01: Olivier Roy, a prominent Islamic specialist, has branched out considerably to study the contours of globalized religion in his new book Holy Ignorance (Columbia University Press, $27.50).
Roy looks at the whole spectrum of contemporary religion and sees a dominant trend of individualized faith and a separation of religious faith from cultural roots and identity. Roy argues that secularization and globalization have not resulted in an absence of faith as much as anti-intellectual religions—such as Pentecostalism and Islamic revivalism—that have split oﬀ from political and cultural bases. He sees this development not as a religious resurgence, but as a sign of the greater visibility of religion—Roy thinks this explains why there are more ba les over religion in public, even as rates of aﬃliation decline. Increasingly, religion becomes more ephemeral, appealing to speciﬁc generations and aﬃnity groups, but losing its sense of place and community.
Roy’s argument is complex, made more complicated by an awkward English translation, but he is not saying that revivalist religion has not become cultural. These new religious currents depend on conversion (with even traditional faiths stressing conversion more than in the past), but converts have to educate their children in the faith, thus bringing culture back into the picture. But these cultural forms mainly serve as “religious markers” (Islamic head scarves and Christian rock) that diﬀerentiate the believer from the surrounding culture. Roy also provides an interesting account of how religions lose their cultural bases as a result of internal schisms, as “neofundamentalists” seek evergreater purity, while the surrounding culture loses its religious knowledge.
The book is an intriguing examination of contemporary religion outside of the usual secularization debate, covering, for instance, how religions are “forma ed” and standardized under globalization. But in his portrayal of the sharp split between religion and culture, Roy seems to give short shri to the idea that religious involvement can generate social capital and other forms of social change.
02: Margaret Poloma and John C. Green’s new book, The Assemblies of God (New York University Press, $47), a empts to explore how this Pentecostal denomination has sought revitalization while it develops a more formal and institutional posture.
In previous writings, Paloma had argued that the church body was moving toward the religious establishment and had departed from its revivalist beginnings. Through using surveys and qualitative methods to study 22 congregations, the authors revise the earlier view and adopt a more open-ended perspective where they see segments of the denomination ge ing in touch with revitalization currents through participation in the global Pentecostal movement.
The book categorizes the Assemblies of God into a typology of “evangelical” (emphasizing a broad evangelical identity and downplaying Pentecostal practices such as speaking in tongues), “traditional” (including both ethnic and Anglo churches that stress classical Pentecostal roots and denominational belonging), “renewalist” (high on supernatural, “signs and wonders”, but low on Pentecostal identity), seeker-sensitive “alternative” congregations that downplay their Pentecostal identity, and an emerging category of “progressive” churches with a strong social action thrust.
The authors write that the evangelical congregations have signiﬁcant inﬂuence in the Assemblies of God (AoG), while the post-denominational, alternative sector may be a destabilizing element in the denomination. They also note that prosperity teachings are increasingly ﬁnding a hearing among members. A major theme of the book applies what the authors call “Godly love,” meaning a close relationship to God and benevolence toward others generated by “primal experiences” (revivals), to ﬁndings on the a itudes of AoG members. Experiencing such Godly love (which, quite uniquely, the authors use as a sociological variable) seemed to conﬂict with traditional external standards (stressing institutional loyalty and strict moral codes) and correlate with a network-based approach to church authority and social activism.
03: Understanding the nature and degree of political and religious prejudice in American academia remains a hotly contested issue, but the new book Compromising Scholarship (Baylor University Press, 34.95), by sociologist George Yancey, wades into the controversy in a fairminded and balanced manner.
Yancey looks speciﬁcally at the social sciences (and, to a lesser extent, the humanities and natural sciences) and how its professors view religious and political minorities in their midst. He conducted surveys of faculty in both religious and secular universities, asking them to rate whether they would accept as job candidates a wide range of groups, including Democrats, Republicans, vegetarians, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Mormons, gays, National Riﬂe Association (NRA) members, Muslims and communists. In his survey of sociologists, Yancey found that almost half of them—especially women and those studying marginalized populations—showed more hostility toward fundamentalists, evangelicals, NRA members and Republicans than other groups.
The author then examines blogs by sociology professors (acknowledging that blog writers are often more activist) to understand the roots of this hostility and ﬁnds that a linkage is often made between right-wing politics and evangelical Christianity. Yancey also conducted another survey among professors in the other social sciences, humanities and natural sciences. He ﬁnds a similar pattern of bias against fundamentalists and evangelicals, as well as Mormons and NRA members. Professors in anthropology and English registered the highest degree of bias against these groups, while those in the ﬁelds of the natural sciences were somewhat more favorable toward them.
Professors from religiously aﬃliated colleges also scored more positively in their a itudes toward these groups, although also showed bias against political conservatives. Yancey acknowledges that negative personal or even collegial a itudes toward conservative religious and political groups do not necessarily lead to bias in research (a task he leaves to other researchers). But in the conclusion he warns that a systemic pa ern of exclusion and hostility toward religious, political and lifestyle groups, preventing the formation of a truly inclusive academic culture, cannot help but close oﬀ paths of inquiry and the questions and interests that lead to innovative research.
04: Black Megachurch Culture (Peter Lang, $32.95), by Sandra Barnes, attempts to show how megachurches started by African-Americans serve important educational needs in the black community.
