01: Glenn Beck’s Mormon faith has been one more source of controversy swirling around the popular and provocative conservative radio and television commentator—a fact not lost on American Mormons, judging by the June issue of Sunstone.
The independent Mormon magazine features several articles on Beck, arguing that he is better versed in the faith than is often acknowledged and embodies tensions among a segment of the Latter Day Saints. A lead article by Robert Rees argues that along with his colorful rhetoric and antics, Beck positions himself to appeal to both conservative Christians and Mormons. Beck borrows a good deal from Cleon Skousen, a rightwing Mormon author who claimed the U.S. Constitution to be divinely inspired and, with other members of the John Birch Society, saw America as embracing socialism in a conspiratorial manner.
Beck seems to be a proponent of what is known in Mormon circles as the “white horse myth,” a prophesy attributed to founder Joseph Smith teaching that as the end times approached there would be a falling away of the Republic from the Constitution. Another article notes that Beck is a devoted Mormon and that his appeal to evangelicals—as seen in his giving the commencement address at and receiving an honorary degree from Liberty University—may be a factor in greater Christian acceptance of Mormons.
A concern running through these articles is that Mormon political respectability, recently tested by the failed presidential candidacy of Mi Romney, may be seriously jeopardized by the controversy surrounding Beck and his public identiﬁcation with the faith.
For more information on this issue, write: Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215
02: Twenty years ago not a single academic journal was devoted primarily to the study of new religions.
There are now several journals devoted only to that subject, or at least with a signiﬁcant part of their content focused on new religions. In addition to the already well-established Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, a new journal has just been launched, and the impetus comes this time from Scandinavia. In the inaugural issue of the International Journal for the Study of New Religions, published by Equinox, editors Carole M. Cusack (University of Sydney) and Liselo e Frisk (Högskolan Dalarna University, Sweden) explain the background of the new journal.
In 1997, a Swedish association called FINYAR (Association for Research and Information about New Religions) was formed and started organizing conferences and publishing a yearbook. In 2009, thanks to a grant from the Swedish Central Bank Foundation, FINYAR was able to create a Nordic network and decided to initiate an international organization on the model of FINYAR: the International Society for the Study of New Religions (ISSNR); in cooperation with Equinox, the ISSNR launched a monograph series as well as the International Journal for the Study of New Religions.
The initiative intends to be truly global and to encourage interaction beyond the networks of Western scholars. The global thrust is not yet obvious in the ﬁrst issue (although it is deﬁnitely not U.S. centered), since all the contributors come from North America or Europe, with the exception of an article by Australian researchers. This article is worth reading, since it deals with an unusual subject: the conversions of Aboriginal Australians to Islam, which is apparently a growing phenomenon, although not a massive one (there were slightly more than 1,000 Aboriginal Muslims in 2006, i.e. 0.22 percent of the total Aboriginal population).
Authors Helena Onnudo ir, Adam Possamai and Bryan S. Turner put the phenomenon in perspective by locating it in the wider cultural and social context. Jessica Moberg (Södertörn University) pays a ention to the early years of the Swedish UFO movement and shows how the global UFO narrative got mixed with certain themes reﬂecting the local situation, an approach leading to quite interesting observations. The localization took place in two ways: historiographically (digging into the past and contemporary events in Sweden) and ideologically (introducing socialist thought in the mythical complex, as Sweden was dominated by the Social Democratic Party for many years). James R. Lewis (University of Tromso) analyzes how young people become Satanists: before the development of the Internet, LaVey’s Satanic Bible played a key role in the propagation of Satanism. Similarly to paganism, most Satanists do not feel that they converted, and many believe they were “born Satanists” and were “coming home” to the faith.
Moreover, in many cases, they do not become involved in group religious activities, but mostly interact online. The journal will be published twice yearly. Beside the articles, there is a section for book reviews. It is a welcome addition to academic literature on new religions. Moreover, the layout is simple and clear, like other Equinox journals, making it easy and pleasant to read, something that is not the case with all academic journals nowadays.
For more information, write: International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Equinox Publishing, 1 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood Street, London SW3 5SR.
03: In comparison to France or England, the number of Freemasons is modest in Germany, acknowledges the ﬁrst issue of Winkelmass (a reference to the Masonic square), a new German magazine on Freemasonry, in its ﬁrst issue (number 0; issue 1 to appear soon).
It is true that it endured severe suppression both during National Socialist (Nazi) rule and in East Germany during the years of communism, although there might be other reasons, such as insuﬃcient eﬀorts to make its ideals and practices more widely known. An independent magazine, Winkelmass says its target audience is primarily non-Masons, thus potentially contributing to propagating knowledge of Freemasonry.
According to Winkelmass’s overview of the situation in Germany, there are some 15,000 Freemasons, with 430 lodges belonging to ﬁve Grand Lodges, which all belong to the United Grand Lodges of Germany (Vereinigte Grosslogen von Deutschland). The female Grand Lodge counts 17 lodges and some 350 members. The mixed Grand Lodge Humanitas has nine lodges and 160 members.
For more information, visit: http://www.winkelmass-dasmagazin.de.
04: In her new book, A Faith of Our Own (Rutgers University Press, $23.95), sociologist Sharon Kim writes how second generation KoreanAmericans are establishing evangelical churches that both retain yet go beyond their ethnic base.
Kim studies 22 Korean-based churches (about half are denominational and half are independent) that have distanced themselves from their immigrant identity, such as using Korean and maintaining ethnic traditions. Kim makes it clear that there are no clear-cut boundaries between ﬁrstand second-generation churches; members a end and serve in both kinds of churches because of family obligations and dissatisfaction with white or “Anglo” churches. But the younger generation has protested against the leadership style and ethnic exclusivity of the churches in which they grew up and many have sought alternatives.
