01: Operating in multi-faith contexts abroad poses new challenges to military chaplains, writes Dennis R. Hoover (Institute for Global Engagement) in the introduction to an issue of the Review of Faith and International Aﬀairs (Winter 2009) devoted to “The Past and Future of Military Chaplaincy.”
Besides their traditional roles, should chaplains contribute to the training of military personnel in the knowledge of religions? Should they play a diplomatic role? Do they need a new type of training? Some of these issues for chaplains, such as ﬁnding a balance between service to God and service to their nation, are not new, remarks Paule a Otis (Marine Corps University). Other challenges may be related to a new type of conﬂict, dominated by irregular warfare and insurgency.
Otis mentions that new types of training for U.S. military chaplains are currently being developed, with the Navy, Army and Air Force chaplaincy schools being co-located in South Carolina by 2010, where there will be a Center for World Religions. There are currently around 3,000 active-duty U.S. military chaplains. In earlier times, says U.S. Army Chaplain Corps historian John W. Brinsﬁeld, Christian clergy were interested in converting people to Christianity. But from the time of the Vietnam War, chaplains were brought to the platform as instructors in world religions. The pluralization of religious life in the U.S. also encouraged such eﬀorts.
There has been an increasing trend for chaplains to act in liaison function with local religious leaders of various faiths. However, adds Douglas M. Johnston (International Center for Religion and Diplomacy), caution was soon advised, for fear that chaplains acting in such functions might be misperceived as intelligence agents in religious garb. Here again, new directives soon to be issued will a empt to ﬁnd a balance between the prohibition of activities that might compromise the non-combatant status of chaplains (e.g. identifying targets) and permission to provide command and staﬀ with religious insights.
Chaplain Timothy K. Bedsole suggests that the “insider” vantage point of chaplains “can help to correct an o en over-secularized military,” especially chaplains trained in world religions. In another article, Miroslav Volf (Yale University) writes on how chaplains can be agents of peace in theaters of war; a ministry of reconciliation “is beginning to be recognized as a complementary role for deployed chaplains”—something also connected to the fact that armed forces are more and more engaged in peackeeping and peacemaking missions. From such an angle, all soldiers actually come to be seen as potential agents of peace.
For more information, write: Review of Faith and International Aﬀairs, Institute for Global Engagement, P.O. Box 12205, Arlington, VA 22219-2205; h p://www.RFIAonline.org
02: “Satanism and Satanism Scares in the Modern World” is the main topic of the December issue of Social Compass (December).
The subject has attracted the attention of several sociologists over the past two decades; the contributors make a special eﬀort to look beyond the English-speaking world. Contributions show several sources for Satanist activities, from (rationalist) LaVey’s Church of Satan to the Black Metal musical scene and some more occult types of groups.
Some articles note the “pick and mix” nature of Satanism. In all cases, the spread of the Internet has certainly helped the diﬀusion of Satanic views, as well as networking among people attracted by Satanism, but a few active groups pre-date it. Except for international organizations, a number of groups born in diﬀerent countries tend to be ephemeral. As might be expected, the contrast is striking between the real numbers of identiﬁed, professing Satanists and rumors about Satanism. In France, for instance, Olivier Bobineau (French National Center for Scientiﬁc Research) states in his article that there are about ten active Satanists aﬃliated with international Satanist organizations and a hundred more unaﬃliated, regularly practicing Satanists.
People arrested for certain criminal activities in which such symbols were used (e.g. the desecration of cemeteries) in France were all younger than 30 and none of them was associated with a stable Satanist organization. There have been similar cases of criminal activities (including a few murders) by small bands of young people in some European countries, usually cases of “wild Satanism”, not infrequently associated with the use of drugs, rather than organized Satanism, concludes Massimo Introvigne (Center for the Studies of New Religions) in his report on the Italian situation.
