01: The diversifying of American religious landscape, especially consisting of minority Christians and the unaffiliated, provided fertile ground for the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama, according to the 2012 Post-Election American Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).
Almost 80 percent of Romney voters were white Christians, half of whom were white evangelical Protestants. In contrast, only 35 percent of Obama’s voters were white Christians. Less than half (48 percent) of white evangelicals said their vote was a vote for Romney, while more than four in ten characterized their choice as a vote against Obama.
PRRI head Robert P. Jones commented that “This presidential election is the last in which a white Christian strategy will be considered a plausible path to victory. The American religious and ethnic landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, and any campaigns relying on outdated maps are destined to lose their way.”
02: Catholics and Protestants differ in their risk-taking in investing, with the former being more adventurous in such enterprises, according to a study in the journal Management Science (October). Authors Tao Shu, Johan Sulaeman and P. Eric Yeung looked at mutual fund investments over a 20-year period and studied correlations with the county-level concentrations of Protestants and Catholics in different areas.
The mutual funds located in low-Protestant or high-Catholic areas showed significantly higher fund return volatilities. The investment strategies of Protestants were more conservative in taking financial risks than their Catholic counterparts. The authors note that their article is the first to show that local religious beliefs have a noticeable impact on mutual fund behaviors.
(Management Science, http://mansci.journal.informs.org)
03: Christian Intentional Communities (CIC) have grown sharply over the last decade and tend to be divided between communities espousing urban activism and renewal and those more concerned with individual spiritual growth, according to research conducted by Mark Killian of the University of Cincinnati. Killian presented a paper on a survey of CICs at the SSSR conference, as well as sharing material from his dissertation on the topic with RW.
His analysis of data taken from the Fellowship of Intentional Communities’ online directory indicates a 70 percent increase in the number of CICs established between 2005 and 2009, compared to those started between 2000 and 2004. Moreover, there was a 291 percent increase in the number of CICs in formation between 2005 and 2009, compared to CICs in formation between 2000 and 2004.
Killian’s census surveying characteristics of these communities was conducted among 51 CICs, capturing about 25 percent of such groups (totaling 207).Killian categorized the CICs into two groups, each representing about 50 percent of the total population, i.e. “free will individualists” and “expressive communalists.” Free will individualistic communities tend to be concerned with the spiritual growth of members and aligned with the charismatic movements, such as the Catholic charismatic renewal and the International House of Prayer in Kansas City; they are almost equally split among urban, suburban and rural locations.
Expressive communities are more likely aligned with the principles of the New Monasticism, which stresses a commitment to living and serving in often-poorer urban neighborhoods. While 57.6 percent of the expressive communities’ members live together or on the same property, only 16.1 percent of free will individualists do so. Fifty percent of the free will individualist communities are associated with a denomination, whereas only 36 percent of the expressive communities are; 78 percent of the free will individualists hold their own worship services, compared to 61 percent of the expressive communities
04: The change in the Roman Catholic Mass to a closer translation of Latin introduced last year in parishes meets with the general approval of U.S. Catholics, although their acceptance is tied to their degree of participation in parish life, according to a new study. The study, conducted by Anthony Pogarelc of Catholic University of America with a sample 1,047 Catholics, was presented at the October SSSR conference in Phoenix.
The survey found that 70 percent “agree” (50 percent) or “strongly agree” (20 percent) that the new translation is a good thing for the church. But when asked whether the new translation helps them understand the prayers, participate more in the Mass or feel closer to God, thus inspiring one to be a better Catholic, there is no significant difference between the earlier translation and the one adopted last year. Yet Catholics born before 1942, who had reported a high rate of understanding and appreciating the Mass in a 2011 survey, showed a significant drop in their responses in the recent study. Millennials—those born in 1982 or later—were least likely to register strong support for the new Mass.
05: Unitarian-Universalism continues on its growth curve at a time when many other church bodies are showing signs of decline. The Unitarian-Universalists (UUs), the most liberal religious denomination in the U.S., grew nationally by 15.8 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
Although based in New England, the denomination has grown more in the U.S. South than in other regions. Observers say that the UUs fill a niche for liberal religion in particularly conservative areas, such as the South, reports the Christian Century (October 31).
06: American Buddhist congregations and temples function in a way that is similar to non-denominational churches in that they both depend on secular resources and borrow from co-religionists of other traditions, writes sociologist Buster Smith in the journal Contemporary Buddhism (November).
Smith analyzed the links that American Buddhist websites make to one another and found that the groups of each particular school of Buddhism link to those of other schools and showed no particular preference for the resources of their own particular tradition. Smith writes that “Due to the lack of an overarching denomination, each group must rely on similar resources as their co-religionists—both in terms of secular and religious virtual products. Furthermore, due the exotic nature of Buddhism within a Judeo-Christian landscape, any differences between schools are washed away in comparison to the differences between religions.”
