01: Nova Religio, the journal of “alternative and emergent religions,” devotes most of its August issue to Jews and new religious movements (NRMs), looking both at expressly Jewish movements, such as the Kabbalah Center and Messianic Judaism, and the often-disproportionate involvement of Jews in other religious groups and spiritual movements, such as Buddhism.
In the introduction to the issue, Yakkov Ariel notes that Jewish converts to NRMs have often followed a pattern of seeking to retain an element of Jewish identity even as they adopt new spiritualities and practices. This is most clearly seen in the large Jewish involvement, even leadership, in American Buddhist groups, with even the name “JuBus” given to such adherents. She notes that this is not just a contemporary or an American phenomenon—there was strong Jewish involvement in Christian Science and the early Hare Krishna movements, and there is growing Israeli involvement in all kinds of Jewish and non-Jewish NRMs.
American Jews have also been prominent in the anti-cult movement, which was obviously related to many Jewish young people joining these groups.The issue carries interesting articles on Jews in NRMs and how, in one way or another, they deal with issues of syncretism and globalization, particularly the tension between universalist and ethnic tendencies. Within Buddhism there is a pattern of Jews retaining their ethnic and, in some sense, religious identities, with many cases of reversals (starting on the Buddhist spiritual path, but then adopting a more intentional form of Judaism) or mixing and borrowing of traditions, which was done on a large scale in the Jewish renewal movement.
An article on Messianic Judaism portrays a movement split between those stressing its evangelical (and evangelistic) roots and those stressing a Judaic identity that would downplay the necessity of converting other Jews to belief in Christ as messiah. The interesting feature about the Messianic Jewish movement is that the pattern of Jewish seekers coming into non-Jewish movements is reversed: it is the Gentile Christians who are becoming numerous in this group.
For more on this issue, contact: Nova Religio, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA 94704.
02: The appearance of the Atlas of the American Orthodox Christian Churches (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, $19.95) will ﬁll a large gap in public knowledge about Orthodox churches.
The book, edited by Alexei Krindatch, brings together survey research, oﬃcial statistics, history, and descriptions of both Eastern Orthodox churches and Oriental Orthodox people and institutions (such as the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox churches). Much of the quantitative information is based on the 2010 US National Census of Orthodox Christian Churches, which provides statistics on both the national and county levels, detailing the numbers of parishes and monasteries, as well as the numbers of members and adherents.
Krindatch notes that the census is unique in that the ﬁgures come directly from parishes rather than larger bodies, whose counts have been known to be inaccurate and dated. Krindatch arrives at a ﬁgure of 0.34 percent for the average of Orthodox adherents in the U.S. population—considerably lower than oﬃcial church estimates.
The descriptions of 21 Orthodox bodies provide interesting accounts of their histories and current prospects, as well as color maps of membership ﬁgures. Most of the churches show a pattern of diﬃculty in retaining younger generations, but, at the same time, parish revitalization coming from an inﬂux of recent immigrants and a wave of converts from non-Orthodox backgrounds.
03: In his new book American Religion: Contemporary Trends (Princeton University Press, $22.95), Mark Chaves agrees with most observers that continuity rather than rapid change marks religious life in the U.S.
Yet the Duke University sociologist argues that new trends are unfolding that will create a more polarized nation in terms of faith and moral issues. Continuity since the early 1970s—the starting point of Chaves’ analysis of the General Social Survey and National Congregation Survey—remains on questions of those saying they know God exists, claiming the born-again experience, engaging in regular prayer and Bible study, and watching religious television.
He acknowledges that looking at a longer period of time on such a question as belief in God does show a degree of change; in the 1950s, 99 percent believed in God, whereas the percentage in 2008 was 93 percent. It is the content of belief that has most markedly changed, such as belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, as well as a loosening of connections between denominations and congregations (probably the fastest-growing trend), more religious diversity (and appreciation of it), the growing number of unaﬃliated among younger generations, a diffuse spirituality and a “softening of religious involvement” (although noting that much of this change took place before 1990).
