01: The protests and strikes surrounding the conservative makeover of IslamOnline, one of the largest and most well-known Muslim Internet news and opinion outlets, may suggest new kinds of media battles unfolding in Islamic societies.
In mid-March, long-simmering tensions between staﬀers and the board over control of content in the Cairo, Egypt-based website led to a mass walkout and strike of employees and the likely replacement of the staﬀ with conservative Muslim content providers. IslamOnline, established in 2000, had a reputation for moderation and for covering a wide diversity of issues in English and Arabic, dealing with sensitive issues such as pornography addiction and homosexuality, and employing nonMuslims and openly secular staﬀers.
The Times of London (March 17) reports that the situation changed several months ago when there was a shakeup on the board of the Islamic Message Society, the new owners of IslamOnline, resulting in a cut-back in the coverage of secular issues. The more conservative tone was evident when the new board objected to an article on Valentine ’s Day reprinted from another newspaper. After widespread resistance to the editorial changes, the staﬀers were told that their contracts at the Cairo oﬃce would end after March, leading to the walkout.
02: Following the interruption of the publication of ISKCON Communications Journal a few years ago, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) no longer had an academic journal of its own. But the void has now been ﬁlled with the launching of ISKCON Studies Journal.
The ﬁrst issue, dated May 2009, has recently reached our oﬃces. The journal’s subtitle reads, “researching ISKCON and related subjects,” and the ﬁrst issue does indeed include contributions both by ISKCON and non-ISKCON authors, such as Jesuit Francis Clooney’s article on “Tradition and dialogue.” The issue also contains an article on interfaith relations, thus showing how ISKCON attempts to position itself as a participant in this ﬁeld.
Of special interest for scholars of contemporary religious movements will be an article by the director of ISKCON’s conﬂict management system, Braja Bihari Dasa, on schisms in ISKCON. Beside an analysis, it provides a useful summary of diﬀerent types of schismatic movements within ISKCON: the presence of a charismatic leader appears to have been a key factor “in creating a lastting schismatic group.”
The author feels that, in the long-run, schismatic groups will rather prove beneﬁcial to ISKCON, since competition has forced ISKCON leaders to look at a range of issues—and to cultivate humility. Interestingly, dialogue between ISKCON and one schismatic group started in 2007. Yadunandana Swami’s history of education in ISKCON will also be of interest to scholars. Moreover, the issue includes a book review section.
For information on ISKCON Studies Journal, contact: ISKCON Studies Institute, 63 Divinity Road, Oxford, OX4 1LH, U.K., h p://www.iskconstudies.org
03: The winter issue of the Lutheran theology journal Dialog is devoted to hymns, bringing together interesting research on a neglected area of religious scholarship.
Particularly noteworthy is a comparative study of traditional hymns and contemporary evangelical praise and worship (P&W) music. Ethnomusicologist Gesa Hartje ﬁnds that early hymnody (less the case for today’s hymns) and P&W music have similar meanings and function for their users—they both tend to become “permanent companions of everyday and devotional life,” in eﬀect creating their own theology. The way in which a praise song repertoire is disseminated (via the radio and concert tours) helps form an “imagined community” for the evangelical beyond the local congregation, just as hymnals had a similar unifying function for denominational churches.
Hartje concludes that hymnals are now including P&W songs, while evangelicals using contemporary music are also accepting hymns into their repertoires. Another article looks at how the changing content of hymnals illuminates the changes in the theology and social position of Lutheran churches in the West. Danish hymnologist Peter Balsev-Clausen notes that the very high percentage of new hymns in the recent worship books of German, American and Scandinavian churches (61 percent of the hymns in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America come from the 20th century) may suggest an uncertainty both about tradition and renewal and growth: “only frequent churchgoers have a chance to learn them, let alone come to see them as genuine expressions of their own faith and Christian practice.”
Clausen ﬁnds that since the 19th century, there has been growing emphasis on the importance of the church and sacraments in hymnals (particularly in Germany and the U.S.) and a corresponding decline in hymns about everyday life, breaking with the Reformation tradition of hymns serving as a bridge for the Christian between the Sunday service and home-based devotions.
For more information on this issue, write: Dialog, 61 Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg, PA 17325.
04: Disasters and how they aﬀect believers, as well as how religious groups function under such crises, is the theme of the current issue of the journal Religion (April).
The introduction to the articles provides an interesting overview of research on how religions and their followers have interpreted natural hazards, speciﬁcally about how their theodicies (explanations given for suﬀering) often say as much about them and their relationships with their respective societies as they do about the disasters.