In Denmark, estimates by Titus Hjelm (University College London) and three co-authors indicate 800 self-declared Satanists, partly aﬃliated with regional, Scandinavian organizations. In Norway, few of the 400 subscribers to a Satanist online forum are members of Satanist groups, and many of them anyway do not participate o en: Satanism seems to be more “a philosophical perspective on life among a few young people.” In Finland, while the number of Satanists is small and no stable organization has emerged, there are two small publishing houses specializing in Satanist literature.
What seems to come across frequently is “reactive Satanism, where the aim is to shock, often without any personal commitment to a Satanic worldview.” Again, as is the case in France, this seems to clearly show that there is a kind of “cultural Satanism” or the use of Satanic symbols that is more widespread than fully ﬂedged Satanism.
For more on this issue, write: Social Compass, Place Montesquieu 1 / Boîte 13, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
03: Dark Green Religion (University of California Press, $24.95), by Bron Taylor, looks at the diversity of nature-based and environmental ideas and practices and attempts to demonstrate how they form the contours of a new religion.
While there have been many works showing the implicit and explicit spiritual concepts behind environmental activism and philosophies, Taylor goes somewhat further, arguing that scientiﬁc narratives, especially those drawing on neo-Darwinian naturalism, also reveal elements of this new spirituality (although acknowledging that the neo-Darwinists would object to such spiritual and religious designations).
He looks at four main types of “dark green” religion: spiritual animism, i.e. those who believe in a spiritual force in nature or at least observe nature-based rituals; naturalistic animism, i.e. those who claim kinship with non-human life; Gaian spirituality, which holds that the earth has a spiritual consciousness; and Gaian naturalism, which is suspicious of supernatural accounts of the earth, but still holds to the view that it is a self-sustaining life system.
Taylor ﬂeshes out these typologies with interesting case studies—from how surﬁng and other outdoor sports are viewed by participants as religious practices to the globalized environmental movement as expressed in the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. In fact, he sees the Earth Charter that originated from the summit as putting forth a new “civic earth religion.” Far from a disinterested study, Taylor views the alleged decline of traditional religions not as secularization as much as this new natural religion replacing older more outmoded ones.
04: The recent publication of Atheism and Secularity (Praeger, $104.95), edited by Phil Zuckerman, is part of a new wave of academic interest in atheism and secularism in general.
The two volumes cover both the theoretical and conceptual issues of non-belief and secularism, as well as their various atheist expressions around the world. The ﬁrst volume seeks to explain who the atheists and unbelievers actually are through survey research, while also attempting to challenge existing theories and research about the role of religion and secularism in American society. This twin focus can be seen in a nuanced study by Frank Pasquale of the diﬀerent orientations of those in organized secular groups; he ﬁnds that a signiﬁcant percentage don’t sign oﬀ on a completely naturalistic worldview.
In contrast, Gregory Paul launches a free-wheeling, 58-page a ack on the idea that religiosity and social and economic well-being have anything to do with each other. He does this by comparing the economic and social security levels of developed countries and ﬁnding that the U.S. is among the most “pathological” (in terms of crime, lack of healthcare, etc.), which he then correlates with a generic concept of religion or “theofaith,” deﬁned as a “superﬁcial primitive and dysfunctional condition.” In any case, Paul claims that religion is declining rapidly in the U.S. through the inﬂuences of science, evolution and education. Other chapters in this volume include studies on secularism and its eﬀect on children, and atheism and sexuality.
The second volume, which examines atheism around the world, includes a comparison between “fundamentalists” and atheists in the U.S. and Canada; a study by Sam Bagg and David Voas on how Britain has arrived at a “complex secularity,” as the growing rate of disaﬃliation, attitudes of religious indiﬀerence, the prominence and respectability of atheists in the public sphere, a secularizing culture, and a tolerant Church of England have created a secular, if not atheistic, nation; a look at how atheist societies in the former Soviet Union have shifted from discrimination against religion (under communism) to promoting human rights; and an interesting account of how close church–state relations led to stronger secularist organizations in Norway than in other Scandinavian countries.
