01: An analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that supporters of the Tea Party tend to have a conservative take on social and religious matters, as well as on economics.
They are also more likely than registered voters as a whole to say that religion is the most important factor in shaping their views on social issues. The analysis, based on surveys from September 2010 to February 2011, finds that the Tea Party draws disproportionate support from white evangelical Protestants. It was also found that most people who agree with the religious right also support the Tea Party, although a survey last summer found that almost half of Tea Party supporters had not heard or did not have an opinion about the conservative Christian political movement known as the Christian right.
Tea Party supporters tend to take socially conservative positions, with 64 percent opposing gay marriage (compared to 49 percent opposed among voters as a whole), and 59 percent agreeing that abortion should be illegal in most cases (compared to 42 percent of voters as a whole). About half of Tea Party supporters say their views on these social issues are influenced by their religious beliefs.
02: Although considered a conservative force in American society, Latinos are increasingly divided even on such an issue as same-sex marriage, according to a recent analysis.
In the Social Science Quarterly (March), Christopher Ellison, Gabriel Acevedo and Aida Ramos-Wada analyze a recent survey from the Pew Hispanic Forum that asked respondents about same-sex marriage (SSM) and find that the religious divisions on this issue “are at least as large in magnitude as those in the overall U.S. population.” With Protestants now making up about one-fourth of the U.S. Hispanic population, members of the conservative churches (including non-Protestants such as Mormons), were uniformly against the practice.
Unlike non-Hispanic evangelicals, sporadic attendance does not drive down opposition to SSM among Latino conservative Protestants. Despite assumptions that Latino Catholics represent a bulwark of conservative social and family values, Catholics (Hispanic and otherwise) tend to hold more moderate views on SSM than conservative Protestants. This was true of even devout Hispanic Catholics (although regularly attending Hispanic Catholics do oppose SSM by a margin of two to one).
Latinos attending mainline churches tended to take more diverse views, although those who attended services more regularly were opposed to the practice.
(Social Science Quarterly, http:/www.wiley.com)
03: Presbyterians today are equally likely as Presbyterians were a decade ago to be interested in increasing the amount of time they set aside for Sabbath-keeping practices, even though their concepts of the observance have changed, according to the Presbyterian Panel (February report), an ongoing survey of members and leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
In spite of this continuity, the pastors’ perspectives on Sabbath-keeping have changed in that more pastors in 2010 than in 1999 are very likely or likely to associate the word “Sabbath” with rest and restoration, a Christian practice and something that needs to be revived. Smaller fractions of pastors today associate the Sabbath with a particular day of the week or with a Jewish custom.
More members and specialized clergy today than in 1999 associate the word “Sabbath” with a Christian practice, and more elders today associate the observance with social and economic justice. Fewer elders today associate the Sabbath with a particular day of the week than they did in 1999.
04: Classic cult stereotypes remain fairly widespread on television, even though they have declined since their peak in the 1990s, according to a new study in the journal Nova Religio (February).
Lynn Neal of Wake Forest University writes that elements of the popular stereotypes of cults or new religious movements involving fraudulent leaders coercing (sometimes brainwashing) individuals to leave their families and surrender their wills to join such groups stretch back to televisions shows as early as 1958. Interestingly enough, TV portrayal of cults remained relatively sparse until the 1980s—when media coverage of cult controversies had actually begun to subside.
The increased attention to cults in this decade, portrayed in about 25 episodes of fictional shows, may be partly due to the growth of new cable outlets and such networks as Fox. By the 1990s, cult themes on shows had increased to about 80 episodes, probably due to events surrounding new religious movements, such as the Branch Davidians and Heavens Gate during this decade, as well as to the approach of the new millennium. In the 2000s (up to 2008), the number of TV episodes with plots involving cults has decreased to about 60, which may stem from the sharp growth of reality shows, more favorable portrayals of alternative religions (such as witches) and new attention to terrorist plots, writes Neal.
CBS, which has retained more fictional programming than the other networks, leads the way in including more programming with cultic themes. Neal examines five recent episodes in-depth (from The Simpsons, Criminal Minds, CSI, Everybody Loves Raymond and Law and Order) and finds that these fictional portrayals of new religious movements tends to treat them as marked off from mainstream society by the special clothes members wear, their remote locations, the delusional beliefs of participants, and the unwritten assumption that they conflict with a vague, often invisible, yet normative Christian society.
(Nova Religio, 2000 Center St., Suite 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223)
05: A recent sharp decline in annulments of marriages in the Catholic Church in the U.S. may on first impression be viewed as good news, as the American church has long led the world in this practice.