The issue provides several case studies of various religions in diﬀerent cultures responding to natural disasters, with most contributors agreeing that religions can serve as resources for disaster prevention and relief. Particularly noteworthy is the case study of Buddhists in Thailand who responded to the 2004 tsunami and how this disaster led to the formation of new rituals, such as “counterfeit funerals” for those missing, and revived older ones, such as communicating with ancestors.
Other case studies look at Christian, Islamic and syncretistic (Muslim-Buddhist, in this case) interpretations of disasters and how their theodicies changed in the process.
For more information on this issue, go to: http//www.elsevier.com
05: Ancient Faith, Future Mission (Seabury Books, $22), edited by Steven Cro , Ian Mobsby and Stephanie Spellers, provides interesting examples of how mainline Protestantism, in this case Anglicanism, is investing in experimental church and worship forms to reinvigorate its own tradition.
The book is the result of a Church of England-initiated program in 2004 called “Fresh Expressions” that later spread to British Methodists and then to Anglican and Episcopal churches in other countries. The program has its roots in attempts to recover the worship and sense of community of the early church, which includes Celtic Christianity, the “new monasticism” (intentional communities with a strong contemplative and social justice thrusts), Anglo-Catholic practices and the post-modern “emergent” church phenomenon. The contributors provide accounts of some of these eﬀorts, which are seen by their participants as a way of reaching the huge and growing unchurched population (especially in England).
Only time and research will tell whether these eﬀorts make any progress in that direction, but the book does give the reader a sense of the diversity of these experiments and how they developed. They range from the now widespread “U2charist,” services, with the music of the rock group U2 and oﬀerings devoted to world hunger, to the mystical Christian movement Contemplative Fire. The transitional nature of these experiments is best exempliﬁed in the group Vision in the city of York: It started out as a ministry to clubgoers and used a mixture of dance music and preaching, then moved to Celtic spirituality and is now housed in an evangelical, charismatic church, adapting an “ancient-future” (a common phrase in fresh expressions) service blending the Latin Mass with multimedia and hymns sung to “trip hop” and ambient dance backings.
In another chapter, Phyllis Tickle, a chronicler and proponent of emergent Christianity, notes that Anglicanism (whether in name or not), because of its tolerant and liturgical nature, has increasingly become a seedbed of the mixing of ancient-future spiritual practices for “post-modern” Christians around the world.
06: In 1997 a group of concerned Catholic priests founded Asociación Tepeyac in New York City, an umbrella organization comprising 40 “comités guadalupanos” (Guadalupan commi ees) based in parishes in the ﬁve boroughs of the city.
Tepeyac was created as a response to the increasing number of Latino Catholics (mainly Mexicans) ﬁlling the pews of Catholic churches around the city. In Guadalupe in New York (New York University Press, $23), Alyshia Gálvez studies two such committees, attempting to make sense of the ways in which immigration and religion intersect each other. Her contention is that immigrants provide a privileged site to study religious beliefs and practices, just as religion is a good point of entry to analyze immigration.
The book looks at the modes in which devotional practices devoted to the Virgin of Guadalupe among Mexicans in New York serve as the means by which individuals and groups change, form communities, and produce a greater understanding as recipients of rights and dignity. Guadalupe in New York juxtaposes the ways in which these two diﬀerent communities of faith have dealt with the immigration status of many of their members. The book also traces their formation and looks into the modes in which the Guadalupe image has been used as a device for social mobilization and identity creation among the immigrant population.
Gálvez looks at two public manifestations organized by the committees and Tepeyac: a representation of the Passion on Good Friday and the Guadalupan Torch run, a transnational event that starts in Mexico City and ends in New York and celebrates the Virgin of Guadalupe feast. She deﬁnes citizenship by relying on Hannah Arendt’s notion of the right to have rights. The term is an infelicitous choice, since Arendt speciﬁcally coined it as a legal and political category to deﬁne those who, under totalitarian regimes, have lost their citizenship (mainly the Nazi case under the Nuremberg laws). Thus, it is not a so , cultural process, but a hard, legal and political one. Unfortunately, Gálvez organizes her study around the notion of cultural citizenship, leaving aside the political and legal problems faced by immigrants and focusing on their belonging to a community of faith.
Yet the book successfully shows how religious identities ﬂuctuate. By analyzing how Mexican Catholics who travel to the U.S. change their religious practices and usually become more deeply involved in religious-based social initiatives, a feature of American society but not of the Mexican one, Gálvez makes an important contribution to the study of both religious identities and the challenges of immigration.
— By Marisol Lopez-Menendez, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the New School for Social Research
07: Bringing together history and ethnographic interviews, Transcendent in America (NYU Press, $23) argues that Hindu-inspired meditation movements are a distinct type of new religious movement, even if their followers and leaders may repeat the “mantra” that they are “spiritual but not religious.”
