01: The journal Religion, State and Society devotes its March/June issue to religion and the role it plays in the European Union (EU).
While a good deal of philosophical and theological attention has been given to the foundations and purposes of European integration and expansion, the articles in this issue cover the social and political roles of religious institutions in relation to this process. The introduction discusses how religious groups have gradually gained a hearing in EU negotiations and dialogue after a period of being excluded from these areas (even though religion-based groups such as the Christian Democrats were the architects of European unity).
There is still religious resistance to the EU and its potential for secularization, although this is no longer a Protestant phenomenon—Polish Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Muslims are more likely to be leading the resistance. Other articles include a look at religious expressions that fall outside the EU, such as the Catholic nationalist Radio Maria in Poland and the controversy over the book The Da Vinci Code; an examination of how the “Islamic threat” brought questions of religion back into EU discourse and deliberations; and a noteworthy study of how new religious groups have joined the lobbying eﬀort in the EU, hoping to gain recognition (something they may lack in their own countries), even as the EU (and its legal arm, the European Commission) gains legitimacy in dealing with religious issues.
For more information on this issue, visit: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713444726
02: Challenging the widespread view of the Christian Right as an antidemocratic force in U.S. politics, Jon A. Shields makes a case in his new book for the need to re-evaluate the Right—and American democracy itself—on a more empirical basis.
In The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right (Princeton University Press, $29.95), Shields argues that the Christian Right has, on the one hand, strengthened the participatory aspect of American democracy, mobilizing a once politically alienated constituency of conservative evangelicals and the wider U.S. citizenry around contentious yet animating moral questions, and, on the other, promoted the deliberative norms of civility, dialogue and rational (non-theological) justiﬁcation among Christian activists for both doctrinal and pragmatic reasons.
His perhaps surprising ﬁnding that such deliberative norms were encouraged for religious as well as practical reasons came out of interviews he conducted with leaders in 30 diﬀerent Christian Right organizations, while his ﬁndings about the actual behavior of rank-and-ﬁle activists in the public square were based on ethnographic observation of hundreds of activists in six cities. To make his argument about the Christian Right’s eﬀect on democratic participation, Shields used National Election Studies data to chart the gradual assimilation of Christian conservatives into American politics since 1972.
Shields concedes that the deliberative norm of openness to alternative moral positions is neither encouraged by movement leaders nor practiced by activists, and that leaders use polemical exhortations to mobilize activists; but rather than being peculiar to any particular movement, he argues that these anti-deliberative characteristics stem from the actual exigencies of democratic politics, i.e. the fact that social movements of whatever orientation must be driven by deep convictions rather than rationally chosen, provisionally held truths. He thus calls into question theories that posit such an ideal of exclusively rational participation and fail to take account of the tension between participation and deliberation that exists in actual democratic practice.
Shields also explains the existence of militant right-wing Christian groups in terms of normal democratic processes, as a particular manifestation of a more general phenomenon of antimoderate reaction that has aﬀected secular and leftist as well as religious and rightist movements throughout U.S. history. He argues that it is a grave error to equate these militant Christian groups (such as Operation Rescue) with the Christian Right as a whole, since they o en formed precisely in reaction to the very deliberative moderation practiced by most Christian Right organizations and are broadly unpopular among conservative Christians and today practically without any members. The tendency to so misrepresent the entire movement again derives from the deep-seated theoretical premise that individual self-interest is or should be the basis of political participation, that participation oriented to goals transcending self-interest is therefore somehow deranged.
Shields’ investigation of the Christian Right is important, then, not only as an eﬀort to begin to gain more systematic knowledge of this movement’s organizational practices and inﬂuence on American political life, but as an empirical critique of the economistic prejudices that have surrounded it and political and social life more generally.
– Reviewed by Brian Bartholomew, a doctoral student in Sociology at the New School for Social Research
03: The new book Scientology (Oxford University Press, $35) is bound not to please everyone.
Critics of Scientology will be displeased by the way the edited volume considers the church to be a conventional religion and focuses less on its abuses than on its organization and teachings, while members and leaders will target the book’s candid and sociological approach to controversial issues. Editor James Lewis asserts that Scientology is experiencing healthy growth, with controversy even helping its expansion; while William Sims Bainbridge’s intriguing chapter suggests that the church grows in hi-tech (as well as unchurched) regions.
In contrast, a chapter on Scientology in Denmark ﬁnds a decrease in new people joining, with a core group of Scientologists remaining relatively constant for the last 20 years. An examination of the ceremonies of the church likewise ﬁnds a low rate of participation (compared to the popular practice of auditing). Meanwhile, the theological dimension of Scientology is downplayed even by its leadership, according to Mikael Rothstein.
In analyzing the church’s foundational yet esoteric “Xenu” myth (meant only for advanced members, though now made public thanks to the Internet)—an account of humanity’s extraterrestrial origins penned by founder L. Ron Hubbard—Rothstein ﬁnds a blending of original, Theosophic and UFO themes that provide theological underpinning to Scientology’s more practical and “scientiﬁc” self-image.
04: A lively contribution to the rapidly growing literature on Satanism is found in Chris Mathews’ Modern Satanism: Anatomy of a Radical Subculture (Praeger, $49.95).
Mathews attempts to provide both a historical and philosophical introduction, as well as a trenchant critique of contemporary Satanism. He surveys the pre-modern origins of “one of our most evocative cultural icons,” as well as the modern cultural, literary and philosophical traditions that inform contemporary Satanism, showing how it selectively draws on a number of secular thinkers and subjects, including the philosophy of Nietzsche, the novels of Ayn Rand, social Darwinism and the occultism of Crowley.