The chapters on India and China appear to take on a more biased tone, especially as the latter explains the alleged success of the Communist Party’s “scientiﬁc atheism,” while overlooking such challenges as the massive growth of Christianity in the country.
05: Without much publicity or notice, the Russell Sage Foundation has published an important two-volume work on evangelicals and politics in the U.S. entitled Evangelicals and Democracy in America ($49.95 per volume), edited by Steven Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel.
The books bring together the leading scholars on evangelical political involvement, as they retrace the historical path to renewed activism and present current research. Noteworthy contributions include a historical comparison by Phillip Gorski of evangelical politics with similar movements of the past in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and England; a study of the “traditionalist alliance” by John Green, who notes that the coalition among various conservative Christian activists is likely to survive even as its mainly white base may hinder its impact (as seen in the last election); a chapter by Brad Wilcox on how evangelical activism has changed the public discourse on family issues, even if its avoidance of economic issues will hamper its longterm inﬂuence; and Julie Ingersoll’s treatment of the unrecognized impact of Calvinist-based Christian Reconstructionism on evangelical political involvement.
A theme of several chapters is the cyclical nature of evangelical political strength in the U.S., which may be an improvement from treatments of this movement that tend to forecast either inevitable decline or triumphant growth.
06: Write These Laws on Your Children (Beacon Press, $27.95), by education professor Robert Kunzman, presents a ﬁrst-hand examination of conservative Christian home-schooling participants and their related activism for this cause.
By “conservative,” he is referring to fundamentalist Protestants who are also politically conservative, a group that, whether it constitutes two-thirds, one-half or even less of a proportion of home schoolers, has, he writes, a “disproportionate” eﬀect on public perception and rhetoric around home schooling. He pays special attention to the Home School Legal Defense Association, founded in 1983, a group that has maintained a high public proﬁle in its attempts to dominate the policy environment surrounding home schooling.
Kunzman also looks at the political activism by home schoolers themselves in the “Generation Joshua” movement. Based on six years of research among practitioners and apologists for the Christian home-schooling movement, Kunzman provides fairly detailed accounts of conservative Christian home schoolers residing in various states (California, Tennessee, Oregon, Indiana and Vermont). Class, the educational level of parent teachers and apparent educational methods vary among these case studies, ranging from a self-aware, highly conscious former teacher who challenges each of her four children with patience and encouragement of problem-solving and critical thinking, to an anti-social backwoodsman who relies on a whip to ensure compliance from his ten children.
As in public schooling, school stances range from structured to chaotic and from student-centered to authoritarian. In interviewing teachers and students, Kunzman ﬁnds that most home schoolers rely on materials produced by conservative Christian companies. Cost considerations and parental disinclination to take advice preclude use of teachers’ manuals, which results in frayed instruction in areas where the parents’ own education is weak. Whereas Kunzman is concerned with the extent to which alternative points of view are presented, acknowledged and examined, his conservative Christian interviewees are interested in them only as material against which they may strengthen their case for a literal, Biblical reading of human history and earth science, which typically comes from the material provided by conservative Christian companies.
None of the families interviewed gives serious consideration to the possibility that evolutionary theory might be true. Knowledge, in the home-schooling world, comes from God, as represented in particular, literalist interpretations of the Bible, and is not subject to questioning or debate. There is, predictably, little tolerance of dissent and respect for minority values and rights. Although parents concede that ultimately their children will think for themselves, one senses that they would be saddened and deeply concerned about any drift towards secular thought.
– By Jane Kelton, a New York-based writer
07: Economist Eli Berman approaches the religious dimensions of terrorism in unique and provocative ways in his new book Radical, Religious and Violent (MIT Press, $24.94).