Author Lola Williamson examines the history and current trends in the SelfRealization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Siddha Yoga, all groups that share Hindu-based meditation practices and guru–disciple leadership structures. It is the latter that has been charged with encouraging abuse in these groups, most notably Siddha Yoga and its many cases of sexual abuse of young women by gurus.
She adds that the belief in perfection by these groups tends to create cultures of secrecy where problems, abuse and even crimes (including a murder in 2003 in TM) tend to be ignored or covered up.
Belief in perfection tends to create cultures of secrecy where problems, abuse and even crimes tend to be ignored or covered up.
Meditation itself is found to be an ambivalent practice, giving many practitioners a sense of inner peace, but also falling short of the states of enlightenment and supernatural abilities promised by leaders. Williamson also cites a study showing that long-term TM practitioners complained about more psychological disorders than those who had discontinued the practice.
The author sees Hindu-inspired meditation movements as likely modifying their authoritarian structures but also remaining as a viable alternative to mainstream religions.
08: Welfare and Religion in 21st Century Europe (Vol. 1, Ashgate, $29.95), edited by Anders Backstrom and Grace Davie, is a comparative study of how religious institutions and beliefs interact with welfare systems in eight Western European nations (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, England, France, Italy and Greece).
Rather than focusing mainly on impersonal structural and political arrangements between church and state, the contributors ably show how questions of religious identity and belonging are central in understanding the welfare–religion relationship. This is done through employing the interesting method of assigning researchers to one midsized city in each country and letting them tell the story of how churches and welfare interact on the local level (and ultimately on the national level).
The contributors also trace the historical relations between welfare arrangements and churches, but they also make it clear that the religion–welfare encounter is ongoing; although not much attention is given to non-Christian groups. The contributors note that church–state arrangements (such as state churches and oﬃcial secularism) have shaped the administration of welfare throughout Europe, even in cases when churches have been edged out this sphere by government.
But there are signs of reversal. In Sweden, an economic crisis in the late 1990s led to more privatization and thus a new church-based welfare initiative, which was assisted by the disestablishment of the Church of Sweden in 2000. In Finland, similar tight economic straits have moved the Lutheran church to greater involvement in welfare provision and in the process it found renewed public support. The French case showed the most secular welfare system, but even there Catholic agencies perform hidden functions, such as dealing with the homeless or asylum seekers, and sometimes even receive government funds.
The researchers forecast a greater role for religious groups in welfare provision, not only because of ﬁnancial strains in most systems and aging populations, but also because of the more personal approach and cultivation of “local knowledge” that characterize these groups. Yet, at the same time, the secularization well advanced in most of these countries means that churches are struggling to sustain their core functions, let alone welfare ministries, and that welfare recipients may not be very receptive to a faith-based approach.
09: Since 9/11, much has been written on Salaﬁ Islam, although such works have focused on this orthodox school of thought’s inﬂuence on Islamic radicals and fundamentalists.
The new book Global Salaﬁsm: Islam’s New Religious Movement (Columbia University Press, $35), edited by Roel Meijer, broadens the ﬁeld, suggesting that Salaﬁsm is too diversiﬁed to be described as a single religious movement. Salaﬁsm is generally known as a movement to purify Islam and bring it back to its “authentic” foundation based in the Koran. But the contributors make it clear that Salaﬁs are divided both theologically and politically around the world.
Although closely associated with political Islam, or Islamism, Salaﬁsm has o en failed on that front and has taken a non-political turn, which could mean anything from stressing personal achievement and individualism in France to embracing radicalism and moving to transnational jihadi networks on the Internet or engaging in Shia–Sunni rivalry and conﬂict.
The introduction notes that the more Salaﬁsm is globalized, the more diverse it becomes. It now has a “toolbox” function, being “hijacked by other issues, such as the politics of identity in Europe, the anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East and Asia and sectarianism in countries like Iraq and Lebanon,” writes Meijer.
Korean evangelicalism has been experiencing a steady decline of members since 1995.
This is due to a deteriorating respect for evangelical clergy by the people, dissent over evangelicalism’s exclusive beliefs in relation to other religions, and numerous social and political scandals involving evangelical church members. Although Lee’s views of evangelical success in Korea are shared by many scholars in the ﬁelds of theology and sociology, there are several areas that need further clariﬁcation.
For instance, Lee’s assertion that there is a cultural symbiosis between the shamanistic yearnings for material wealth and the proclamation of God’s blessings of spirit, health and prosperity as preached by some Korean Christians may be problematic, since countries such as China, Japan and Hong Kong with similar shamanistic tradition are not as interested in Christianity as was Korea.