Barnes studies 16 black megachurches—mostly Baptist, but also including congregations ranging from United Church of Christ to independent charismatic—and ﬁnds that entertainment and education co-exist in these congregations. Rather than mimicking the white megachurch style, most of the congregations are “heavily inﬂuenced by historic Black Church worship,” even as they swap music styles ranging from hip-hop to gospel. With their well-trained staﬀs, professional buildings and hi-tech equipment, Barnes argues that worship itself in black megachurches represents a time of “collective instruction where a captive audience can be socialized toward the speciﬁc vision and theology of a charismatic senior pastor.”
The whole socialization process is more eﬀective in black megachurches than other congregations because it melds “cultural components from the most indelible aspects of the Black tradition and Black history with extreme biblically justiﬁed expectations.” The megachurches excel at oﬀering practical education (not to mention Sunday schools and faith-based schools) ranging from sermons to workshops and other programs that target speciﬁc issues—from weight loss to at-risk youth. It is in their social and political views that Barnes’s sample of black megachurches diﬀer sharply from their more conservative white counterparts.
She ﬁnds that liberation theology themes ﬁnd their way into black megachurch pastors’ sermons, although pastors and other respondents seem to blend social justice concerns with self-help themes. Barnes concludes that the wide range of educational programs and resources of black megachurches are signiﬁcant and can be more effective if such “church capital” can be harnessed through more alliances between such congregations.
05: While a good deal of a ention is given to the ba les between religion and science, the ways in which religious groups have adapted and appropriated scientiﬁc ideas are often ignored.
A new anthology, the Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science (Brill), provides scores of examples of “scientiﬁc” religions, even if the science that is sacralized is often not of the orthodox variety. This massive book—running to 924 pages and containing 32 contributions—is edited by James R. Lewis and Olav Hammer and looks at both new religious movements and the major world religions. In the ﬁrst chapter, Lewis writes that religions are appealing to the authority of science as a strategy for enhancing their legitimacy in societies where science has higher status and holds a “mystique” for non-believers.
He makes an interesting distinction between the rational authority of science for an active scientist and the “charisma” of science, which appeals to people often on the basis of their experience with technology and its practical nature (solving problems). Religions that have adapted this aspect of science include Christian Science, Spiritualism and Scientology. Other ways that science is adapted by religions and spiritualities that are covered in the handbook include adopting a scientiﬁc philosophy (the New Age movement), using science as an apologetic tool to support and spread the faith (Koranic and Vedic science, including yoga), borderline science (Ufology), mainstream empirical research on religion (biofeedback research on Buddhist monks) and what can be called an academic qualiﬁcation focus (stress on a spokesperson’s doctoral degrees).
These categories are explored in chapters dealing with issues ranging from Muslims and evolution to the role of science and science ﬁction in various faiths, archeology and the goddess movement, and skeptics’ use of science. [RW’s editor contributed a chapter on the scientiﬁc ethic of American Sikh applied science professionals]
06: The new book HIV Is God’s Blessing (University of California Press, $24.95) by anthropologist Jarre Zigon provides an examination of Russian Orthodox programs treating drug addicts and HIV suﬀerers as they blend Orthodox spirituality with self-help therapy.
HIV infections show the fastest growth rate in the world in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with Russia registering the highest number, reaching up to one million people and spread mainly through intravenous drug use. Most of the funding to ﬁght the disease has come from outside funding agencies. Even Orthodox programs targeting HIV and drug addicts receive most of their funding from outside groups and get li le support from the oﬃcial church, according to Zigon. It was not until 2004 that the church issued a statement on HIV, committing itself to ﬁghting the epidemic and viewing it as detrimental to the moral life of the nation. The statement also chastised Western churches and other relief organizations for their “pragmatism” and “harm reduction” approach that tolerates the behaviors that have spread AIDS, such as drug use and homosexuality.
The most concerted Orthodox eﬀort to rehabilitate and treat heroin users, who are often infected with HIV, is the center on the outskirts of St. Petersburg run by clergy, psychologists and laity, many of whom are former addicts. The compound is known as “The Mill,” which oﬀers a three-month residential program where churchapproved self-help techniques are added to such strategies as talk, art, and ﬁlm therapy, and Orthodox teachings and practices, such as prayer and confession. While full conversion to Orthodoxy is the goal of the program, there is also the realization that the majority of clients will not convert and therefore hold out for the secondary goal of their living a normal, drug-free life. Zigon notes that The Mill reports a success rate of 25 percent.
The key concept emphasized at The Mill is the need to “work on oneself.” This idea has its basis in both Orthodoxy and in the nation’s Soviet history and relates to the belief that one can remake oneself into a new moral person. Orthodoxy teaches that through personal discipline and spiritual assistance from the church, one can achieve a state of holiness and spiritual perfection. Zigon concludes that a program such as The Mill, with its emphasis on self-help and discipline, is suited to the “new Russia,” where the values of personal responsibility and decentralization are prized over those of the welfare state. Such values may appear to conﬂict with the human rights statements of the Russian Orthodox Church that criticize Western capitalism and individualism. But he writes that the church-run program for drug addiction and HIV ﬁnds itself producing “responsibilized subjects who are now be er disciplined to participate in the very Western-oriented neoliberal world from which the church had hoped to save them.”