But the decline may actually mean that Catholic marriages are losing their value among the faithful, reports the Catholic World Report (March). The magazine reports that the number of annulments soared from 338 in 1968 to a peak of 63,933 in 1991. But by 2004 the number had fallen to 46,330 and then down to 35,009—“a remarkable decline of 24 percent in three years.” Yet with only 5.9 percent of the world’s Catholics, the U.S. still accounts for 60 percent of the church’s declarations of nullity.
It has been debated for years why America leads the world in annulments. Church officials blame the shaky state of marriage in the U.S., although they also agree that the American church has had the resources to create an extensive tribunal system where many annulment cases are tried. As for the recent decline, most observers point to a loss of institutional loyalty among American Catholics, partly due to the sex abuse crisis, where they do not feel the need to subject themselves to the church’s authority when it comes to the decision to have a second marriage.
(Catholic World Report, http://www.catholicworldreport.com)
06: Protestants in Canada show an increase in church attendance, although at the same time Catholics, especially in Quebec, are attending less, along with a steady growth of non-affiliates.
The declining rate of affiliation and, in some regions, attendance in Canada is not disputed, but the debate continues whether the decline means that Canada as a whole is undergoing rapid secularization. Sociologist Reginald Bibby has especially challenged some surveys which suggest that church attendance is declining throughout the country. In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (March) David Eagle of Duke University writes that the regional variation of Canada in terms of attendance makes it difficult to speak of nationwide trends of decline or renaissance.
By examining the General Social Survey, the Canadian Survey of Giving and the Project Canada surveys, Eagle notes that on aggregate, church attendance has declined by about 20 percent from 1986 to 2008. About half of this decline can be traced to the increase in the number of Canadians who report no religion. When the remaining decline is broken down by such demographics as age and affiliation, it appears that older Catholics have shown the greatest drop in attendance, particularly those outside of Quebec. In fact, older and younger Catholics increasingly resemble each other; in the past the older Catholics were far more likely to attend Mass than younger ones.
The Protestant situation, in contrast, is one of stability and even growth. Protestants across age groups are more likely to attend church. It is not clear if this stability is being felt across Protestant bodies or if evangelical growth is compensating for the decline evident in mainline churches, Eagle concludes.(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 111 River St., Hoboken, NJ 07030)
07: The connections found between religion and spirituality and positive health outcomes in many societies influenced by the Christian tradition take on more complex and even negative directions in a Shinto and Buddhist country such as Japan, according to a recent study in the journal Social Forces (December).
In a survey conducted in the Japanese city of Kyoto, researcher Michael Roemer of Ball State University found that rites, beliefs and even ownership of sacred objects connected with gods, deities and spirits are positively associated with the reporting of distress symptoms and negative mental health. For most Japanese, these Shinto deities, called “kami,” can be either punishing or helpful, although few consider these beings as intimately or compassionately involved in everyday life.
The presence of kami altars serve as a reminder that although the deities are there for them, any sign of disrespect might cause harm. Yet those beliefs and practices that are tied to ancestors or buddhas are more likely to have positive mental effects. Ancestors are seen as more helpful and caring than kami, as supplicants ask for guidance and protection from loved ones who have died. The researchers notes that a somewhat more puzzling finding is the relationship between the belief that it is important to respect one’s ancestors and psychological distress.
(Social Forces, Room 168, Hamilton Hall CB 3210, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27514)
08: A new study of mosques in Sweden suggests that they are less isolated from society than many have presumed and that external opposition may actually trigger these Islamic organizations’ community involvement.
The study, conducted by the Swedish Muslim Congregation project at Mid-Sweden University and reported in the American Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Section Newsletter (Spring), surveyed 105 congregations. A dominant characteristic among these mosques was openness and a desire for cooperation, even though a minority stressed religious purity to the exclusion of social involvement. The researchers found that openness to different ethnic and religious traditions in Islam correlated with these congregations’ openness to society.
More unexpected was the finding that the level of opposition that congregations felt was correlated with the inclination to cooperate. Klas Borell, who leads the project, writes that opposition, such as in the form of vandalism or letters written to the press, tended have a mobilizing effect on “potentially sympathetic organizations and individuals in the community who rise up to defend the right of Muslim congregations to practice their faith. When these opposite forces become visible, it then also becomes possible for Muslim congregations to identify allies and to develop cooperation with new partners.” The study also found that the majority of representatives of surveyed Muslim congregations were of the opinion that they encountered respect in society, even though one-fourth of congregations reported experiencing criminal forms of harassment.
(For more information on this study, write: firstname.lastname@example.org)