— By K.T. Chun, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the New School for Social Research
10: Given the fact that the largest evangelical congregation (approximately 200,000 members) is located in Seoul, Korea and 26 percent of the whole population (more than 50 percent of the religious population), are Christians, Timothy S. Lee’s new book, Born Again: Evangelicalism in Korea (University of Hawaii Press, $40) is long overdue.
Lee seeks to explain why a country with a long Confucian tradition converted itself to a Christian country. He writes that evangelicalism succeeded in Korea because it, ﬁrst of all, provided an alternative world view of salvation when the Confucian order of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) was beginning to collapse in Korea. And when Japan colonized Korea between 1910 and 1945, Christianity became a symbol of nationalism in the ﬁght against Japanese colonialism.
After the division of Korea in 1945, a narrative of anti-communism played an important role in expanding evangelicalism in South Korea. Lee further argues that aggressive proselytization efforts by American missionaries in Korea contributed greatly to the phenomenal increase of evangelicals in the country. However, Lee also adds that Korean evangelicalism has been experiencing a steady decline of members since 1995.
11: In her book on Pentecostalism in Nigeria, Political Spiritualities (University of Chicago Press, $24), Ruth Marshall traces the long history of missions in the country, but notes that it was only in the last two or three decades that the ﬁrst wave of evangelical growth took place through such American groups as Scripture Union and denominational missions.
These evangelicals tended to practice a strict separation from “worldly” activities, although this changed drastically in the 1980s and 1990s when prosperity teachings became the Pentecostal trademark. Marshall writes that the prosperity gospel came from Pentecostals in the U.S., but it accompanied and answered dilemmas caused by the economic boom in Nigeria during this time, such as the growth of individualism and the deterioration of the kinship structure. Many Pentecostals were no longer willing to forsake the wealth and inﬂuence of mainstream society, even after Nigeria suﬀered a steep economic decline in the 1990s.
In fact, the poverty and the related high rate of political corruption and violence in the country only propelled Pentecostalism into a more prominent place in Nigerian society. It was during this time that Pentecostal churches became actual ﬁnancial empires; the laws (and lack of laws) encouraged prominent clergy to establish their megachurches as businesses where their earnings would be inherited and controlled along family lines. Although not unique to Nigerian Pentecostals, their other emphasis on miracles, “spiritual warfare” and battling demonic inﬂuence has a special meaning in a society where occult ritual crimes and killings are common. In such a situation, Pentecostals can face suspicions—o en fanned by rival preachers and churches—that they are colluding with evil forces in their miracle working—an accusation that had led to cases of mass violence.
The fear of the Islamic revival in the north of the country has likewise been cast by many Pentecostals as a force for evil that has to be excluded from the “Christian nation.” Marshall sees the Pentecostals’ exclusiveness and the rivalry between churches, lacking any cooperative structure, as reﬂecting the atomization and near entropy of the nation itself. But she is also critical of anthropologists who see Pentecostalism mainly as an oppressive Western import that is preventing “authentic” African traditions and politics from developing. She argues that the Pentecostal revival, for all its faults, has allowed Nigerians to recreate and seek to free themselves from a collective past that carried its own forms of subjection and domination.
Marshall concludes that it is the growing number of Pentecostals, such as Tony Rapu of This Present House– Freedom Hall, who are trying to create a third way between the strict separatism of the earlier wave and the prosperity gospel of today and who may best be able to create a civil society with a degree of justice for all of Nigeria’s citizens.
12: While much has been written about the various forms of fundamentalist religion and postmodernism (or relativism) and their social and political ramiﬁcations, the new book Between Relativism and Fundamentalism (Eerdmans, $17) is unique in that it relates the two phenomena and then tries to chart a middle course between them.
Editor Peter Berger, who has recently written a good deal on this middle ground between ideological extremes, brings together sociologists and theologians to analyze the current polarized situation and then propose alternatives. In the ﬁrst part of the book, both Berger and sociologist James Davison Hunter argue that modernity both undermines traditional beliefs and multiplies choices while encouraging (at least for a minority) reactions of radical certainty, on one hand, and radical skepticism, on the other, which imperils civility in society.
On a more institutional level, Grace Davie provides a chapter on how Britain captures a middle ground of sorts between the strong secularism of Europe and the religiousness of the U.S. In particular, she argues that the Church of England encourages both tolerance and, being a state church, public religion and belonging, even if on a vicarious level for many.
The last half of the book offers resources that could provide a middle ground based on Jewish discourse, Catholic social teaching, evangelical moderation between liberal and fundamentalist Protestantism, Lutheran theology, and a Parisian émigré school of Eastern Orthodoxy. For instance, Berger provides an original interpretation of Lutheran theology and how such teachings on “faith alone,” the “two kingdoms,” and Christians being simultaneously sinners and saints accommodate moral and political moderation.