01: A new analysis of belief in God worldwide finds that the percentage of people saying they were atheists increased in 15 of the 18 nations studied from 1991 to 2008.
The study, conducted by Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, was based on the International Social Survey. Atheism ranged from 52 percent of people in the former East Germany to less than one percent in the Philippines. Countries with high rates of atheism tended to be former communist countries or those located in north-western Europe (with the exception of Japan), while those with the most believers tended to be Catholic societies in the developing world, with the exception of Orthodox Cyprus, Israel and the U.S. Belief in God in the U.S. remains high, but has slowly eroded from the 1950s to the present.
(The NORC report can be downloaded from: http://www.domradio.de/comet/pdf/beliefs_about_god_report.pdf)
02: Less than one-fifth of reporters call themselves “very knowledge-able” about religion, even though a quarter of the American public is very interested in the coverage of this subject, according to survey conducted among consumers and producers of news by the Universities of Southern California and Akron.
The survey, conducted among 800 reporters and 2,300 American adults, sought to assess religion coverage by the public and reporters, as well as the characteristics of “consumers” and “producers” of religion news. In assessing religion coverage, both the public and reporters rank TV news lowest in the quality of its religion reportage compared to other media (with reporters more likely to rate online sources higher than the public). For the public, the top three areas of interest in religion coverage are spirituality, religion and American politics, and local church and denomination news.
Reporters rated the top two areas of interest as being religion, and American and international politics.One-half of the reporters say the biggest challenge to covering religion is a lack of knowledge about the subject. Of the one-quarter of the public very interested in religion coverage, evangelicals and minority Christians were the most represented. Non-consumers of religion news are markedly less religious and more likely to be non-affiliated. One-sixth of reporters say religion coverage is central to their jobs and one-fifth say the topic comes up frequently in their work.
What the study calls “focused producers,” usually religion reporters, tend to be highly religious and the most diverse in terms of religious affiliation (although white evangelicals are under-represented in this and other producer groups). Focused producers of religion coverage are most likely to view religion as a force for good, to be critical of religion coverage, and to be interested in covering spirituality.(The report can be downloaded from: http://uscmediareligion.org)
03: A new survey finds that almost half (44 percent) of American adults who go online are using the Internet for religious purposes.
The survey, conducted by Grey Matter Research among a representative sample of 1,011 Americans who used the Internet, finds that religious Internet use is especially common among young adults, with 57 percent of such users under the age of 35. Most of the use is based around one’s congregation’s website (19 percent), followed by visiting the website of a place of worship that respondents do not attend (17 percent). Other uses of the Internet for religious purposes that ranked high include visiting websites for religious instruction (19 percent) and reading religion-oriented blogs (17 percent).
The survey also found that 14 percent have a religious leader or pastor as a “friend” on Facebook. Only about four percent follow either a church or religious leader on Twitter. While it may not be unexpected for religious believers to use the Internet for religious purposes, the survey also found that 27 percent who don’t attend religious services still use the Web for religious purposes; 23 percent of atheists and agnostics and 19 percent of unaffiliated online users visit religious sites, although not necessarily for spiritual purposes.
04: While the Catholic sex abuse crisis has led to a rise in religious non-affiliation, it has also led to an increase in participation in non-Catholic religious traditions, according to a paper by Notre Dame University economist Daniel Hungerman.
In a preliminary research paper he presented at the meeting of the Association of Religion, Economics and Culture in April, Hungerman found that the “shock” of the crisis on the Catholic system led to a decline of two million members, or about three percent of all Catholics in the U.S. But he calculated that donations to non-Catholic religious groups increased by $3 billion or more in the half-decade following the scandal.
The most unexpected finding was that the exodus of Catholics from the church following the scandal often moved in the direction of very non-Catholic groups. Highly non-Catholic alternatives, such as Baptist churches, gained the most members from the scandal, compared to traditions and groups that are thought to have more affinity with Catholicism, such as the Episcopal Church.
05: There has been some debate surrounding the nature of Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s high amount of charitable giving, with critics charging that such donations are confined to Mormon institutions rather than directed at broader social needs.
But a recent study by University of Pennsylvania social work scholar Ram A. Cnaan found that along with devoting more time to volunteer activities than other Americans do, Mormons annually give about $1,200 to “social causes outside the church.” Even Mormons who have relatively low household incomes both tithe and give more of their income to assist non-Mormons in need than other Americans do. The study, which was administered by Cnaan and researchers to Mormon congregants in four different regions of the country after their usual three-hour worship service, found that even subtracting from the Mormon totals the work of young, full-time Mormon missionaries, Mormons dedicate nine times as many hours per month (nearly 36 hours) to volunteering than do other Americans.
Writing in America magazine (April 9), political scientist John DiIulio notes that such a high giving pattern is “what a religion does to induce intrafaith friendships and transcend Sunday-only ties, [as well] as foster widespread participation in faith motivated, civic good works for people in need.”
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019)
06: An effort by the Church of Latter Day Saints to make online search results relating to the topic of Mormonism more “church-friendly” rather than critical of the faith has proven to be effective, according to a recent study cited in the Wilson Quarterly (Spring).
The More Good Foundation, launched by David Neelman, founder of Jet Blue Airways, and James Engrebretsen of Brigham Young University in 2005, created networks of pro-Mormon sites; search engines evaluate a Web site’s importance based partly on how many other sites link to it. Thus, the top-ranked results of Mormon-related searches increasingly reflect the church’s official perspective.
In comparing the top 20 results of various Google searches in 2005 and 2011, researcher Chiung Hwang Chen found that a search for “beliefs of Mormonism” led to five pro-Mormonism sites in 2005 and 11 in 2011. A search for “Mormonism” went from zero to eight positive sites, while a search for “Mormon underwear” (the garments Mormons wear during temple ceremonies) jumped from one to eight positive sites.(Wilson Quarterly, http://www.wilsonquarterly.com)
07: A new poll shows a decline of Catholic identity in its former heartland of Portugal along with a rise in Protestantism and non-affiliation. The Tablet magazine (April 28) reports on a survey of 4,000 adults commissioned by Portugal’s bishops’ conference which shows that the number of Catholics in the nation has fallen by seven percent in 12 years, while the number of Protestants has increased nine-fold and the number of the non-affiliated has risen to almost one in seven.
In 1999, 87 percent of Portuguese self-identified as Catholic, compared to 80 percent today. The growth of Protestantism, from 0.3 percent in 1999 to 2.9 percent, is mainly linked to evangelical growth in poor neighborhoods, particularly among Brazilian immigrants.
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ, UK)
08: Even with the political uncertainty in Egypt after the democratic revolution, most Egyptians want Islam to play a major role in society and for the Quran to shape the country’s laws—a prospect that is also making religious minorities increasingly wary, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey, based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Egyptian adults in early spring, found a general mood of optimism in the country on the role of religion in society.
When asked whether Saudi Arabia or Turkey is the better model for the role of religion in government, 61 percent chose the former. Seven in ten respondents express a favorable view of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is slightly lower than a year ago. A majority (56 percent) also have a favorable view of the Brotherhood-related Freedom and Justice Party. The survey also finds that most Egyptians endorse such democratic rights as freedom of the press, freedom of speech and equal rights for women.
(The report can be downloaded from: http://www.pewglobal.org)