01: The article “Growing Acceptance of Black Jews by the Jewish Mainstream” on page 2 in the July-August RW was mistakenly cut short. The ﬁnal sentence of the article should read: “Today, black Jews see themselves as reaching out to and educating other African groups who identify as Jews.”
02: The current issue of the Bulletin of the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture (No. 36, 2012) is devoted to the question of why Pentecostalism has failed to take root in Japan in the midst of the faith’s success in other Asian countries, particularly Korea.
At a conference devoted to the theme at the institute earlier this year, Andrew Kim (Korea University) stresses that one-third of the Korean population is Christian, while only one percent of Japanese embrace Christianity. He also remarks that elements frequently associated with Pentecostalism, such as faith healing, prophecy and other “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, are commonly found across Christian churches in Korea, not only in Pentecostal denominations.
Kim identiﬁes Shamanism as one of the key factors in the success of Pentecostalism in Korea, while in Japan popular religion, along with some of its manifestations such as Shamanism, has been linked with Shinto and its history of conﬂict with Christianity. Shamanism encouraged Koreans to accept spiritual phenomena (speaking in tongues and healing were already familiar practices). While Kim admits that a number of features of Pentecostalism attract people in completely diﬀerent settings, he stresses that spiritual phenomena among Christians are much more prevalent among Korean than among Western churchgoers, for instance.
Mark Mullins (Sophia University, Tokyo) is not convinced by the explanation of Shamanism as a major reason for the impact of Pentecostalism in Korea. But he primarily pays attention to reasons why Pentecostalism failed to develop in Japan in the same way that Christianity in general was not successful in quantitative terms. According to him, it was ﬁrst an issue of bad timing: Pentecostalism arrived in Japan at a time when local new religions had already saturated the market with experience-based religion.
Its association with foreign origins also had negative connotations in the Japanese context. Moreover, the exclusivist orientation of Pentecostalism clashed with the tendency of Japanese religion to take on a combinatory approach. Over the past two centuries Japan went through several waves of indigenous, experience-based new religious movements. It is true that there was an opening for Christianity after World War II, but its association with the occupying forces tended to conﬁrmed its foreignness.
There was nevertheless a short period when conversions to Christianity increased, but enthusiasm soon rapidly decreased. “Most Japanese who experienced with Christianity at the time later joined more indigenous new religions.” Regarding Korea, according to Mullins, the growth of Christianity after the war parallels the development of new religions in Japan.
But in Korea, Christianity was not seen as a threat, but rather associated with liberation; moreover, many Korean Christians had been active in the independence movement under Japanese rule. Regarding the future, however, this is not the end of the story: Kim reports indications of a decline in the membership of Protestant Christianity in Korea, based on available results of the last census.
For more information on this issue, write: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 18 Yamazatochō, Shōwaku, Nagoya 466-8673, Japan, http://nirc.nanzanu.ac.jp.
03: Sociologist Anson Shupe ﬁnishes his series on clergy malfeasance and abuse with his new book Pastoral Misconduct: The American Black Church Examined (Transaction Publishers, $27.50).
Written with Janelle M. Eliasson-Nannini, the book is likely to be controversial in its argument that certain features of the black church tradition and African-American clergy lend themselves to deviant behavior. The authors make it clear from the start that black clergy are not more prone to misbehavior than other clergy (there are far more cases of non-black clerical abuse and misconduct), but the particular structure of the black church and its clergy–parishioner relationships allow opportunity for particular kinds of misbehavior that also marks other minority religions.
Shupe and Eliasson-Nannini focus on the way the minority status of black churches born of a history of prejudice tends to move members to seek to protect, and in some cases excuse, their clergy even in cases of misconduct. Using case studies of well-known black clergy engaged in acts of malfeasance—including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and, more recently, Pentecostal Bishop Eddie Long—the authors look at other factors that allow for clergy misconduct, including the way churches are built around loyalty to charismatic ﬁgures and, more controversially, the way in which the mainstream media “look the other way” in regard to the transgressions of black clergy, whether because of “white guilt,” fears of being called racist, or just the perception that such acts are local and do not constitute a national problem in the way that the Catholic priest sex abuse crisis does.
The concluding chapter oﬀers proposals for identifying and dealing with clergy malfeasance that Shupe has outlined in his other studies on the topic, including the importance of public accountability of the pastor in preventing such incidents and the dangers of clergy assuming a “prophetic” role (rather than a priestly one) that removes them from the everyday management of the congregation and elevates their status in the eyes of their followers.
04: Josh Packard’s The Emerging Church: Religion at the Margins (FirstForum Press, $59.50) provides an in-depth examination of the organizational dynamics of the Emerging movement.
