01: While it is not difficult to find a correlation between individuals’ religious views and their rate of cohabitation, a new study argues that a similar association is present on the country-wide level.
The study was presented at the April meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture (ASREC) in April, which was attended by RW, and is the first community-level examination of the impact of religion and moral communities on the increasingly high levels of cohabitation in American society. Baylor University researchers Martha Gault-Sherman and Scott Draper look at U.S. Census data and the 2000 Religious Congregation and Membership Study and find that those counties with higher rates of membership of evangelical churches show a smaller percentage of the population that is cohabitating.
Outside the South, the mainline membership rate has a similar, although smaller, effect. The only Catholic effect is in the South, where there is actually a significant positive relationship between the Catholic adherence rate and the percentage of people cohabitating. The researchers speculate that, regardless of one’s individual religious beliefs regarding cohabitation, “the existence of a large group of religious others may prevent people from cohabiting in an effort to avoid embarrassment or social sanctions.” Spatial location and region also have an effect on these rates, as counties in the South show the greatest effect of what Sherman and Draper call “moral communities” on cohabitation
02: Churches are slowly rebounding from the recession, according to a new report from the 2010 Faith Communities Today survey.
The survey, conducted among more than 20 religious groups and 11,000 congregations, finds that about one congregation in 10 has begun to recover from the financial losses experienced during the recession and more than 40 percent of congregations polled are now stable or improving financially.
More than half (57 percent) of U.S. congregations reported that their income had declined due to the recession. Larger congregations appear to have recovered more easily, but the recession cut across the theological spectrum, hurting both liberal and conservative congregations, according to the article in the Christian Century (May 17).
03: The preliminary results of a first-of-its-kind census of Hindus in the U.S. presented at the ASREC conference arrives at a total of 606,000 active adherents of this religion.
The census, conducted by J. Gordon Melton (Institute for the Study of American Religion) and Constance Jones (California Institute for Integral Studies), counted both Hindu temples and Hindu adherents, assuming that for every active Hindu there is another one who may identify with the community, but at present is not showing this preference actively. For this reason, Melton and Jones suggest that the total number of Hindus in the U.S. would be about 1.2 million—close to the figures found in recent polls of the number of people self-identifying with the religion.
The researchers find that the Hindu community is divided between autonomous Hindu temples, consisting of various Indian regional and ethnic identities, numbering around 260, and temples and centers attached to different Hindu movements that arose in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, estimated at more than 400.
Over 100 groups are found to have given up temple worship and rituals and meet together in small numbers at meditation centers, often called satsangs, stressing a particular Hindu-based spiritual practice, such as yoga, or philosophy, catering to many Westerners. There are also hundreds of guru-based movements that emerged since World War II and, after attracting controversy in the 1970s and 1980s, experienced stability and growth as they approached the new millennium.
While there is at least one Hindu center in every state, a large percentage of these groups “remain small and fragile, with no permanent home or facilities.” Melton and Jones conclude that American Hinduism exists on an upward trajectory, growing at a rate far ahead of population growth, although substantially less than what appeared to be happening in the 1970s.
04: Openness to the free trade of goods and services is correlated with the role religion plays in one’s life, according to a preliminary study presented at the ASREC conference.
The study, presented by Martin Leroch, Carlo Reggiani, Gianpaolo Rossini and Eugenio Zucchelli, is based on results from a survey of 1,753 students from 16 universities from 14 different countries from around the world. Respondents were asked about their preference for home or foreign goods and services as well as a wide number of issues in the economic and religious spheres. The researchers find that the importance of religion in one’s life appears to increase the bias towards making use of foreign goods and services.
Although the researchers caution that they could not yet establish whether the respondents’ religious affiliation and beliefs cause the openness to trade, they hypothesize that religion may generate trust, which in turn affects the level of trade between local communities, different villages and even different nations.
05: High levels of civic engagement and social capital have long been associated with Nordic societies and those with Nordic or Scandinavian ancestry, but a new study suggests that both religion and ethnic traditions are important in this regard.
An article in the online Journal of Religion & Society by Terry L. Besser of Iowa State University examines a longitudinal study of 99 towns in Iowa conducted in 1994 and 2004 that used Census data and surveyed residents on religion and civic engagement. The case for what Besser calls the “Nordic exception” is upheld in the analysis, but it is also found that the Lutheran affiliation of Scandinavian descendants accounts for higher levels of social capital (involving social trust of those within and outside of one’s ethnic group). In fact, the Lutheran affiliation is positively related to social capital, while Scandinavian ancestry is not.
The higher level of civic engagement of towns with Scandinavian Lutheran descendents prevails even when social and economic variables are controlled. The assumption that all mainline Protestant denominations are similar in their impact on social capital and civic engagement is also called into question. Small Iowa towns with a large proportion of Methodists or Catholics are “different from towns with more Lutherans in prevailing attitudes of trust, friendliness and neighborliness; norms of reciprocity; and residents’ involvement in the community.”
