01: The number of religious “nones,” or the unaffiliated, in the last two decades has grown significantly, but this group may be about evenly split between secular and more religious elements, according to a recent study.
Surveys showing the percentage of religious nones have indicated that they range be-tween 11 percent and 20 percent of the population; this variation itself may show the diversity in this popu-lation, write Chaeyoon Lim, Carol Ann MacGregor and Robert Putnam in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December).
Using data from three separate panel studies (the Faith Matters study, General Social Survey [GSS] and American National Election Study), the researchers find that religious nones comprise two distinct groups: a largely secular group, accounting for 10 percent of the nones, who may believe in a higher power, but do not practice re-ligion on a regular basis nor consider religion important in their lives; and a more “luminal” group that fails to identify with the “no religion” camp consistently, accounting for another 9–10 percent of the respondents in the Faith Matters and GSS surveys. This group is more religious than those in the first category on most measures, yet they are less consis-tently religious on these measures than affiliated Americans.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 111 River St., Hoboken, NJ 07030)
02: Congregations are increasingly turning to social networking sites such as Facebook, although 40 percent do not use any such Internet tools, according to a survey by Lifeway Research.
Facebook was the most popular of these networks (47 percent), followed by networking tools provided by church management software packages (20 percent). Large churches use Facebook more than small ones (81 percent versus 27 percent for small congregations of up to 100 members). City and suburban congregations were also more likely to use these social networks—from a high of 57 percent of suburban churches to a low of 39 percent of rural churches.
Most use these networks for congregational interactions (73 percent), as well as for distributing news and information to members (70 percent) and interacting with individuals outside of the congregation (62 percent). A previous Lifeway survey found that nearly half of Protestant pastors personally use Facebook.
03: Caribbean blacks in the U.S. have a high rate of religious involvement, although those born in America have lower rates of affiliation than immigrants, according to a study in the Review of Religious Research (December).
In the first quantitative study of Caribbean blacks in the U.S., researchers Robert Joseph Taylor, Linda Chatters, Jacqueline S, Mattis and Sean Joe analyzed data from the National Survey of American Life, which had a sample of 1,621 Caribbean blacks. As with many past studies of immigrants, it is the most recent immigrants who are the most religiously involved.
Only those immigrants most recently arrived in the U.S., who may tend to view their stay as temporary, were less likely to attend church than American-born Caribbean blacks. Baptists, Pentecostals and Seventh Day Adventists registered the highest affiliation. But rates of affiliation differed according to countries of origin: Jamaicans attended church more than those from Trinidad-Tobago, although those from the latter country were more likely to be members of a church.
(Review of Religious Research, 618 SW 2nd Ave., Galva, IL 61434)
04: Between 2000 and 2010 the total number of Orthodox parishes in America increased by 16 percent, according to the 2010 Census of Orthodox Christian Churches in the U.S.A.
The census, a part of the Religious Congregations and Membership Study, 2010, finds that those Orthodox bodies showing the greatest parish growth were: the Bulgarian Orthodox Eastern Diocese (+122 percent increase in parishes), the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese (+121 percent) and the Malankara Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church (+89 percent).
Only three Orthodox Churches declined in number of parishes during the period 2000–10: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church of America (Catholicosate Cilicia). (For more information on the census, visit: http://www.orthodoxreality.org)
05: While Shi’a Islam in the U.S. has had the reputation of being more quietist than its larger Sunni cousin, new research suggests that the smaller branch of the faith can generate activism as well.
Writing in the journal Politics and Religion (published Nov. 1 online), Cyrus Ali Contractor draws from the Muslim Public Opinion Survey (2009) to compare Shi’a and Sunni responses on issues of identity, views of being a Muslim in the U.S and political participation.
While the Suni Muslims agreed to a greater extent that the teachings of Islam were compatible with political participation in the U.S., Contractor was caught off guard by the finding that Shi’a Muslims were more likely to participate in a rally or protest (by a significant four to five percentage points higher than Sunnis). It was especially Shi’as in Dearborn, Michigan where this sentiment was the strongest about such political participation (and found not be correlated with ethnicity, such as being Lebanese and supporting causes involving Lebanon).
The author cautioned that his sample of Shi’as— mainly from Michigan and the Los Angles area—was smaller than for Sunnis (960 versus 96) and needed confirmation. The protests and rally included events outside the Shi’a community—such as dealing with Palestinian rights, usually a Sunni cause—and it may be that “narratives that drive Shi’ism are also empowering many Shi’as to act politically for the benefit of society as a whole, not just for Shi’as’ or Muslims’ gains.”
(Politics and Religion, http://journals.cambridge.org)
06: The 2011 French Annuaire Evangélique (Evangelical Yearbook) has just been published, revealing that a majority of practicing Protestants in France are now of an evangelical persuasion.
According to Rev. Daniel Liechti, an evangelical missiologist, who has contributed a statistical analysis inserted in the yearbook, there are today some 1.7 million Protestants in France (not including the overseas regions, such as the French Caribbean). Among the 600,000 who practice their religion on a regular basis, 460,000 are reported to be evangelicals. Evangelicals thus represent onethird of French Protestants, but make up three-quarters of practicing ones. The yearbook covers all types of evangelical groups, from Baptists to Pentecostals, and includes congregations belonging to various unions, as well as to local, independent ones.