The book is most informative in describing how the second generation has created “hybrid spaces” that draw on both mainstream American and their Korean Christian backgrounds. The megachurch model, particularly found in the writings and style of Rick Warren and the Saddleback Church, was prominent in almost all the second-generation congregations studied by Kim. But they also tended to retain or reinsert Korean practices and teachings, such as the fervent prayer meetings (often praying in unison) and in general a stronger emphasis on community than that found in most white American churches. The stress on prosperity in churches in Korea has also inﬂuenced second-generation churches, such as the Disciple Church network based around prestigious U.S. campuses, although this approach often comes with a call to invest in missions and a critique of the drive for the upward mobility and materialism that are said to mark many immigrant and mainstream congregations.
In general, the call to world missions and social action is also prominent in these congregations; they are also much more likely than immigrant congregations to seek to minister to non-Koreans, often viewing themselves as “panAsian” or multiracial. The book sees the second-generation churches as being in a state of ﬂux and experimentation that is nevertheless challenging an older assimilation model where ethnic churches would inevitably move into the white mainstream.
05: Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal (Brill, $141), edited by Amarnath Amarasingam, is one of the ﬁrst books to look at the new atheist phenomenon through a wide range of scholarly perspectives—theology, science, sociology and philosophy. Rather than arguing with the new atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Denne and Sam Harris, and their caustic a acks on religion, the contributors tend to view the phenomenon as saying more about the place of atheism than about the plausibility of religious belief.
The chapter most favorable to the new atheism is the one by sociologist William Sims Bainbridge, who writes that the new atheists’ use of cognitive science and psychology stands in contrast to previous atheists’ use of philosophical arguments against God. Bainbridge then launches into an exposition about how cognitive psychology is explaining such concepts as soul and spirit. Other chapters include a comparison of how the new atheist arguments square with theological movements proclaiming the death of God, and a comparison between fundamentalism and the new atheism, with author William Stahl arguing that both attempt to “recreate and impose belief [in reason and science as the new atheists deﬁne them] as a form of external authority.”
The sociological section of the book carries an interesting chapter by Stephen Bullivant, who ﬁnds that the emergence of the new atheism was unexpected in many quarters—from sociologists who saw secularization emerging more from indiﬀerence than militant opposition to religion to American believers who viewed their country as inhospitable to anti-religious attacks, not to mention best-selling ones. Bullivant concludes that judging by the numbers of atheists encouraged by the new atheism and believers newly engaged in polemics with atheists, the new atheism may beneﬁt both the religious and secularists.
RW’s editor and Christopher Smith contributed a chapter on how the new atheism has been received by those in organized secularist groups (we will soon put a longer version of this article on the RW website).
06: Secularization in the Christian World, edited by Callum Brown and Richard Snape (Ashgate, $80.96), broadens the debate over secularization by including both historians and sociologists in redeﬁning and rethinking this contested concept.
Most of the contributors take aim at the way in which the secularization thesis views modernization as leading to the gradual decline of religion. Using social and local histories, the contributors argue that secularization, especially in Europe, is more often related to speciﬁc social and political changes (such as those in class structure) introduced during the 1960s. The book, which is published in honor of the work of social historian Hugh McLeod, brings this historical approach to bear on the current religious situations as well as the pasts of northern Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S.
The chapter on Australia conﬁrms the continuing decline of religious belief and practice in that country, but also notes how recent years have seen a greater public role given to religion, such as in welfare, while religious revitalization can be found in the newer churches. The same is true of Canada, where there has actually been a pa ern of stability rather than decline in recent years, according to Nancy Christie and Michael Gauvreau. Using oral histories, Peter van Rooden argues that the sudden collapse of a particular collective and ritualized form of Christianity in the Netherlands in the 1960s even today forms the conception of religion that the secular Dutch rebel against.
As in other books challenging the secularization thesis, leading supporter of the theory Steve Bruce is included and argues that the loss of religious vitality and its relation to modernity were evident well before the 1960s and that the social-historical approach tends to ignore the steadily decreasing levels of religious socialization that is an integral part of the theory.
07: While the recent ﬂowering of studies in the anthropology of Christianity has been conﬁned to the Global South, the appearance of the book Eastern Christians in Anthropological Perspective (University of California Press, $24.95) suggests that this ﬁeld of study is a attaining a more global reach.
The book, edited by Chris Hann and Hermann Golz, challenges the anthropology of religion in general, since it has often treated Christianity as embodying Western concepts and practices in its relation to other cultures and religions. The editors note that since the new anthropological studies of Christianity have tended to stress the rupture of conversion in the formation of the post-colonial self and culture, the case of Eastern Christianity, with its strong links to national identity, is concerned with continuity, a concept more in line with older themes in anthropology.
The contributions, all based on ethnographic ﬁeldwork, look at such anthropological themes as globalization and the formation of the self in post-socialist societies, but they also provide valuable accounts of the changes in and dynamics of Eastern Christianity.
A chapter on the social welfare system of the Russian Orthodox Church shows how it is caught between the demands of religious nationalism and civic nationalism, particularly as the church has recently limited its services to Russian Orthodox believers rather than to all Russian citizens. Also noteworthy is an ethnography of how both Orthodox believers and Muslims share shrines and festivals in Macedonia and Turkey, suggesting the ways in which contemporary Muslim and Orthodox communities interact and sometimes blend “outside of—and sometimes in spite of—the oﬃcial positions staked out by their respective religious authorities,” writes Douglas Rogers in the epilogue.
Other chapters cover Orthodox pilgrimages, the practice of choral singing in Estonia and how it reveals and accentuates tensions between Russians and Estonians, and the growing “Eastern trend” in Byzantine Catholic churches in Hungary and Romania.