01: Although more Americans are joining the ranks of the unchurched, most of the movement away from organized religion took place earlier than 1991, according to a study by Michael Hout and Claude Fischer presented at the meeting of American Sociological Association in San Francisco (held the same time as the ASR).
Reports that the number of the unchurched doubled during the 1990s have to be qualified by the figures showing that the exodus from organized religion started before the 1990s and doubled over a 14–15-year period. By using data from the General Social Survey from 1973 to 2008, Hout and Fischer found little decline in religious beliefs, such as belief in God, since 1988. The groups that increased were those whom the researchers call “unchurched believers.” Hout and Fischer add that the trend of dropping out of organized religion continued through 2008 and was probably fueled by the growing number of Americans who were likely raised without any religions.
In an initial study in 2002, the authors argued that church political involvement, especially in the Christian right, was a factor in alienating more liberal church members from attending. The recent study shows that while conservatives are just as likely to identify with a church now as they did 20 years ago, liberal and moderate Christians are much less likely to report a religion now than they did in 1988. The study also found that Americans were more likely to report anti-religious views in 2008 than they did in 1998 (for instance, two-thirds agreed that “religion brings more conflict than peace,” while only one-third held that view in 1998).
02: A concern about family stability tends to drive up church attendance in general, and it appears stronger for conservative Protestants in particular, according to a recent study by Young-Il Kim of the University of Virginia.
Kim, who presented a paper on his findings at the ASR meeting, analyzed longitudinal data from the National Survey of Families and Households, specifically the years 1987–88, 1992–94 and 2001–03. Looking at positive attitudes toward marriage and childbearing, Kim found that such values had little effect on church attendance. However, concern about family stability was a significant factor in increased levels of religious attendance among conservative Protestants, as compared with mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
There was also a relationship between support for elderly parents and increased church attendance among conservative Protestants, although, unlike the family stability factor, there was no main relationship between such support and greater religious involvement. Because the questions concerning family stability often emphasized the welfare of children, it might be expected that people who have sacralized such values would also be more involved in organized religion.
03: Canadian evangelicals have sharply departed from the Liberal Party in the last decade, although this change is due less to the emergence of a Canadian religious right than to the party’s marginalization of evangelical and other religious voters, according to a new study.
In each of the federal elections in 2004, 2006 and 2008, the Liberal Party only managed to retain half of the evangelical voters it had had at the previous election. The departing evangelicals mainly went to the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP), in a 2 to 1 ratio, respectively. The study, by Don Hutchinson and Rick Hiemstra and cited in Church and Faith Trends (August), notes that prior to 1996 there was little difference between the votes cast by evangelicals and those by the rest of Canadians; evangelical support for right- and left-leaning parties was roughly evenly split, taking into account regional variations.
As mentioned above, at least one-third of evangelical voters who formerly voted Liberal subsequently moved to the left-leaning NDP, while Green Party support doubled among evangelicals from 2003 to 2008. It was not even so much the policy positions of the Liberal Party that caused the evangelical exodus (both the NDP and other left-leaning parties support such initiatives as gay marriage), but rather actions by the party perceived to be discriminatory toward evangelicals. These actions included derogatory remarks about evangelicals by Liberal Party leaders, as well as defending policy changes involving same-sex marriage in a way that was seen as limiting their religious freedom involving such measures.
The newly formed Conservative Party attracted a large segment of evangelicals as a viable alternative because of its stress on moral issues reflecting its values. In effect, moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia and samesex marriage also became rallying points for concerns about religious freedom and the role of religion in public life.
(Church and Faith Trends, http://files/efc-canada.net)
04: Belief in reincarnation among Chinese Christians is relatively unaffected by Christian beliefs and practices, with the exception of Bible reading, according to a paper presented at the ASR conference.
Hsing-Kuang Chao and Wei-Chun Chiu (Tunghai University) previously found that 25 percent of Christians in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan believe in reincarnation. Their follow-up study of four Christian groups looked at the variables of age, scripture reading, church service involvement, Christian identity, Christian conservative belief, religious utilitarianism and ancestor veneration, and whether they could predict respondents’ belief in reincarnation.
According to the report, among the seven variables in the model, ancestor veneration had the strongest positive influence on the belief in reincarnation. In contrast, Christian socialization, especially scripture reading, had a negatively impact on respondents’ belief in reincarnation. Yet other Christian variables, such as identity and a conservative faith, only had a very weak effect on respondents’ belief in reincarnation.
— Reported by Weishan Huang, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Ethnic and Religious Diversity in Gottingen, Germany
05: A new survey of Muslim life in Germany confirms that most Muslims in that country do not feel represented by existing Islamic associations, and similar results could probably be found in several European countries.
The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees conducted the study and the results were released in late June. Six thousand Muslims with roots in 49 countries were interviewed. The research included not only religiously affiliated Muslims, but also non-practicing ones, in contrast with similar previous studies. This obviously raises the issue of the definition of who is a Muslim and who is not. Researchers were surprised to find that there are more Muslims in Germany than had been assumed until now. According to the study, there are between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims living in the country (previous estimates were between 3.1 and 3.4 million).
Sixtythree percent have Turkish roots (between 2.5 and 2.7 million), 14 percent come from Southeastern Europe, 8 percent from the Middle East and 7 percent from North Africa. From those with an immigrant background, half have already acquired German citizenship. Sunnis make up 72 percent of the Muslim population in Germany, Alevis 14 percent and Shiites 7 percent. The level of integration is better than expected: more than 50 percent of German Muslims belong to some German association. Most young people participate in mixed sports activities on school premises, although 7 percent of Muslim girls stay away from swimming lessons when males and females attend together.
The level of organizational religious affiliation is low. Although 36 percent describe themselves as “strong believers,” only some 20 percent of Muslims in Germany belong to a Muslim association or congregation. Less than 25 percent feel fully represented by the leading Muslims organizations in Germany. Only 10 percent know that there is since 2007 a coordinating council of Muslims in Germany. But 76 percent (84 percent among Sunnis) wish that Islamic religious education should take place in state schools. Some side results of the study also yield interesting insights; for instance, 40 percent of immigrants from Iran consider themselves as non-affiliated with any religious community. Only 10 percent among people coming from Iran (mostly Shiites) describe themselves as strong believers.
(The full study in German can be found at the following URL: http://www.bmi.bund.de/cae/servlet/ contentblob/566008/publicationFile/ 31710/vollversion_studie_muslim_le ben_deutschland_.pdf)
06: According to a recent study conducted by the Zentralinstitut Islam-Archiv-Deutschland, Muslim support for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Germany has started to decrease, reports Ali Kocaman in Islamische Zeitung (September).
Until recently, the Muslim vote could virtually be taken for granted by German Social Democrats. Only two years ago, 52 percent of German Muslims expressed support for the Social Democrats. According to the new survey, the percentage is now down to 35.5 percent. Social Democrats are followed by Greens, with a support rate of 18 percent (marking an increase).
All the other parties represented in the German parliament get less than 5 percent of Muslim votes. Muslim associations in Germany advise against founding a Muslim political party.
(Islamische Zeitung, http://www.islamische-zeitung.de)