esteem, intelligence and other personality traits, Inzlicht’s team found that religious devotion predicted volunteers’ ACC activity. While the finding could mean that those born with a certain kind of brain tend to be more religious, Inzlicht suspects that religious belief is driving the association.
In unpublished experiments, his team asked religious volunteers to write either about their favorite season or their faith. Those who wrote about their connection to God exhibited reduced ACC activation, compared with volunteers writing about the weather.
(The New Scientist, http://www. newscientist.com)
12: Rather than leading people to accept their fatal medical conditions, religious faith may actually encourage the pursuit of heroic measures in an attempt to prolong life, reports a new study.
The study, first appearing in the American Medical Journal and cited by the Christian Century (April 21), finds that cancer patients who saw themselves as collaborating with God to overcome illness were three times more likely to seek intensive measures in the last week of life.
Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston were caught off guard by the results, since it may be reasoned that religious people would be more willing to believe in the sovereignty of God in their circumstances and accept their fate. It may actually be the case that because religious faith leads to optimism, such patients might see hope where others might not. Other factors may be that faith gives meaning to suffering, allowing people more stamina to undergo invasive treatments, or the belief in the sanctity of life may encourage a quest to prolong life at any cost.
13: One hundred and fifty years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species, the British population remains uncertain and divided about evolution and the role of God in creation, with at least one-quarter showing some sympathy to intelligent design or creationism, according to a recent study.
Theos, a British think tank on public theology, commissioned quantitative and qualitative (or ethnographic) surveys on the attitudes of British to evolution, creation and intelligent design. The survey found that 17 percent of respondents held to a “young earth” or creationist view, while 11 percent agreed with intelligent design and about two-thirds supported evolution (both theist and non-theist varieties). All three of these positions tended to draw a core of highly certain individuals, while including a larger percentage of more skeptical respondents.
Thus, although the percentage of intelligent design supporters was small, one in three respondents were uncertain enough about Darwinian evolution to “hedge their bets … and cite some form of designer intervention as a way of joining all the dots.”
(From the report Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today, http:// www.theosthinktan.co.uk)
14: Pentecostal men converting in Brazil have considerable higher incomes than they had before conversion, according to a new study.
In a paper presented by Joseph Potter, Ernesto F. L. Amaral and Robert Woodberry at the ASREC conference, it was found that the most substantial effect of Pentecostal conversion on income was found among those with low levels of education. The study, which compared income levels from Brazil’s censuses taken in every decade from 1970 to 2000 in the country’s 502 microregions, also found that the first wave of converts showed the strongest income-raising effect.
The researchers speculate that the difference across the decade may be because Pentecostal congregations became less strict over time, or it could be that the first men to convert to Protestantism were the “most desperate, and the ones who would most benefit from conversion. Later recruits might have fewer difficulties or problems such as severe alcoholism.”
15: Nearly half of the articles commenting on Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential candidacy in the Italian media mentioned that his religion had something to do with polygamy, writes Massimo Introvigne in the International Journal of Mormon Studies (Spring).
Practically all the articles identified Romney as a Mormon, in contrast with the lack of interest for the religious affiliation of most other candidates, which shows that it is difficult for members of some religious groups to escape their ascribed status. This indicates that the PR work conducted by the Italian Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the 2002 Winter Olympics has not been entirely successful, comments Introvigne, who is the director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR).
The same would probably apply to several other European countries. The fact that the LDS Church no longer practices plural marriage seems not yet to be generally known among the wider public in Central and Southern Europe. According to Introvigne, the impact of popular culture (e.g. novels and movies) has greatly contributed to this situation.
(International Journal of Mormon Studies, http://www.ijmsonline. org)