01: Thirty years ago, Americans were more likely to think of God as a friend rather than as a king; in 2008, the reverse was true.
That is one of the preliminary findings of a paper presented by Rebekah Peeples Massengill and Conrad Hackett at the August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) in Atlanta. The researchers found that among those born before 1940 or after 1970 there was not significant movement toward the king image of God. But there was significant cohort change among the baby boomers (those born in the period 1940–69) away from the friend image and toward the king image of God.
For baby boomers, this growth occurred among most religious groups, although it was strongest among evangelicals. Among those born between 1940 and 1969, preference for the king metaphor appears to be unrelated to education. The researchers are in the process of exploring various hypotheses to explain this shift.
02: Religious intervention may help abusive men confront the behaviors and attitudes that lead to violence in marriage, according to a recent study. The study, presented at the annual meeting of the ASR, surveyed 1,200 abusive men who sought treatment at two faith-based programs, as well as interviews with 100 men over a period of several years.
Only 54 percent of abusive men who were mandated by the courts to enter an intervention program had finished it, compared with 66 percent of those who had enrolled voluntarily with the referral and support of a pastor. Those who were mandated by the court to attend and yet received the support of a pastor had the highest completion rate of 84 percent.
Barbara Fisher-Townsend (University of New Brunswick) said that a belief in God and a sense of hope in a brighter future were necessary for many of these men to change. The study also found that faith-based treatment can also discredit harmful theological ideas that women must submit to such abuse, as well as provide resources that allow men to envision a different future.
03: On many measures of religious practice, Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU) look like their American-born counterparts, contradicting the assumption that these recent immigrants are not adopting the American way of practicing the Jewish religion, according to sociologist Ira Sheskin of the University of Miami.
In a paper presented at the meeting of the ASR in Atlanta, Sheskin found that when it comes to home-based religious practices, there are few sharp differences between FSU and nonFSU Jews. Using data from the National Jewish Population Survey (2000–01) and his own community studies (2000–08), he found that those from the FSU are more likely to keep a kosher home (15 percent versus 14 percent) and are just as likely to hang a mezuzah on their doors (67 percent), while 71 percent attended services in the past year, compared to 60 percent of non-FSU Jews (although those from the FSU attended services less frequently).
It is true that they tend to identify more strongly in the ethnic sense than the religious sense and are less involved in the Jewish community, but Sheskin said that in other respects, Jews from the FSU are becoming like other Americans.
04: If one pays attention to Muslims in the West outside of religious institutions like mosques or Islamic organizations, many are found to follow a pragmatic approach to their religion, according to Nadia Jeldtoft (Copenhagen University), who delivered a paper at the conference of the CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) in Torino, Italy (Sept. 9–11), which RW attended.
Jeldtoft said that most research tends to focus on organized or activist Islam, although this is only one particular expression of Muslim identity and runs the risk of making Muslims “all about Islam.” In contrast, her research observes “everyday lived religion” at a micro level, looking at Muslims who may also visit mosques or attend communal events, but are not dependent on institutionalized settings for negotiating their identity. Jeldtoft bases her observations on a series of interviews conducted in Denmark, Germany and the U.S. with Muslims of different national backgrounds. Most of these Muslims have a low level of practice, although they are well aware that a great deal of Islam is about practicing.
Yet they think that it is not important to practice in order to feel that they are Muslims, and that Islam is more about intention than what one does. Jeldtoft added that a number of her interviewees reconfigure practices so that they make sense for them, e.g. meditation instead of praying, fasting on random days, or inserting elements from other religious traditions in their practice. Regarding Islamic dietary regulations, one of Jeldtoft’s informants revealingly stated: “For a while, we tried to buy halal meat, but it was very difficult. So I just decided: A chicken is a chicken!”
They are of the opinion that “Islam has to fit with your life”—thus revealing a strong focus on individual interpretations and “an orientation toward one’s own ability to make personal judgments,” while authority, dogma and tradition are not given a central place. According to Jeldtoft, there are several possible explanations for such attitudes. Muslims may be becoming more like the majority populations in Western countries. They may also be related to individual strategies of members of a minority group facing critical majority discourses about their religion: a privatized religion becomes less visible.
05: The well-known view that American Jews, particularly the younger generations, have grown more distant from Israel is not supported by survey research, according to the journal Contemporary Jewry (September).
Issues such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and increasing disaffiliation from Jewish institutions were said to have caused this rift between Jews and Israel. But researchers Theodore Sasson, Charles Kadushin and Leonard Saxe analyze two decades of surveys of American Jews and find that from the late 1980s to recent years, no significant decline is evident in such distancing from Israel. There is detachment from Israel among Reform Jews and Jewish young adults, but at the agerelated differences are comparable to those reported in the past.
The researchers argue that young adult attitudes are due more to life stage than generational differences. Intermarriage was also found to have a negligible effect on negative or distanced attitudes toward Israel. Sisson, Kadushin and Saxe forecast that the future may actually be brighter for American Jewish–Israel relations due to recent investment in young adult travel to Israel through such organizations as Birthright Israel. (Contemporary Jewry, Springer, 233 Spring St., New York, NY 10003)
06: The way in which the Western media translate, edit and report on radical Islamic texts may be preventing adequate responses to such threats, as well as appealing to a minority of readers and viewers who are vulnerable to jihadist messages, according to the journal International Affairs (July).
Researchers Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin look especially at the “security journalism” that has become visible since the July 2005 bombings in London and how its reporting on jihadist texts is received by a Muslim audience. Hoskins and O’Loughlin conducted focus groups interviews with British Muslims’ exposure to media reports of translated texts from radical Muslims, such as Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, and found that they were often of two minds regarding such messages.
The media tended to edit out the nuances of these jihadist productions, relying on selective translations that were reduced to “short, aggressive outbursts.” The Muslim respondents “rejected the jihadist texts while affirming the perceived historical injustices and struggles to which these texts refer. From this we have inferred that any media representation of Muslim suffering could activate emotional responses and potentially trigger an urge to take action ….”
(International Affairs, BlackwellWiley, 111 River St., Hoboken, NJ 07030)