01: Nova Religio, a journal of new religious movements, devotes its May issue to new religious groups in Israel and how these groups have catered to the needs of personal fulﬁllment as Zionism has weakened its hold on Israelis.
The issue looks at both Jewish movements and those promoting foreign and global religious and spiritual alternatives, although the articles ﬁnd that those promoting the messages of “foreign deities” do not do as well as more indigenous teachings. Yaakov Ariel categorizes the diﬀerent movements active in Israel into those seeking to retrieve tradition, such as the new kinds of Hasidic Jewish movements; those stressing Jewish innovation, such as the feminist spirituality groups; those stressing mysticism and the supernatural, as found in Sephardic and Mizrahi (Jews from Asia and Africa) traditions; and those imported from outside, such as Transcendental Meditation and American-based Messianic Judaism.
In creating a more open market of religious, spiritual and communal choices, Ariel argues that these groups have “helped Westernize, Americanize and democratize Israeli society.” Joanna Steinhardt’s article on the “neo-Hasids” does an interesting job of showing how the young people in this movement embrace a mixture of New Age, countercultural mysticism with Judaism and new versions of nationalism and Zionism. The neo-Hasids even cross over to groups of young settler Israelis living in the West Bank who have adopted a “hippy,” communal lifestyle. Other articles include studies of the human potential group Landmark and Buddhism in Israel.
Even the more secular Israelis tend to maintain their Jewish identities in their involvement with these groups, for instance, eschewing Buddhist religious elements and labels.
For more information on this issue, write: Nova Religio, University of California Press, 2000 Center St., Suite 303. Berkeley, CA 94704-1223.
02: James Davison Hunter’s new book, To Change the World (Oxford University Press, $27.95), can be seen in some ways as a sequel to his 1991 book, Culture Wars, which chronicled the divisions and battle between liberals and secularists and orthodox Christians and other believers on such issues as abortion and gay rights.
But in his new work, Hunter is not so much the fair referee between these warring parties, as he was in the earlier book, as much as a critical sociologist and concerned Christian who argues that the ideological battle and strategies have done more harm than good to Christianity. The message shouted throughout the book’s pages is that the Christian attempt to transform American society through politics has failed; Hunter criticizes new Christian right leaders, such as James Dobson and Charles Colson, as well as religious left ﬁgures, such as Jim Wallis, for pursuing an impossible strategy.
Even though the Christian right as still alive and reconstituting itself through new organizations such as Legacy and Reclaiming the 7 Mountains of Culture, Hunter writes that the movement peaked in 2004. Even at its peak, the Christian right managed to “generate greater hostility toward the Christian faith than ever before in the nation’s history—more anticlericalism among ordinary Americans and more disaﬀection among a younger generation of theologically conservative believers.”
The other political options, such as the Christian le , are likewise unlikely to achieve their goals of societal transformation because they misunderstand the nature of cultural change in pluralistic and modern societies. Eﬀorts to change a culture through law, policy and political mobilization get caught up in power struggles that turn negative and resentful when one side wins and the other side loses. The idea that if many Christians can apply a biblical worldview to various institutions and spheres of life or convert enough people they can “conquer the culture” also ignores the fact that cultural change rarely takes place at a popular or grassroots level.
Hunter writes that cultural change occurs through a “dense network of elites operating in common purpose within institutions at the highprestige centers of cultural production.” Unlike in earlier periods, Christianity in the U.S. and the modern West is a “weak culture” that is institutionally divided and draws most people outside of the elite spheres of inﬂuence, such as politics, entertainment and academia. The main way Christians can inﬂuence society is through what he calls “faithful presence,” where they seek to serve the common good in their various vocations.
03: Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (Oxford University Press, $27.95), by Elaine Howard Ecklund, is concerned with the increasingly acrimonious debates between the scientiﬁc and religious communities on a host of issues—from biotechnology to evolution.
