01: A new study by the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that 64 nations have high or very high restrictions on religion.
The most overall cases—and highest level—of religious restrictions are in the Middle East and North Africa, while the Americas have the lowest rate. The survey looked at both societal and governmental restrictions—two dynamics that do not always work in tandem. For instance, China has high governmental restrictions on religion, but has a moderate-to-low range of social restrictions or hostilities, while Nigeria follows the opposite pattern.
Because some of the most restrictive countries have high populations, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population live in countries with high rates of religious restrictions. Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and India have the most restrictions when taking the two measures into account, while Brazil, Japan, the U.S., Italy, South Africa and the UK have the least. Tensions between religions were reported in 87 percent of countries; 64 percent (126 countries) experienced physical violence. Religion-related terrorism caused casualties in 17 countries, nearly one in ten worldwide.
02: The high rate of secularity in the Czech Republic is due less to demographic factors and more about the low level of religious socialization in the recent history of the country, according to a new study in the journal Social Compass (December).
Sociologists Dana Hamplova and Zdenek R. Nespor note that many scholars holding to the secularization thesis have viewed the high rate of non-affiliation and religious involvement among Czechs as a result of modernization expressed through high levels of education and urbanization, as well as their communist past. Based on survey data collected in 2006 and compared with findings from the Czech censuses and the International Social Survey, Hamplova and Nespor find that a fairly high proportion of Czechs believe in some element of “alternative religiosity”; over half of respondents from 1999 and 2006 believe that fortune telling can predict the future and that some form of supernatural power exists.
The researchers found that demographic factors (belonging to a specific sector of the population) did not have a significant influence on whether a respondent professed a traditional or alternative religion. More important was the degree of religious socialization of the respondent. Religious socialization, particularly in the smaller Protestant churches, not only increased the probability of believing in religious traditions, but also the probability of believing in supernatural phenomena.
There was, however, hardly an effect for those raised in the Czechoslovak Hussite Church and a moderate effect for those brought up Catholic. An interesting difference was also discovered between those who attended church often (at least once a month) in childhood and those attending occasionally. Those attending often were more likely to hold more conventional religious beliefs (involving heaven, hell, and prayer) in adulthood, while infrequent attenders had some interest in the supernatural, but it extended only to beliefs such as fortune telling and astrology.
Since these patterns of socialization are often tied to Czechs’ historic relations (such as involving church–state ties) to the various churches, Hamplova and Nespor conclude that such attitudes are more important than modernization in explaining the nation’s secularity.
(Social Compass, Place Montesquieu 1 / Boîte 13, 1348 Louvainla-Neuve, Belgium)
03: Researchers are paying new attention to the grey areas between active belief and secularism; they have even coined the term “fuzzy fidelity” to describe this position.
That label is especially applicable in England, where one-quarter of the population believe in God (if tentatively) and attend services (if occasionally), while a “third have none of these traits, and in between we find the fuzzy faithful,” writes demographer David Voas in the newsletter FutureFirst (December).
Voas cites the work of researcher Abby Day who divides “religious nominalists” into the categories of “natal nominalists,” whose Christianity is a matter of family heritage and who tended to attend church when they were young; “ethnic nominalists” who tend to use the label “Christian” to describe their cultural heritage, often to distinguish themselves from Muslims and others; and “aspirational nominalists”, who describe themselves as Christian, more usually as Church of England, for the sake of respectability.
Belief-wise, the fuzzy faithful may hold to a mélange of beliefs (often Eastern-derived) as well as draw on conventional Christian beliefs; a smaller percentage may consider themselves spiritual seekers. For the fuzzy faithful throughout Europe, religion is seen as relatively unimportant, with any actual involvement in religious institution due to social reasons or rites of passage, Voas concludes.
An article by Ingrid Storm in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December) finds different kinds of fuzzy believers in various parts of Europe. In Scandinavia, the pattern of “belonging without believing” (maintaining membership of and even paying taxes to churches while not being active, aside from rites of passage) still holds, while in England, believing without belonging is the most common pattern, as the churches are increasingly less important in holding rites of passage.
(FutureFirst, The Old Post Office, 1 Thorpe Ave., Tonbridge, Kent TN10 4PW)
04: Research by Norwegian television channel TV2 indicates that more than 100 Norwegians converted to Islam in 2009, reports the Islam in Europe blog (Dec. 24).
Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church—a minority group in Norway—reported a similar number of conversions during the year 2009. Since there is no central registry of converts to Islam, TV2 gathered its data from mosques and Muslim organizations around the country. Demands put on converts seem to be less high in the Muslim community than in the Roman Catholic Church, where people must go through a year of teaching before being admitted. All that is needed for new Muslims is to recite the profession of faith sincerely: “The practical duties like prayers and alms will come eventually,” said an imam who converted 14 people in 2009. The number of converts to Islam is a debated issue in several countries across Europe, due to a lack of research and of reliable statistical sources.
Moreover, the topic can easily be used as a propaganda argument both by Muslim groups and movements opposing “Islamization.” And there is also the problem of a number of people converting formally for the sake of marriage, since a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim. According to data compiled by the editor of Islam in Europe (Jan. 17), which should be considered an estimate, there could be currently a total of 5,000 converts in Denmark, up to 100,000 in France (although the figures might also be lower), 80,000 in Germany, 3,500 in Hungary, 1,000 in Norway, 25,000 in Spain and 5,000 in Sweden.