While this pattern is similar to non-denominational Christianity, the findings also suggest that “Buddism in the United States is undergoing a similar mixing and mingling that took place among its entry to China and Korea, and not the route that took place in Japan.”
(Contemporary Buddhism, Routledge, Mortimer House, 37-41 Mor-timer St., London W1T 3JH UK)
07: Government raids on religious groups have taken place most frequently in Western countries, but especially in France and the U.S. and in the two decades since the 1990s, reports sociologist Stuart Wright.
In a paper he presented at the SSSR conference, Wright found that there have been 75 government raids on religious groups in the last five decades. Scientology and the Family have been the groups most raided, and these raids have most often taken place in the U.S., Western Europe, Australia, Japan and South America.
There were only about four or five raids per decade up until the 1990s, when the rate increased by 72 percent. Wright traces much of this to millennial anxiety, leading to the violent episodes involving such groups as the Branch Davidians and the Solar Temple. But raids involving non-apocalyptic groups were still fairly high after the millennium. In fact, three-quarters of the raids have been on non-apocalyptic groups after the millennium. There is also an uneven distribution of these raids among countries: France (26), the U.S. (14), Canada (8) and Belgium (6) top the list. Wright argues that, starting in North America, these countries all collaborated with anti-cult groups and their respective governments in the 1980s.
This transnational movement of people and groups coalesced in the 1990s and those involved were “well-organized to take control of the situation,” with some able to work with states, most notably France, in cracking down on new religious movements.
08: A new study finds that more than one-quarter of British adults, including thousands of atheists, have visited a cathedral in the last year. England’s Catholic magazine The Tablet (October, 2012) cites the study as finding that cathedrals are becoming an important forum in which “non-religious people experience the sacred.”
The study, “Spiritual Capital: The Present and Future of English Cathedrals,” conducted by the Christian think-tank Theos and the Grubb Institute, was based on a national poll, interviews with 3,500 respondents and a survey of public opinion of six English cathedrals (Canterbury, Litchfield, Durham, Leicester, Wells and Manchester).
It is estimated that 11.3 million people paid a visit to at least one of the historic buildings during the past 12 months, compared to 8.8 million in 2004. One in six of the atheists surveyed had visited a cathedral in the past year. The study found that 84 percent of visitors who said they did not follow a religion were said to have felt a “sense of the sacred” when inside the cathedrals. Increasingly, the cathedrals are observing Benedictine tradition and its monastic practice of a daily rhythm of prayer.
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ, UK)
09: While the level of religious practice among Roman Catholics in Poland remains the highest in Europe, with 40 percent attending Mass every Sunday, it has been in continuous decline since 1989, decreasing by one-fifth, and even more markedly among young people.
On the other hand, the percentage of people taking communion and going to confession is reported to have grown. Sociologists observe that economic development has gone along with individualization and pluralization. Nevertheless, few Poles formally leave the RomanCatholic Church: only 459 in 2011, according to church statistical data cited in Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (December).
10: The survey institute IFOP asked French Catholics about their religious practices 50 years after the Second Vatican Council and finds a situation of decline, but also a degree of stability.
The Catholic daily La Croix published the results (October 11), which show that the number of French who have been baptized in the Catholic Church has obviously decreased from 92 percent in 1961, but it remains surprisingly high at 80 percent. But the percentage will continue to erode: among baptized Catholics, 72 percent have had or intend to have their children baptized. Seven percent of the baptized Catholics attend Mass at least once a week, 35 percent a few times a year and 58 percent never.
11: A large-scale public opinion survey of Muslims in Pakistan finds that neither religious practice nor support for political Islam is related to support for militant Islamic groups.
The study, published in Public Opinion Quarterly (Winter), was based on a random sample of 6,000 Pakistani men and women; it also used a method called an “endorsement experiment” that seeks to assess attitudes toward specific groups without asking respondents about them directly, which is effective when respondents won’t answer certain sensitive questions. Researchers C. Christine Fair, Neil Malhotra and Jacob Shapiro found that a specific understanding of jihad as an external militarized struggle that can be waged by individuals made respondents more likely to support militant groups.
Those who believed that jihad is an internal struggle for righteousness or that it should be led by states alone were significantly less likely to support militant groups. The authors conclude that doctrine and textual interpretation have not been analyzed before on these issues and that future efforts to deal with the potential for violence in Islamic political movements should focus on the content of religious doctrine.
(Public Opinion Quarterly, http://poq.oxfordjournals.org)