01: American professors are more likely to be religious than nonreligious, according to a recent study by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons in the journal Sociology of Religion (Summer).
In analyzing data from their new Politics of the American Professoriate survey (of 1,417 professors), Gross and Simmons find that academics were three times more likely than the American public to be considered “religious skeptics” (atheists and agnostics). Yet such skepticism was not the most common stance, since just over a fifth are atheists and agnostics, while 51.5 percent believe in God. As found in previous studies, those in the social sciences were most likely to be atheists, while professors in the physical and biological sciences were more likely to be agnostics.
The highest percentage of non-believers tended to be in elite schools in the north-east of the U.S. and among the research professors who have less contact with undergraduates than other professors, although 31.3 percent of such research-oriented faculty are nonetheless believers. The health disciplines had the most religious believers. Of those claiming religious beliefs, “traditionalists” comprised 19 percent of the professors, while “moderates” represented 42.4 percent and “progressives’ 38.6 percent.
Gross and Simmons conclude that the popular stereotype of academic secularists needs to be revised in favor of a more complex model that allows for considerable religious variation according to institution, faculty, position and region of the country.
(Sociology of Religion, Oxford University Press, 2001 Evans Rd., Cary NC 27513)
02: Religious Americans are three to four times more likely to be involved in their communities than non-believers, although the difference is more about community ties than actual religious beliefs, according to political scientist Robert Putnam.
In a book to be released next year, Putnam and University of Notre Dame scholar David Campbell find that believers are more likely to work on community projects, belong to voluntary organizations, vote in local elections, and donate time and money to secular causes than non-believers. The effect is causal, according to Putnam and Campbell, since people who hadn’t attended church became more active in the community after they started to do so.
But it was not religious beliefs, such as fear of damnation, as much as the friendship ties developed in congregations that generated community involvement among believers. The Christian Century (June 16) notes that it was especially what Putnam calls “supercharged friends” in congregations who encourage others in their “moral community” to get involved in community affairs. Those who may attend services, but don’t have these friendships within the congregation, tend to look more like non-believers in their level of community involvement.
Putnam and Campbell note that the congregational effect on community involvement may be waning, since young adults are far less likely to regularly attend religious services today.
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
03: While physical healing is an important part of the Pentecostal tradition and message, a significant minority of Pentecostals have neither experienced such a form of healing nor been an agent in bringing about such experiences to others, according to a study by sociologist Margaret Paloma.
In surveying 1,827 adherents from 21 Assemblies of God congregations, Paloma found that 30 percent said they had never experienced a physical healing and 33 percent said they had never been used as an agent of healing for someone else. Writing in the Pentecostal journal Pneuma (Vol. 31, No. 1), Paloma notes that those more likely to have claimed a healing or to have played a role in a healing were older church members and non-whites.
But the leading predictor of either experience was engaging in “prophetic prayer,” the practice of allegedly receiving a revelation or message from God. The respondents were far more likely to report an emotional or “inner” healing, with this figure reaching 93 percent.
(Pneuma, Vanguard University, 55 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, CA 92626)
04: Unwed teens and those in their 20s who have attended religious schools are more likely to have abortions than their counterparts who went to public schools, according to a study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (June).
Sociologist Amy Adamczyk analyzed data showing the pregnancy decisions of 1,504 women aged 26 and younger, 25 percent of whom had had abortions. Adamczyk found no significant link between a young women’s personal religiosity (defined by attendance, prayer frequency and the personal importance of faith) and their abortion decisions.
She found that conservative evangelicals were the least likely to report having an abortion. One factor in the effect of religious schooling on abortion decisions is that while students may not necessarily be religious, the strong social ties these schools generate may create shame among students who become pregnant through sexual relations outside marriage.
05: After a long period of growth, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist memberships show signs of decline, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook of the American & Canadian Churches.
The percentages of these losses were small (with the Catholics losing 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptists 0.24 percent of their memberships), but in the case of the SBC, the membership statistics have shown stagnation for several years, with baptisms falling for the third straight year. “Many churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of younger generations of church-goers—the ‘Gen X’ers’ or ‘Millenials’ in their 20s and 30s who attend and support local congregations but resist joining them,” writes Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, editor of the yearbook.
Other denominations reporting membership losses include: United Church of Christ (down 6.01 percent); African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (down 3.01 percent); Presbyterian Church (USA) (down 2.79 percent); Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (down 1.44 percent); Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (down 1.35 percent); and American Baptist Churches USA (down 0.94 percent).
06: When Jehovah’s Witnesses evangelize, fewer hours need to be invested per convert in Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa than in other parts of the world, reports French historian and long-time observer of religious movements Bernard Blandre in Mouvements Religieux (January-February).
For instance, twice as many hours on average are needed per convert in the U.S. compared to Zambia. Thus, it is not surprising that the Witnesses are developing more rapidly in the above-mentioned areas. The Witnesses release detailed statistical data in their yearbooks, and Blandre has analyzed these figures yearly since 1983. For each baptism, whatever the country, several thousand hours are spent— obviously not on one individual, but on many uninterested people, with very few of them finally converting. Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses have grown by 2.1 percent from 2007 to 2008.
North America and Western Europe are below average. In all Western countries, many more hours are needed per conversion today than was the case in 1980. For instance, in the U.S., 2,915 hours of preaching were required for making one convert in 1980; in 2008, not less than 6,120 hours had to be spent for achieving the same result of one convert. In the UK, the number of hours has jumped from 3,511 in 1980 to 7,074 in 2008, in Italy from 2,540 to 10,121, and in Canada from 3,342 to 9,082.
This means that the average population seems to be much more resistant to Witnesses’ proselytism than used to be the case less than 30 years ago. Blandre remarks that it is difficult to assess the reasons behind such a development. Among possible factors, he mentions criticism of Witnesses, growing competition, or maybe lesser enthusiasm among Witnesses for knocking on door after door.
(Mouvements Religieux, B.P. 70733, 57207 Sarreguemines Cedex, France)