The brief book (139 pages) is not heavy on explanation, theory or prediction, but Chaves tends to take an institutional and demographic approach; he discounts a growth of traditional religious beliefs, arguing that it is more the case that the religious population is more concentrated in politically and socially conservative churches (increasingly in large congregations, which lends them more social inﬂuence and at least the impression of strength) and that these groups have more children than do liberal churches. Chaves sees increased polarization between religiously active and largely conservative Americans and those who are unaﬃliated or even less active.
04: Religion and Reaction (Rowman and Littleﬁeld, $55), by Susan B. Hansen, looks at the growth and strategies of the secularist movement in relation to the growth of conservative religious politics—a topic that has received scant attention. Hansen, a political scientist, sees what she calls the “seculars”—which can mean anyone from atheists to the religiously unaﬃliated—on the ascendancy in American society, estimating that they represent between 12 and 16 percent of the population. Early on in the book, Hansen takes sides in the culture wars and declares herself as a “feminist, a political and religious liberal, and a supporter of gay rights and reproductive freedom,” but her analysis does not show heavy bias.
Using rational choice (cost-beneﬁt) theory and the concept of a “morality policy cycle” (i.e. that threats to perceived fundamental values cause intense conﬂict until a new consensus is reached), Hansen argues that the religious right has had considerable success in mobilizing support. But she notes that the organizational and cultural bases of the seculars operate on a number of fronts: The “hard-core” secularists, made up of atheist and secular humanist groups, are engaging in political activism, followed by the advocacy work of the more moderate church–state separation and civil liberties groups and their legal advocacy (with receptive liberal courts); the media and entertainment industry, upholding secular values that both challenge conservative views and oppose censorship; a growing number of scientists targeting policies informed by religion (from creationism to sex education); and the increasingly secular Democratic Party (particularly among younger voters).
Hansen acknowledges that seculars tend to be divided among themselves and highly individualistic (especially evident among atheists), making mobilization on issues diﬃcult. Even in liberal states, seculars and other liberal activist groups found it diﬃcult to challenge traditional religious groups’ superior skills of fund-raising and organizing the rank-and-ﬁle. The competitive edge among secular in Internet organizing or scientiﬁc advocacy can easily be adapted by religious groups (and has been).
05: Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, $24.95), edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer and Jonathan van Antwerpen, brings together much of the rethinking about the secular–religious divide that has been fomenting in academia over the past decade into one volume.
Secularism means diﬀerent things to diﬀerent contributors, but in general the chapters are concerned with the political meaning of the phenomenon and how the resurgence of religion in public life challenges traditional secular thinking, particularly as it is found in the ﬁeld of international relations. The common themes running through the book are partly intentional, as the contributors took part in the same conference and they often serve as interlocutors of Charles Taylor and his well-known 2009 book The Secular Age. In fact, in the ﬁrst chapter Taylor provides a succinct summary of his argument about how the way modern people speak of both religion and the secular and how they are related would be diﬃcult for pre-moderns to understand.
Jose Casanova follows Taylor with his argument that just as there is growing religious pluralism, there are “multiple secularisms” in different societies that are shaped by questions of the separation of “church and state” and state regulation of religion. He concludes his comparative chapter with the argument that separation between church (or mosque or temple) and state is less important for the maintenance of democracy than religious freedom. The “multiple secularisms” argument is ﬂeshed out in political scientist Alfred Stepan’s lengthy chapter on how democratic and non-democratic regimes reveal different models of religious–secular relations. Stepan draws on his and his colleagues’ recent research on India and some (often non-Arab) Muslim societies that show high levels of democratic governance and activity while they adhere to what he calls a “respect all, positive cooperation and principled distance” model of religion–state relations.