Besser concludes that the results demand the question being asked of “what is unique about Lutheran traditions and culture that enhances community wide social capital?”
(Journal of Religion and Society, http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/toc/current.html)
06: A poll commissioned by the German Catholic weekly Christ und Welt finds that 180,000 Catholics left the Church in 2010.
This is an increase of 40 per cent over 2009. In certain Bavarian dioceses, the increase is as much as 70 per cent, possibly indicating a particular reaction to the cases of large-scale abuse at the Benedictine Ettal Abbey near Oberammergau. More Catholics than Protestants left their churches in 2010 for the first time in the history of the Federal Republic, reports The Tablet (April 16), a British Catholic magazine.
Several Catholics in senior positions in the German church are concerned that the exodus is now reaching the “inner core of German Catholicism,” as many committed members are leaving. Also new is the fact that many of those leaving the Catholic Church are now joining Protestant congregations. The statistics are based on those who “signed out” of the church in 2010, petitioning their local municipal authority that they want to leave the church.
(The Tablet, 1 King’s Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ)
07: While Estonia is considered one of the most atheistic countries in Europe, it may be the case that Estonians have become as much “Easternized” as secularized, according to a study in the journal Social Compass (March).
According to the Eurobarometer (2005), only 16 percent of Estonian residents believe in God, a smaller percentage than in other European countries. Yet 54 percent believe in some sort of spirit or life force, and several studies show more than 25 percent consider themselves as “seekers” or falling between being religious and non-religious. With 28 percent of Estonians believing in reincarnation, researcher Lea Altnurme writes that there has been a significant shift toward a “church-free spirituality” based on a non-Christian mythology, even among many Christians.
Altnurme conducted 77 interviews focusing on people’s life stories and finds that the “Christian myth” pre-dominated among those born between 1918 and 1940. This group’s religious views are often based on biblical themes—sin, heaven and hell—while later generations are characterized by a more Eastern or “New Age” myth (although not using the term “New Age”) marked by syncretistic and self-centered (rather than God-centered) spirituality. These changed attitudes also include those who became Christian after the fall of communism in 1992, as they tend to supplement Christian references with those of self-spirituality, including the belief in reincarnation.
It is particularly the “negative” teachings of Christianity, such as suffering resulting from sin, that have been eclipsed by New Age concepts of gaining wisdom from suffering. Altnurme concludes that in Estonia a “new monistic/holistic paradigm has taken its place alongside the monotheistic/dualistic paradigm that has dominated for centuries as the foundation of Christianity.”(Social Compass, http://scp.sagepub.com)
08: The number of Christians in China remains a highly disputed question, but one of the more extensive attempts to reach an accurate figure finds that the number is close to 70 million.
Writing in First Things magazine (May), Rodney Stark, Byron Johnson and Carson Mencken note that figures as far apart as 16 million to 200 million have been asserted in accounting for China’s Christians. The sociologists cite a national survey conducted in 2007 as among the most accurate. Horizons Ltd., one of China’s largest and most respected polling firms, conducted a national multistage probability sample of Chinese in mainland China and reached a total of 35.3 million Chinese Christians over the age of 16.
Stark, Johnson and Mencken write that the figure is likely too low, since many Chinese refuse to participate in surveys, with Christians more likely not to participate. The sociologists launched a follow-up study in cooperation with colleagues at Peking University in Beijing. Based on contacts, they were able to obtain samples of members of Chinese house churches from many of the same areas used in the original Horizon survey sample. This yielded an estimate of 64.3 million Christians 16 and older.
Since this was the total for 2007, the researchers adjusted the figure to 70 million Christians in 2011. When excluding Communist Party and Youth League members (who tend to be in the higher income bracket), they found the higher their income, the more likely Chinese are to be Christians.
(First Things, 35 E. 21st St., New York, NY 10010)
09: The first large-scale economic study of religious organizations in India finds that they are growing rapidly and are increasingly offering non-religious services to their constituencies, according to Cambridge University economist Sriya Iyer.
Iyer directed the study of 568 religious organization and presented a paper on her preliminary findings at the ASREC conference in April. She finds that the religious component of these organizations is “very strong” among Hindu and Muslim groups, and that most of them emphasize having a place of worship rather than home-based rituals and worship—even among Hindus who have traditionally stressed the latter.
Such practices as caste-based segregation and child marriages are increasingly being abandoned by Hindus. Non-religious social services are increasingly offered by organizations of all religions, although Hindus are more involved in food-based services and Muslims and Christians are more likely to provide education, even to those outside their folds. Iyer finds that these organizations—which can range from radical to more liberal—tend to offer more social services when there is a perception of economic inequality, which has grown since the 1990s. She concludes that the Indian government is viewing these organizations as being important in managing interfaith relations.