01: Lay leaders and other non-clergy are more influential than pastors in encouraging political involvement among congregations, according to a study by Lydia Bean and Brandon Martinez of Baylor University presented at the ASR meeting in Denver.
Using the Baylor Religion Survey, the researchers find that lay leaders, such as Sunday school teachers, in evangelical, mainline, and Catholic traditions are “significantly more politically active than other regular attendees; evangelical lay leaders are more conservative on moral issues than others in their churches.”
In contrast, lay leaders in mainline and Catholic churches were more likely to value social justice. Catholic lay leaders were more likely to be economically liberal than other members, while mainline lay leaders tended to stress working for the “common good,” although they did not lead on specific social issues. Bean and Martinez did find that pastors have a role in church politics, but it is largely one they exercise in collaboration with lay leaders.
02: Conservative Protestant opposition to theories of climate change is driven more by politics than theology, according to John Evans of the University of California at San Diego.
In presenting a paper at the American Sociological Association in Denver based on an analysis of the General Social Surveys for the period 2006–10, the researchers found that opposition to climate change among conservative Protestants is more influenced by conservative and Republican politics than religious beliefs. However, the tendency of conservative Protestants to oppose the idea that scientists should have a role in influencing public policy was more strongly influenced by religious beliefs.
In this case, the Republican variable had little effect. Evans argues that conservative Protestant opposition to scientists having a role in shaping public policy involves the long-term “moral competition” that exists between the two communities in shaping ethical values.
03: Maintaining beliefs in American Indian religion and Christianity served as an important deterrent to taking drugs among urban Indians, according to a paper presented at the American Sociological Association.
The study, led by Stephen Kulis of Arizona State University, found that American Indian youth, most of whom now live in cities rather than their tribal communities, who adhered to native beliefs were the most likely to have anti-drug attitudes, norms, and expectations. Affiliation with the Native American Church and following Christian beliefs were the most associated with lower levels of drug use.The study, conducted among 123 American Indian students in a large Southwestern city in 2009, also found that spirituality—both Christian and American Indian—played an important part in students’ lives, with more than 80 percent saying it held some importance for them.
But a general sense of spirituality divorced from these traditions was not found to have a deterring effect against drug use. The paper also found that possessing a sense of belonging to both American Indian and Christian cultures may foster the integration of the two worlds in which urban American Indian youth live.
04: Contrary to recent claims, the American working class has maintained its religious beliefs compared to college-educated Americans, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Recent books and studies have argued that blue-collar Americans have shown a significant decline in religious affiliation and beliefs, but the new survey finds that 36 percent of working-class Americans identify themselves as evangelical Protestants, while 19 percent see themselves as mainline Protestant or Catholic. Sixteen percent say they are religiously unaffiliated. In contrast, 21 percent of college-educated Americans are evangelical, 23 percent mainline Protestant, 23 percent Catholic, and 21 percent unaffiliated. One-third of both the college-educated and non-college-educated attend church weekly.
Only 19 percent of working-class Americans call themselves “liberal” compared to 28 percent of their college-educated counterparts, and the former show a high rate of belief in American exceptionalism.
05: The connection often made between anti-homosexual attitudes and religion in Africa is not as strong as it is often portrayed as being, according to a study by John Jay College researchers.
In a paper presented at the ASR meeting in Denver, Amy Adamzyk, Lauren Purdis, Chunrye Kim, and Matthew Moore looked at the media treatment of homosexuality in the press in Uganda, South Africa, and the U.S. They found that across the three nations, religion is one of “many frames evoked in discussion of homosexuality,” but this is found in only 12 percent of the press articles. The most common association is in conjunction with an entertainment figure, such as Ellen Degenerous.
But the common portrayal of Africans using religion to address homosexuality and linking it to Western influence was not borne out in the study. In fact, the U.S. is more likely than Uganda and South Africa to frame discussions about homosexuality in religious terms. They also conclude that references in the public press to the West in Uganda and South Africa in relation to homosexuality are minimal.
06: Both Muslim and Catholic countries show strong support for democracy, but the former show a significant deficit in support for democratic civil values, such as tolerance and personal freedom, according to a study in the journal Politics and Religion (August).
Recent research has shown that Muslim countries show strong support for democracy and that, contrary to expectations, individual religiosity is found to have a significant positive impact on the desire for democracy in both types of societies. Researchers Man-Li Gu and Eduard J. Bomhoff find that the recent World Values Survey (WVS) confirms the widespread support for democracy among Muslims. But they find that support for democracy in Catholic countries “stems from a pro-democratic culture that embodies certain distinct attributes,” such as freedom of expression, tolerance of diversity, mutual trust, and an emphasis on gender diversity.
Citizens in Islamic countries, in contrast, endorse the concept of democracy, but more in terms of its economic benefits and security and less concerning the aforementioned civil values. Gu and Bomhoff conclude that such instrumental and, hence, conditional support may decline when citizen expectations are not realized, for example, in the times of economic downturn or social unrest.
(Politics and Religion, http://www.journals.cambridge.org/)
07: Restrictions on religion have increased in the five major regions of the world, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Even the two regions where religious persecution had been declining—the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa—showed a rise in restrictions on religion.
Those countries with high or very restrictions on religious beliefs and practices increased from 31 percent in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37 percent in the year ending in mid-2010. Restrictions also increased in countries that began with low or moderate restrictions and hostilities, such as Switzerland and the U.S. During the latest year covered by the study there was also an increase in the harassment or intimidation of particular religious groups.
08: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has become an influential tribunal of last resort in ruling on the freedom of new religious movements in Europe, although it may show a “double standard” in its rulings involving newer members states, such as in Eastern Europe, according to James Richardson of the University of Nevada at Reno.
Richardson presented a paper at the ASR in Denver examining jurisprudence concerning religious and ethnic groups in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. He finds that other constitutional courts often use ECHR rulings as precedents in their own rulings. There have been more cases of religious freedom violations of minority faiths in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe.
Such groups as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have won two-thirds of the cases brought before the ECHR—similar to the pattern found in the U.S. and Canada. In contrast, Islam is not faring too well, with the ECHR tending to take a narrow view of the religion.
09: While the media played up the rise of the non-affiliated, the new Australian census also reveals how persistent religion is in the country. Pointers (September), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association, reports that the census shows that the number of Christians identifying with a denomination has grown from 11 to 13 million, while the general population has grown from 13 million to more than 21 million people.
Although immigration is a factor in such growth, particularly from Asia, there is also some growth among smaller groups due to evangelism, such as Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. More than 60 percent of Australians identify with Christianity, with an increasing number not specifying a denomination. The proportion of people choosing the non-affiliated category grew from 18.7 percent to 22.3 percent of the population. This does not necessarily mean a growth of atheism, although the rising number of Australians ticking the “no religion” box in the census compared to previous surveys may signify increasing confidence fed by atheist activism.
Along with a growth of non-Christian immigrant religions, Egyptian Copt immigrants are the most rapidly growing Christian group and are now the most highly educated of all such groups in Australia.
(Pointers, CRA, P.O. Box 206, Nunawading LPO, VIC 3131, Australia)