Such countries as Senegal, Indonesia and India accommodate even minority religions with public holidays and other forms of state support, while in some cases making secular demands on them. Most noteworthy are Stepan and colleagues’ recent survey ﬁndings from India (also shown in separate research from Indonesia and Senegal) reporting that it is among those individuals who show the most “intensity of religious practice” (especially in Hinduism and Islam) who also demonstrate the most support for democracy and non-authoritarianism in politics.
Other chapters of interest include an analysis of how Muslim and Christian humanitarian groups have changed (sometimes in secular directions) under the inﬂuence of globalization and the war on terror; an examination of how the study of fundamentalism has grown in sophistication since the “Fundamentalism Project” of two decades ago; and Richard Madsen’s attempt to apply Taylor’s work to Asian religions, in the process providing an overview of patterns of religious syncretism, revival and conﬂict in this region.
06: Much of the talk of “postsecularism” is vague, but the new book Postsecular Cities (Continuum, $39.95) suggests that the term makes the most sense in relation to urban dynamics and changes.
The book, edited by Justin Beaumont and Christopher Baker, argues that the limits of the secularization thesis are shown in the emergence of faith-based social services and the crisis of welfare states; the reassertion of religion in the public sphere by immigrants, especially Muslims; and the rise of transnational religions, such as Pentecostal megachurches. The book has a heavy European accent, but carries several contributions that are valuable in understanding religious trends in cities.
Among them is an interesting chapter on how many churches’ approach to urban life has shifted from seeing their roles as engaging in mission work to ”save the city” to that of aligning themselves closely with the commercial and professional character of the city. Author Robbie B. H. Gohe looks at megachurches that blend with their commercial environment, noting that this is not only an American development and proﬁling such cases as Hillsong in Australia and New Creation in Singapore.
These congregations actively partner with the business community and, in the case of New Creation church, tourist attractions, such as Santosa Island. Another chapter on postsecularity and urban planners (at least pertaining to the Vancouver, Canada case study) accounts for how these professionals use spirituality (often generic and multicultural varieties) in their designs.
Other chapters include a study of the increasing importance of faith-based groups in the UK; a study of how zoning law controversies in London have shifted from non-conformist, Catholic and Jewish congregations to Muslim and black Pentecostal congregations; and an overview of Amsterdam’s management of faith-based groups and its tendency to exclude groups that conﬂict with the city’s policies (again, mainly Muslims and evangelicals).
07: Sociologist Bryan Turner covers an impressive range of topics in his new book Religion and Modern Society (Cambridge University Press, $32.99)—from the spirituality of tattooing; to the religious implications of increased longevity; to the dynamics of Buddhist, Muslim and Christian life in Singapore.
The book also manages to discuss and summarize an exhaustive range of literature dealing with religion in society (its reference section covers 34 pages). But the seemingly disparate chapters in the book begin to show an underlying unity as Turner repeatedly turns to the relation of consumerism to secularization. Unlike other secularization theorists, Turner doesn’t see this process as diminishing religion’s private or even public pervasiveness in many societies.
But the way in which religion in contemporary societies is transformed into spirituality and then turned into a consumer item is, in his view, a form of secularization. The loss of religion’s traditional communal dimension means that religion merges with the “global economic system in terms of the circulation of religious commodities (amulets, prayer books, pilgrimages and so forth), by the creation and promotion of religious lifestyles (often associated with body management, veiling, diet and dining), by the adoption of modern communication technologies … by the creation of religious cultures that among other things blend secular music with religious themes . . .”
Because religions thus become powerful markers of identity that cut across national boundaries and secular forms of citizenship, governments increasingly see the need to “manage religion.” Turner notes that such management often relates to concerns about radicalism and national security. He provides a case study of Singapore—where Turner has many years of personal experience—and its heavy regulation of religion and compares it to other societies that have maintained religious freedom, but now are forced to form religious policies to manage the tensions resulting from competing faith traditions. Turner may exaggerate the importance of consumerism in understanding religion and secularization around the world, but the book does a good job of showing how the religious market is increasingly a global one.