Packard portrays this diﬀuse movement as being marked by a concern that churches create more authentic services for the post-Christian seeker based on a strong sense of community and worship, as a response to the homogeneity and standardization of megachurches in American society. The “dechurched” who join the Emerging churches (they do not attract large numbers of unchurched) often describe their reasons for leaving their previous congregations in terms of dissatisfaction with a lack of community and inclusiveness rather than over theological issues (in fact, there is a fairly broad theological pluralism in many Emerging congregations).
Packard challenges the rational choice model of paying costs and receiving beneﬁts in congregational belonging: one thing that that marks the Emerging church movement is that members are “looking for a speciﬁc way to organize religion regardless of the costs and beneﬁts.” Yet it takes a good deal of work and commitment to keep these churches going, largely because there are few guaranteed services or beneﬁts for members, which forces people to construct their own faith systems.
It is the improvisational (or “conversational”) and open-ended nature of Emerging churches that represents their overriding ideology, appealing to a distinct subculture of “unsettled” people (although not all are young: many of these congregations are “ﬁlled with the retired and elderly”) tuned into concerns with diversity and questioning. Whether these churches’ ongo-ing resistance to institutionalization can be sustained over time is a key question for the survival of the Emerging movement. But Packard concludes that the “DIY spirit” of this movement creates its own niche in the religious market that may be self-perpetuating.
05: The new book by Kathleen Kautzer, The Underground Church (Brill, $163), provides a rare in-depth and fairly unbiased treatment of liberal and radical Catholic groups and movements in the U.S. It is based on extensive ﬁeldwork among such reformist groups as Corpus (consisting of former priests), Dignity (gay Catholics), Women’s Ordination Conference, and Voice of The Faithful (a group that formed in response to the priest sex abuse crisis in the American church), as well as more radical groups that have made a complete break with the church (such as schismatic parishes and some radical feminist groups).
In tracing the histories of these groups, Kautzer notes how they have gradually evolved from optimistic eﬀorts aimed at reform of the church based on a liberal interpretation and appropriation of Vatican II to a far more contentious and eventually pessimistic stance regarding the possibility of signiﬁcant change in the church. Of course, the level of demands for liberal reform varies with each group. The author shows that the Voice of The Faithful (VTF), the most moderate of the groups she studied, was able to exert pressure on dioceses and other church structures to make some policy changes, at least on the pressing issue of clergy sex abuse (although the pope’s proactive stance has since steered the issue away from the VTF).
Kautzer concludes that “Many reformers have grown weary of the fruitless battle with church hierarchs, who increasingly respond to reformers with harsh rhetoric and punitive measures.” She documents a broad decline in membership and resources for most of the reform groups. The independent communities are drawing liberal Catholics who are pessimistic about change in the church on such issues as ordaining women priests, acceptance of gays and lesbians, and lifting the requirement of celibacy for priests.
These organizations (which have graying memberships themselves) include Roman Catholic Womanpriests, which functions as a seminary for women priests, and new networks of independent Catholic parishes, including the Ecumenical Catholic Communion and the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit.
06: Although we neglected to review The Religious Question in China (University of Chicago Press, $27.50), by Vincent Goossaert and David Palmer, when it was published last year, it deserves some mention, as it is one of the most thorough books to be published on religious issues in China.
The authors try to provide a comprehensive overview of how the “religious question” arose and persistently resurfaced as one of the central issues in the history of modern China in the period 1989–2008. From the May Fourth movement to the Mao cult, China has experienced a radical transformation of its anti-traditional and secularizing project. Unlike previous scholarship, this book focuses on more than a single religious tradition or Chinese society.
Aside from covering multiple religious entities and Chinese societies, it also includes overseas emigrant societies. In the structure of its discussion of religion, the book purposely treats religious practices together rather than discussing them separately along conventional lines (such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam). The authors also pay attention to China’s recent integration into the global religious sphere in the twentieth and twenty-ﬁrst centuries by examining both the importing of foreign religions to China and the exporting of Chinese religions to the world.
The authors push at the limitations of a static view of decline and revival of religion in the republican and post-Mao eras and instead focus on the changing relationship between religion and Chinese society. One of the interesting features of this book is that it does not seek to provide a deﬁnition of what “religion” is, while most scholarship is eager to deﬁne or redeﬁne what “Chinese religions” are or to diﬀerentiate them from Western categories.
