01: American Mormons feel discriminated against and misrepresented by non-Mormon society and yet are also increasingly optimistic about the prospects of greater acceptance, including the possibility of having a Mormon president, according to a new study by the Pew Forum.
The survey found that 62 percent of Mormons believe that Americans are uninformed about their religion, with nearly half (46 percent) holding that they face discrimination in the country. Two-thirds of respondents say the American people do not see Mormonism as a part of mainstream society. Mormons see the most discrimination and negative attitudes coming from the entertainment media (54 percent) and evangelical Christians (50 percent).
Yet only 38 percent said the news media coverage of Mormonism is unfair. Yet 63 percent of Mormons see their religion becoming more a part of mainstream society; 56 percent of those surveyed say the American people are ready for a Mormon president.
02: Segregation of African-American from other Muslims is prevalent in mosques, according to a paper by sociologists Catherine Tucker and Jennier van Hook.
In a paper presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in October, Tucker and Van Hook analyzed the 2000 Mosque Study and found that while mosques are more integrated than the average U.S. Protestant congregation, the degree of segregation is still significant. The average Arab attends a mosque that has 21 percent Arab attendees, while the average African-American goes to a mosque that is 67 percent African-American.
Arabs and South Asians resemble each other very closely in such factors as the rate of making converts and the use of Arabic, but differ greatly from the survey’s other large ethnic group, African-Americans. For instance, one-third of African mosques reported that women were separate from men during prayers, compared with 11.59 and 13.19 percent, respectively, for Arabs and South Asians. The researchers add that such segregation may be self-imposed, since African-American mosques offer more social services, and could have decreased since 9/11.
03: Researchers are finding a connection between the growth of religious beliefs and the spread of diseases in various societies.
Utne Reader (January/February) reports on new research suggesting that both historically and in contemporary times, infectious diseases often led to the establishment of various religions in new regions. Evolutionary biologist David Hughes, demographer Jenny Trinitapoli and historian of religion Phillip Jenkins, all of Penn State University, found that several modern religions emerged during 800 BCE and 200 BCE when there were deadly plagues capable of killing up to two-thirds of a population.
The different belief systems influenced how people responded to these epidemics and whether they fled from disease or tried to help those who were sick. A religion such as Christianity fostered strong altruism toward the sick, with its major example being Jesus the healer, and believers holding that visiting the sick brought them eternal rewards. Other religions were less altruistic in dealing with diseases, leading to less growth in areas experiencing epidemics. This pattern of Christian growth in the midst of epidemics holds true today, according to the researchers. Trinitapoli surveyed 3,000 people in 1,000 villages in Malawi, where AIDS is the leading cause of adult deaths.
The populations were mixed across Muslim and Christian areas of the country, but she found that about 30 percent of Christians regularly visit the sick, compared to seven percent of Muslims doing so. The survey also found that the prospect of receiving help was enticing, with about 400 shifting religions. Many of them have moved to Pentecostal of African Independent churches, where the prospect of receiving care is greater and the stigma of AIDS is less.
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04: A study of the growth of global Christianity by the Pew Forum found 2.18 billion Christians, representing nearly a third of the estimated global population of 6.9 billion people.
The study confirms the dramatic shift in the distribution of Christians over the past century. Whereas the bulk of Christians were found in Western countries a century ago, today only about one-quarter of all Christians live in Europe and 37 percent in the Americas. About one in every four Christians live in sub-Saharan Africa (24 percent), and about one in eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13 percent).
05: A recent report from the Israeli Bureau of Statistics finds that Christians have the lowest growth rate among the Israeli populations.
The Huffington Post reports that the bureau reports that the Christian growth rate of 0.9 percent lags behind the Jewish rate of 1.7 percent and the 2.7 percent growth rate of Muslims. Christian Arabs have a growth rate of one percent, while the rate among non-Arab Christians is 0.7 percent. About 154,000 Christians live in Israel, representing about two percent of the population.
Yet the percentage of Christians in Israel has remained relatively stable since the mid-1980s. About 80 percent of Christians living in Israel are Arabs, with the remainder mainly those who emigrated to Israel with Jewish members of their families under the Law of Return. The estimated birth-rate for Christian women is also the lowest among the other religious groups. The average number of children expected to be born to a Christian woman is 2.1, compared to 3.8 for a Muslim woman, 3.0 for a Jewish woman and 2.5 for Druze woman.
06: A study of how the Sikh faith is being passed on to the younger generation finds moderate success in engaging young adults with Sikhism, reports the newsletter Future First (December).
The newsletter cites a study by Jasjit Singh, who interviewed 600 young Sikhs from the ages of 18 to 30, finding that 40 percent of them were attending gudwaras (the Sikh congregation). Such young attenders were doing so to learn more about their faith and pray, as well as to meet friends. Most saw the gudwaras as a place in which they could relax, although Singh did not find many young people in leadership positions. The most effective gudwaras among young Sikhs were those led by charismatic individuals.
There were also Sikh courses that are the equivalent to the Christian Alpha program. Sikh camps are also run in August that both teach the faith and provide a social outlet. These camps and their connections—often found online—to local gudwaras were essential to their success, according to the study.
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