08: The new book The Missing Martyrs (Oxford University Press, $24.95), by University of North Carolina sociologist Charles Kurzman, is unique among the steady stream of books on terrorism and Islam in devoting most of its pages to arguing how Islamic extremists have been largely ineﬀective and unpopular in their attacks both against the West and fellow Muslim societies.
He builds his case by conducting and examining survey research, interviewing Muslims (those both sympathetic to and against extremism), and studying extremist internal documents and websites. Kurzman notes that there may well have been tens of thousands of prospective Islamic militants in the last quarter of a century, but most of them received little signiﬁcant training and have dropped out of the movement. Even if they are still active, more than 99 percent of the world’s billion Muslims have ignored the militants’ constant calls to action.
Kurzman ﬁnds that in the ﬁve years after 9/11, only 40 Muslim-Americans planned or carried out acts of domestic terrorism. The main reason for the dearth of terrorists is that they are facing division and competition on several fronts. The global jihadists, such as Al Qaeda, compete for followings with nationalist-based Islamic movements, such as the Taliban of Afghanistan or Hamas of Palestine. While the former envisions a world-wide Islamic revolution, the latter groups tend to be more interested in Islamicizing their own societies and ﬁghting foreign intervention.
Although there are periods when nationalist-based terrorists work together with global Islamist terrorists, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq during the wars with the U.S., these alliances are usually temporary due to ideological and theological differences.Global Islamic terrorist movements also compete with more liberal Islamic movements and societies. While liberal Islamic movements and institutions often represent a small elite in many societies, Kurzman cites their inﬂuence in the growing democratic sentiments of majorities in Muslim countries. At the same time, many Muslims still support the implementation of Sharia, or Islamic law, in their societies.
It is this combination of social conservatism and democratic tendencies that oﬀers the best counterweight to the appeal of terrorists, he adds. Kurzman concludes that while terrorism may be exaggerated by governments and security experts, it is not the case that political leaders and specialists can easily defuse animosity and violent incidents. An emphasis on listening to Islamic countries’ concerns and building stronger relationships with civilians on the ground during armed conﬂicts may go some way toward fostering more positive attitudes toward the U.S., he writes.
09: In The End of Innocence? (University of Hawaii Press, $28), French researchers Andree Feillard and Remy Madinier painstakingly document the rapidly changing face of Islam in Indonesia, confounding stereotypes that posit Indonesian Muslims as either the peaceful and tolerant “exception” to global militancy or as the sleeping giant of radicalism (Indonesia being the largest Muslim country in the world).
The authors make it clear that Indonesian Islam has frequently shifted between democratic and more militant Islamist expressions of the religion—sometimes showing both tendencies at the same time. The authors root their analysis in Indonesian history starting in 1967—the year that the reformist Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council was founded. But even before then Muslims were divided over the role of Islamic law in a society striving to create a harmonious and interfaith democracy (deﬁned by the secular ideology known as Pancasila).
To put it very brieﬂy, it has actually been the ongoing attempts to manage (even “manipulate”) Islam by authoritarian governments that have led to various “mutations” of mode-rate and reformist Islam into more radical forms (often under foreign inﬂuence), according to Feillard and Madinier. The book’s tracing of reactions and counter-reactions between the government and various Islamic groups over four decades makes for diﬃcult reading for those unfamiliar with the Indonesian situation (not helped by an awkward translation).
But the concluding chapters provide an up-to-date and concise account of how the Islamic scene shows a large middle-class conservative Muslim movement that can be, in one wing, intolerant of religious minorities, but in another wing, supportive of democracy and pragmatic in politics; with radical expressions that the former movement seems to be limiting in the past few years; and a smaller liberal minority that has been a particularity of Indonesia in the Muslim world, but may have a diﬃcult time making the case for tolerance in a nation marked by the “tightening of inter-faith boundaries and the decline of syncretistic forms of religions . . .”