But in reporting how there is a good deal of miscommunication and misunderstanding on both sides of these conﬂicts, Ecklund also provides valuable accounts of interviews with 275 scientists (and results from a briefer online survey of a wide range of disciplines). She classiﬁes the scientists into three categories: atheist/ agnostic scientists (30 percent, half of whom view science and religion in inevitable conﬂict ; those claiming a religion ( 50 percent ); and those taking an unconventional and individualized spiritual approach (20 percent).
Interestingly, Ecklund ﬁnds that the younger scientists operate with less of a conﬂict model between science and religion and are more likely to be religious. The book is particularly interesting in explaining how scientists may misunderstand religion. Ecklund argues that many scientists were raised in either secular or religiously nominal households and thus have a “restricted code” of speech on religion and limited interaction with believers, resulting in “shorthand stereotypes” that are not conducive to dialogue.
The “spiritual entrepreneurs” (who could be agnostic and atheists as well as theists) in Ecklund’s third category are viewed as important for bridging the science/ religion gap, since they see their spirituality as ﬂowing into their science, yet avoid the usual politicized science–religion conﬂicts.
04: Eric Kaufmann’s new book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? (Proﬁle Books, http://www. proﬁlebooks.com), takes the familiar topic of fundamentalism and, through a demographic lens, ﬁnds some novel contours and dimensions to this phenomenon.
One may take issue with Kauﬀman’s broadbrush labeling of groups as diﬀerent as the Amish, Orthodox Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, extremist Muslims and evangelicals as “fundamentalist,” but it serves as his catch-all phrase for religious groups that maintain sharp boundaries with secular society while expanding their share of the population in a world where their non-religious counterparts have too few children to replace themselves.
The University of London demographer marshals reams of data to argue that birth rates may have had a minor role in the growth of religions in the past (which expanded more by conversions), but today this factor becomes more central. This is partly because conservative religions are increasingly taking up pronatalism, as they actively encourage their members to have large families. This tendency may have started with the ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel and the Amish, but Kaufmann sees it spreading to all conservative faiths, especially Protestants (for example, the “quiverfull” movement in the U.S.) and Islamist groups.
But it is Kaufmann’s demographic forecasts of the religious future that will likely be the most controversial and contested part of his book. On the one hand, Kaufmann sees secularization advancing in Europe and in the U.S. in the near future; on the other, he sees the demographic revolution planted by these religious group today (even as their birth rates may fall or stabilize eventually) as reversing the secular trend by 2040. In the U.S., this means that pro-life sentiment will have signiﬁcant inﬂuence; in Europe, a conservative Christian remnant may eventually link up with increasingly powerful Islam (representing about 5–10 percent of an otherwise declining population) to reinject religious values into the EU; while in Israel and much of the Jewish diaspora (where the secular–religious fertility gap is the widest), Orthodoxy will triumph, reshaping Middle Eastern and Israeli politics.
The long-term projections for secularism that Kaufmann provides are provocative: in Austria, for example, the non-religious will decline to 19 percent of the population by 2100. As a self-confessed secularist, Kaufmann often seems to want to alarm his fellow non-believers and moderates into action, but as a demographer he concludes that “without an ideology to inspire social cohesion, fundamentalism cannot be stopped. The religious shall inherit the earth.”
05: In Marketplace of the Gods (Oxford University Press, $29.95), Larry Witham introduces readers to the economic approach to the study of religion by reporting on a wealth of historical and contemporary research and sources.
What is called the “religious economy” approach explains religious change through economic theories of competition, monopoly and rational choice in general. Witham does an interesting job of ﬂeshing out these ideas whether in accounting for the rise of Buddhist sects or focusing on how one colonial congregation in Connecticut functioned as a “monopoly ﬁrm.” Other chapters cover the role of the family household in the “production” of religion and how this may play out in a person’s lifecycle; the secularization debate; and how risks, costs and payoﬀs relate to faith.