Taken together, there were 769 evangelical congregations in France (excluding those overseas) in 1970; there are 2,068 today (2,380 if those overseas are included). This means that more than 1,400 congregations have been planted in France over the past 40 years. But the listings also show a fragmentation of the evangelical presence in France; there are more than 45 different unions, plus more than 200 independent congregations. The largest organization (in terms of affiliated congregations) are the Assemblies of God, with 382 congregations, followed by the Evangelical Gypsy Mission (218). Nearly half of the unions belong to the National Council of Evangelicals of France, which was created in June 2010 and actually comprises nearly 70 percent of the congregations.
Some of the unions also belong to the French Protestant Federation, the “official” Protestant body originally representing mainstream Protestant Churches in France. The current president of the French Protestant Federation is an evangelical minister. Thus the dynamism of evangelicals (one new congregation is born every ten days in France, Liechti reports) is increasingly changing the face of French Protestantism.
(The Annuaire Evangélique contains all the addresses of congregations and ministers in France. It is available only in French and can be ordered through its publisher, BLF Europe, http://www.blfeurope.com)
07: Depending on the cultural groups considered, there are different attitudes toward religion among young people in Germany, according to the results of a study commissioned by the Shell company in 2010.
Since 1953 Shell has commissioned an annual survey on youth attitudes in Germany regarding a variety of topics. The 2010 survey results are based on a representative sample of more than 2,600 young people aged between 12 and 25. For most of the youth, religion only plays a minor role. However, this pattern is not uniform. For most young people in the former East Germany, known to be one of the most secularized areas in Europe, religion has lost any significance. And Christian worldviews have become fringe: only 8 percent still say they believe in a personal God. These results confirm observations by several sociologists: contrarily to some expectations following the fall of the communist system in East Germany 20 years ago, and despite the key role played at the time by the Protestant Church as a space for opposition to the former regime, there has not been a religious revival there.
In what used to be West Germany, religion still plays a moderate role among young people. But in a third group, religious beliefs play an important role, i.e. among young people with roots in migrant groups. Not only do religious beliefs remain strong in that group compared with other groups, but they have even tended to increase in recent years.
(The main results of the Shell study can be read and downloaded (in German) from the website: http://www.shell.de/home/content/de u/aboutshell/our_commitment/shell_ youth_study/. For insights on secularization in Germany and comparisons between the former West and East Germany, see the article by Christol Wolf, “How Secularized Is Germany?”, Social Compass, Volume 55, Issue 2, June 2008)
08: The world’s Muslim population is likely to increase by about 35 percent in the next two decades, going from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion, according to new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Globally, the Muslim population is projected to increase at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades—an average annual growth rate of 1.5 percent for Muslims, compared with 0.7 percent for non-Muslims. Current trends, if they continue, suggest that Muslims will make up 26.4 percent of the world’s total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030, up from 23.4 percent of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.
While the global Muslim population is expected to grow at a faster rate than the non-Muslim population, the Muslim population nevertheless is expected to grow at a slower pace in the next two decades than it did in the previous two decades. (The full study is available at: http://pewforum.org/The-Future-of-th e-Global-Muslim-Population.aspx)
09: A study of changing social attitudes among Australians toward other religions and cultures finds that religious orientation is a factor in the degree of openness they feel to such newcomers.
Pointers (December), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association of Australia, cites the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (2009) as showing that beside age, education, social class and income, religion was also a factor that affects the level of acceptance toward other religions. Of those who attend church monthly or more often, 35 percent say they feel positive to people of other religions. “In comparison, among Australians who do not attend religious services at all, just 18 percent say they feel positive,” writes Philip Hughes.
The exception to this pattern was found among more exclusive religious groups, such as the Pentecostals. Nevertheless, even among the latter, only 29 percent rejected the statement “We should respect all religions.” The Australian findings are similar to a study from the United Kingdom on practicing Christian openness to religious immigrants.
(Pointers, P.O. Box 206, Nunawading, LPO, VIC 3131 Australia)
10: Claims that there could currently be up to two million Christians in Nepal are considered as exaggerated by several observers of the local religious scene.
But the growth of Christianity is real, reports the news agency Eglises d’Asie (Jan. 16). The figure of two million was quoted in the recently released 2010–11 edition of the Nepal Catholic Directory: this would have indicated an extremely strong growth, since there were 1.5 million Christians two years ago and 1.8 million last year. In fact, according to the Protestant secretary of the Nepal Christian Society, such numbers are inflated and the real numbers are reported to be closer to one million.
In the current context, he comments, figures are not innocuous: anticonversion movements are active in the country and inflated numbers fuel their resentment. The official Nepalese census indicated 2,541 Christians in 1971 and 101,976 in 2001. However, it is true that there have been dramatic changes in the religious landscape of the country during the last decade. While the Roman Catholic community remains small (around 8,000 faithful), there has been an explosion in the number of evangelical and Pentecostal churches, now found in all 75 districts of the country. But precise statistical data is still missing. Research has found 2,500 Christian places of worship around the country.
(Eglises d’Asie, 128 rue du Bac, 75341 Paris Cedex 07, France; http://eglasie.mepasie.org)