The book critically examines the biography of Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan (CoS), as well as the genesis of The Satanic Bible and the doctrines of the church. The ﬁ h chapter discusses the schism between LaVey and Michael Aquino, the founding of the Temple of Set, the proliferation of various groups, the impact of the Internet, and the appointment of Peter Gilmore to the position of high priest of the CoS following LaVey’s death. Scholars may be interested in Mathews’ critical assessment of what he considers the less-than-critical research by some sociologists. Mathews concludes that the existence of an inegalitarian subculture like Satanism is, ironically, only possible in a democratic or egalitarian society. It is obvious that Mathews is absolutely opposed to the anti-democratic tendencies in contemporary Satanic thought. His study is squarely aimed at refuting such a discourse as “intellectually, scientiﬁcally, and morally bankrupt.”
And while Mathews’ commitment to the ideals of egalitarianism is to be applauded, he neglects investigating more social democratically oriented factions within the Satanic fold such as the Satanic Reds. Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology, (Ashgate, $99.95), edited by Jesper Aagaard Petersen, further contributes to understanding modern Satanism in contemporary social life. In Part I, the authors conceptually clarify and situate the various Satanist groups. Kennet Granholm looks at three Le-Hand Path occult groups and questions the identiﬁcation of such groups as Satanic.
The issue of legitimacy is especially relevant, given the CoS’s ongoing campaign to dismiss all other groups as pseudoSatanists or devil worshipers. Part II concerns regional variations, with focus given to cultural and context-speciﬁc Satanism as well as emphasizing the tension between “globalized Satanism and more locally founded adaptations.” One chapter, for example, discusses the dominance of social democratic politics in Scandinavian countries and its importance for understanding Scandinavian Satanists’ rejection of ideas and practices considered American. Some of the other topics include online communities and Norwegian Black Metal.
The third and ﬁnal part of this collection is made up of a selection of primary sources from diﬀerent countries and perspectives, useful for scholars looking to get it straight from the goat’s mouth. Pieces by the Danish Satanist Ole Wolf and the American Satanist Nathan Wardinski are noteworthy, with the former arguing that the kernel of what is truly Satanic has to be parsed out from what it merely American culture, concluding that Satanism is inevitably culture speciﬁc. Wardinski looks at the prospects for the emergence of a Satanic political front in the U.S.
– Reviewed by Christopher Smith, a New York-based freelance writer and researcher
05: Secularism, Women and the State: The Mediterranean World in the 21st Century (published by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society), edited by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, argues that the vast region stretching from Israel to France and representing diﬀerent faiths maintains a distinctive posture toward religion, secularism and democracy.
In the introduction, Kosmin and Keysar write that Mediterranean states have generally experienced less multiculturalism than in northern Europe, and consequently there has been less pressure for these countries to organize society and the state to deal with religious diversity. The region has generally followed one of two paths: the increasing secularism of political life (France, and to a lesser degree Italy and Spain) or a co-option of religious institutions in “purview of the state” (Egypt, Greece, Israel).
The subsequent chapters add complexity to that theme, covering issues such as selective secularization in Greece, the Islamic–secular divide in Turkey, secularization in Spain, and confessionism and the crisis of democracy in Lebanon. Many of the authors lean toward a position of strict church-separation in their analyses. Kosmin’s comparative analysis of public opinion in France, Spain and Italy ﬁnds the three countries growing closer in political secularism (there is no longer a distinct Catholic political voice in these countries, with public opinion opting for the complete separation of church and state).
But Italy and France are far apart on questions of personal religiosity and the importance of religion (with Spain in the middle), while younger Italians are more religious than older ones. The second part of the book focuses on women and how they are aﬀected by these dynamics, beginning with a study ﬁnding that women’s health issues and rising socio-economic status in Mediterranean countries are correlated with political and personal secularism.
The chapters of this book can be downloaded at: http://prog.trincoll.edu/ISSSC/SecularismWomenState/Chapters.asp
06: Charisma and Compassion (Harvard University Press, $49.95) by C. Julia Huang is a groundbreaking study of the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation (Tzu Chi), an international Buddhist relief organization founded in 1966 and based in Hualian, Taiwan, with millions of members in Taiwan and overseas.
Tzu Chi is indeed the largest social group in Taiwan today, and there are more than 300 Tzu Chi oﬃces in 40 countries. Unusual among Buddhist organizations, Tzu Chi deﬁnes social service rather than religion as its primary goal, a change that dates back to the late 1960s. The book is the ﬁrst English work to fully document the history, organization and operation of Tzu Chi. The core focus of Huang’s book is an examination of the charismatic characteristics of the organization’s religious leader, Master Cheng Yen, and her relationship with the followers of this lay Buddhist organization.
Huang’s book examines three geographical organizational operations—local, national and global—of the movement. Her analysis of the popular phenomenon of weeping among Tzu Chi followers reﬂects the concern to capture the “ethnoscape” of a Tzu Chi emotional community on the local, national and global levels. Huang’s book also seeks to investigate the forms and content of the movement’s globalism and the structure of Tzu Chi’s expansion worldwide through its missions and missionaries.
Her study ﬁnds, ﬁrstly, that the creation of the movement was a synthesis of external and indigenous sources; and, secondly, that the global vision of its mission was an adaptation to the role of religion within the processes of intensiﬁed global communications and increasing Chinese/ Taiwanese transnationalism.
– Reviewed by Weishan Huang, a doctoral student in Sociology at the New School for Social Research