Berman uses religious economy theory to explain terrorist activities and how various movements make the transition to espousing violence and suicide. In fact, he makes a connection between violent and non-violent “radical” groups (meaning sects) and how their tendency to maintain strong mutual aid provisions can give them “the potential to be potent providers of coordinated violence, including terrorism, should they so choose.” Berman discounts the main theories of terrorism, which stress psychological and theological motivations, and focuses on their practices of altruism and sacriﬁce for an in-group of fellow believers.
He looks at a whole range of peaceful and nonpeaceful groups, including Hamas, the Jewish Underground, Old Order Amish and the Hell’s Angels, a empting to demonstrate that they all tend to demand sacriﬁce from members and also give them beneﬁts, while seeking to control defections. Berman argues that these groups’ ability to create “defectionresistant mutual aid organizations” gives them an advantage in recruiting people who aim at high-value targets, speciﬁcally in the case of suicide a acks. Berman concludes his readable book by recommending policies to thwart religious terrorism, such as advising governments to provide welfare alternatives that break up the exclusive hold of some radical mutual-aid organizations.
08: The appearance of a specialized book such as Fundamentalisms and the Media (Continuum, $29.95), edited by Stewart Hoover and Nadia Kaneva, is a good indicator of the new scholarly attention that is being given to the relationship between the media and religion in general.
The contributors to this volume see the various kinds of fundamentalist movements’ involvement in the media as a prime example of the way religious identity, action and community are being created and sustained by media technologies. Because of (at least) American fundamentalists’ early use of the media—from print to radio to television broadcasts—the editors suggest that such “mediation” is central to understanding this form of Christianity. It is more diﬃcult to attribute the importance of the media to “fundamentalist” versions of Islam and even Catholicism (as is the case with the chapter on Opus Dei and its handling of the Da Vinci Code controversy).
While about half of the book covers media theory and how it relates to the deﬁnitions and practices of fundamentalism, there are several chapters that would be of interest to those outside the media studies ﬁeld, including the role of media spokesmen, such as the Family Research Council, in conservative Christian activism; the diﬀerent ways in which the concept of the church are expressed among fundamentalists on the Internet; and how the Christian media in India take many of their cues from American evangelical televangelism and the ways in which this tie plays into Hindu–Christian conﬂicts.
09: Religious identity has a stronger eﬀect on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in war-torn and developing countries than might be expected, according to the new book, For the Love of God (Kumarian Press, $24.95), by Shawn Teresa Flanigan.
The author conducted interviews with the leaders and staﬀ of NGOs in Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Bosnia-Herzogovina, including international and secular as well as local and faith-based organizations (FBOs). Flanigan looks at the extent to which the operation of NGOs in these societies mirrors their religious and ethnic divisions. As might be expected, it was the local FBOs that were most likely to serve their particular sect and ethnic group. Much of these divisions may be geographical; in Lebanon, the segregation of Muslims, Druze and Christian communities leads organizations to serve primarily members of a single “sect.”
But even international NGOs untouched by local conﬂicts and committed to inclusive social services have to deal with clientele who act more in terms of group identity. Flanigan also ﬁnds that an FBO’s commitment to proselytizing and evangelism may cause distrust among clients of other faiths (a trend especially evident in Sri Lanka, with the growth of evangelical NGOs), particularly when they are sole service providers.
Another factor that may limit the eﬀectiveness of some Christian NGOs in reaching beyond their faith is their tendency to rely on church referrals (where clergy would approve and recommend people to health and social services) to gain clients. Flanigan concludes with recommendations for FBOs seeking to expand their outreach in conﬂicted areas, such as advocating a strategy of joining local groups with international NGOs.
10: From her unique vantage point as an evangelical anthropologist, Miriam Adeney’s recent book, Kingdom Without Borders (IVP Books, $18), provides close-up snapshots of the Christian believers, congregations and organizations ﬂourishing in the Global South.