Witham’s account of the history behind religious economy theories, describing the careers and work of Rodney Stark, Roger Finke and Laurence Iannaccone, is particularly interesting, providing a lesson on the role of intellectual networks in the circulation of new ideas and theories. Witham is obviously an admirer of religious economy theories, but he covers critical views in a fair manner.
06: In several books and articles, economist Robert Nelson has pursued the unconventional idea that religious and theological understandings undergird, if not deﬁne, economic and environmental movements and schools of thought. In his new book, The New Holy Wars (Penn State University Press, $39.95), Nelson brings together his critique of economics and environmentalism to argue that the major societal conﬂict is taking place between these secular (and sometimes not so secular) religions and their messages of earthly salvation.
In examining the writings of a wide range of economists, Nelson ﬁnds that they promote a message “which tells us that economic progress is the correct route to the salvation of the world …. It is an ideology—a religion—of tight social control by a new priesthood of experts.” The rise of environmentalism has overshadowed economic religion as the latter’s shortcomings in delivering progress have become more pronounced (the current economic crisis being one example).
Nelson deﬁnes environmental religion as a form of “Calvinism minus God,” as it identiﬁes nature with ultimate truth and beauty, adopts a non-hierarchical approach to authority and manifests a distrust of human achievement (seeing humanity as polluters of nature). Nelson argues that the environmentalist cause of preserving and restoring “undisturbed” nature and biodiversity is a religious construction—even if many environmentalists don’t acknowledge a creator—since such reverence is not warranted by scientiﬁc and Darwinian readings of nature. Nelson concludes by posing intriguing church–state questions: how can the state support environmentalist agendas if equally religious Christian creationist accounts are restricted from public life?
07: As its title hints, the new book Preserving Ethnicity Through Religion in America (NYU Press, $25) seeks to explain the various ways religious belonging inﬂuences immigrant and second generation Korean- and Indian-Americans in maintaining their ethnic identities.
The book, based on author Pyong Gap Min’s exhaustive study of Korean Protestant and Indian communities in the New York area, shows how these ethnic groups move in two diﬀerent directions regarding religion and ethnicity: the Koreans tend to separate ethnicity and religion as they integrate into society, increasingly stressing the latter, while the Indians maintain their ethnicity through their Hinduism, although with looser religious attachments in the second generation.
While the Korean Protestants were best able to transmit their faith to the next generation, the Hindus tended to pass on both their ethnic and religious traditions through their home-based rituals and traditions. Min forecasts that younger Korean Protestants will tend toward panAsian Christian or white Christian identities. But the “embrace of Hinduism in any form enhances [Indians’] ethnic identity, as the majority of them identify ﬁrst as Indian,” he concludes.
08: Secularization and the World Religions (Liverpool University Press, $34.95), edited by Hans Joas and Klaus Weigant, oﬀers a broad treatment of the religious situation around the world and how these developments relate to secularization, broadly understood.
There is no unifying theory among the contributors, with most seeing secularization as shaped by various national and historical contexts rather than as a monolithic or universal process. In the introduction, Joas notes the diﬃculty of even deﬁning secularization outside of the Western Christian context, adding that in Asia the term more often means the separation between the world of everyday experience and the divine world accessible through faith.
These various understandings of secularization are also evident in the ﬁrst half of the book, where the contributors focus on speciﬁc faith traditions and societal spheres, such as the law and science. The second half of the book takes a regional perspective and likewise shows the diﬀerent models of secularization. Jose Casanova argues that by looking at its parts rather than at Europe as a whole, it is not evident that modernization necessarily correlates with secularity.
For instance, both Poland and the Czech Republic have similar levels of modernization, but show radically diﬀerent rates of belief and practice. It is in examining and categorizing the various European countries by such factors as religious tradition and church–state processes and histories that be er explanations can be given for the varying rates of secularization, he adds. In an overview of Africa and Latin America, David Martin argues that both continents (although especially the la er) are following the pluralist model of the U.S. more than the European secularized model.