Goossaert and Palmer’s achievement is to apprehend religious practice in the context of an open system in which all ele-ments are in constant interaction with one another and with their broader social, political, and economic environments. Elements of the system include the sum of individual needs, memories, and desires. This is a must-read book for scholars interested in the study of China, religion, or religion in Chinese societies.—By Weishan Huang, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversities in Germany.
07: The Muslim World in the 21st Century (Springer, $189), edited by Samiul Hasan, deals with mainly secular and demographic developments, but does so uniquely by using Muslim identity as the key variable.
In other words, the contributors look at a wide range of social indicators in Muslim-majority countries—from democracy (and the “democracy deﬁcit”) and development to biophysical resources and power conﬁgurations. The ﬁndings oﬀer sober facts on poverty in these nations. Of the 48 Muslim-majority nations, only 12 have ever achieved a high score on the Human Development Index. One chapter ﬁnds that Muslim-majority countries are relatively poor, yet adds that regression analyses do not yield a “robust pattern of coeﬃcients with respect to a particular religion, including Islam.”
The book’s eﬀorts to ﬁnd common patterns in Muslim-dominated countries stretching from sub-Saharan Africa to Asia simultaneously reject cultural explanations for poverty (which would address religious inﬂuences) in favor of the par-ticularities of geography, history, and global economic forces. Aside from its limitations (and cost), the book provides a wealth of statistics and descriptions of international Muslim organizations.
08: Unlike some other books that use “post-secular” in their titles, Mapping Religion and Spirituality in a Postsecular World (Brill, $133) focuses more on case studies and informed accounts of actual religious and spiritual developments rather than ponderous discussions of what the ambiguous term might mean.
The anthology, edited by Giuseppe Giordan and Enzo Pace, does demonstrate how the idea of the post-secular—at least in this case meaning the emergence of non-institutional spirituality that can take various public expressions—applies most closely to Europe. The contributions attempt to map this new situation where the “boundaries between the sacred and the profane are constantly redeﬁned.” Some of the case studies are clearly in the sacred or religious realm—charismatic Catholics in Italy, a Suﬁ small group, and the mystical Jewish group surrounding self-proclaimed Israeli prophet Yaakov Ifargan.
But some of the other chapters show interesting examples of groups straddling the sacred–secular boundaries, including the interesting case of a “fundamentalist” Confucianism, which has revived worship of Confucius, even to the extent of calling for a monarchy; a study of the relation between prayer and human rights; and a study of “everyday” spirituality among Swedes that often means getting in touch with one’s higher self.
09: Jenny Trinitapoli and Alexander Weinreb bring a wealth of statistical and qualitative data to bear on the relation of religious communities and believers to the spread of the HIV infection in Africa in their new book Religion and AIDS in Africa (Oxford University Press, $29.95).
The sociologists seek to challenge the widespread view that religious beliefs and communities have unwittingly assisted in the spread of the disease through their resistance to preventative sex education, but they also show that the relationships between various faith groups and the disease is not strictly about sexual behavior. The authors, whose work is mainly based in Malawi, show there are diﬀerences in the relation between religiosity and HIV depending on faith tradition and even gender.
For instance, they ﬁnd that while religious women in religious villages are the least likely to test positive for the disease, religious men in religious villages are the most likely to get AIDS. The diﬀerence may be explained by how men experience less social sanctioning from religious leaders and fellow believers for engaging in risky sexual behavior. In fact, the book ﬁnds that men who are “most likely to be infected may be increasing their levels of religious involvement as a strategy for avoiding HIV.”
Trinitapoli and Weinreb also complicate the idea that African religious leaders share a common perception of AIDS as a judgment of sinful behavior. Although this is a popular view, they ﬁnd, for instance, that the fast-growing Pentecostals, who are thought to be the most embracing of this idea, actually were least likely (compared to such groups as Muslims, Catholics, and African Independents) to say that the sexually immoral deserve the disease. As for the prevention of AIDS, the authors ﬁnd that the “ABC plan” (abstinence, being faithful, using condoms) is often eﬀective, although there are many anomalies — condom use tends to be lower among Muslims than other religious groups, even though Islamic leaders don’t prohibit the practice (condom use among Catholics is at a similar rate to other believers).
The book points to other non-ABC strategies that some religions employ, such as encouraging early marriage, being more accepting of divorce (its increasing frequency limits spreading AIDS among married couples) and discouraging alcohol use. The last chapter is the most interesting as it turns the tables to look at the eﬀects of AIDS on religion. The authors ﬁnd that religious switching has grown, favoring those groups that stress prevention and healing ministries (notably Pentecostals and African Independent Churches). They also ﬁnd that the growth of “born again Christianity” tracks closely with the spread of the disease in rural communities.