The book brings together Adeney’s fervent evangelical faith with her observations and encounters with believers ranging from “Christian Sikhs” to a community of “Hindu-background oral learners,” who comprise 2,000 small churches that have formed in India between 1997 and 2003, coming to Christianity through radio Bible stories. She also provides noteworthy accounts of Christian believers (many prefer the designation “Jesus’s people”) who meet clandestinely in Iran, worship like Muslims and celebrate Islamic holy days, and explores the thriving micro-enterprise movement where thousand of churches and missions, along with secular agencies, make loans for people to start small businesses.
Adeney has no central ﬁndings or theoretical conclusions, but her documentation of the “global ﬂows” of Third World Christianity and the way they are reconﬁguring old patterns of associating and outreach (i.e. Hindu-background Christians serving as missionaries in Muslim countries and the “contextualization” that is necessary in such missions) makes the book fascinating reading.
11: In her new book, Shamans, Nostalgias and the IMF (University of Hawaii Press, $49), anthropologist Lauren Kendall marshals impressive ethnographic evidence to show that shamanism in South Korea is alive and well and even ﬂourishing under modern capitalism.
Kendall returns to the site of ﬁeldwork she conducted in the 1970s in order to observe modern-day shamans in their exorcist-like rituals. Shamanism, once considered anti-modern, demonic and even anti-democratic, has been rehabilitated to serve as a national icon and a symbol of rural authenticity. But now the religious dimensions of modern shamanic practice have either been dismissed or judged inauthentic because of their abbreviated and professionalized nature.
Kendall ﬁnds that there are more shamans than ever in Korea, with the growth of shaman schools, training curricula, and rival associations vying for students and clients and asking the highest prices. The demand base for the shamans has likewise modernized, with clients seeking ﬁnancial gain and security (especially after the ﬁnancial hardships of the late 1990s), and even ancestors are perceived to demand repayments for past deprivations.
There also appears to be an aﬃnity between those working in small business and the frequenting of shamanic services. Although the book is diﬃcult to read at times, with an over-supply of details on shamanic practices, Kendall does show that modern shamanism both maintains traditions and eﬀectively adapts to the ambiguities of Korean economic life.
12: Transnational Transcendence (University of California Press, $24.95), edited by Thomas J. Csordas, focuses on the interrelation between globalization and religion.
An important aim of this book is to challenges the view that international contemporary religious manifestations are secondary to the primarily economic phenomenon of globalization. Csordas introduces various ways in which the globalization of religion takes place, including how the local religious imagination takes up the encroachment of the global economy and technology, and how religious inﬂuence moves in a reverse direction, from the margins to the metropolis.
In Csordas’s article on “Global Religion” he argues that when he began to study the international expansion of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the 1970s, the dominant global theory—world system theory—was not suﬃcient to understand the logic of this religious development, which he calls the “religious multinational” analogy. Csordas compares the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in three nations to establish the movement’s evidential diﬀerence from economic globalization.
India’s Catholic population tends to be concentrated regionally in the southwest, and the renewal exists in relation to Hindu and Muslim traditions. Brazil is a predominantly Catholic nation where the renewal interacts with strong existing local spiritual traditions. Nigeria is an ethnically diverse country where Catholicism is strongest among the Igbo people and the renewal exists in relation to traditional religion in the local se ing and within the Christian–Islam dynamic on the national scene.
All three have their historical process and structural consequences, which contribute to the religious dimension of a global social system. In Peter van der Veer’s chapter on “Global Breathing” he compares yoga and qigong as historic and political phenomena that are intimately related to the construction of modernity. Both body exercises are connected to conceptions of cosmology, bodily health and mind. In both cases, a politics of diﬀerence emerged that had to assert historical pride in one’s national civilization against imperial projects in diﬀerent periods.
Today, these two practices are genuinely widespread and can be seen as context-independent elements of an incipient universal culture, and at the same provide a compelling study on globalizing Asian spiritual-somatic practices under the national construction of civilization and cosmopolitan modernity. Transnational Transcendence in an original and powerful volume for readers who are interested in ethnographic and comparative studies of the global “return of religion.”
– By Weishan Huang, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Germany