01: Ecologies of Faith in New York City (Indiana University Press) looks at how congregations interact with their neighborhoods in ways that are applicable beyond its New York contexts.
The book, co-edited by RW’s editor, Nadia Mian, and Weishan Huang, is largely the result of research from the Ecologies of Learning Project, founded by urban religion scholar Lowell Livezey, who led the way in studying how congregations are affected by neighborhood change, yet also exercise a degree of agency in these urban processes.
The book’s nine contributors examine the way congregations deal with the three major dynamics in New York City (and in global cities in general)—gentriﬁcation, immigration and entrepreneurial community development. These themes are ﬂeshed out in chapters dealing with subjects such as the “Disneyﬁcation” of Times Square as reﬂected in the life of two evangelical churches; a survey of how congregations deal with neighborhood change (and defy secularization) in the “hipster” capital of Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the new religious movement Falun Gong and its relationship to Chinese immigration; the “Brazilianization” of evangelical churches in the New York area; and how the entrepreneurialism of a congregation generated social capital for members and neighbors in Manhattan’s East Village.
02: The Institute for American Values has issued an in-depth report on divorce and its impact on personal religious and congregational life.
The report Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? brings together 13 studies on the eﬀect of divorce on religious communities and basically concludes that by the me they reach adulthood, the children of divorce are markedly less religious compared to those from intact families. But the report does show some interesting anomalies: the children of divorce are “surprisingly likely to feel that they are more religious now than their parents ever were.”
While far less institutionally involved than their counterparts from intact families, the children of divorce were the “leading edge of a generation that considers itself `spiritual but not religious.’” The ethnographies of children of divorce suggest that their spiritualities are often characterized by loss or suﬀering.
The report also looks at how the children of divorce feel rejected by congregations and oﬀers advice about how congregations can build beer relationships with them.
The report is available at: http://www.centerformarriageandfamilies.org/shape-of-families/
03: America’s Blessings (Templeton Press, $19.96), by Rodney Stark, makes the case for the practical dimensions of religion in the U.S., as he reviews hundreds of studies showing the beneﬁts of religious faith.
In his usual readable and direct style, Stark takes issue with academics and journalists who denigrate or downplay the positive role of religion in areas ranging from charitable giving to mental and physical health, family life, sexuality, education, employment, and high culture. He is no less critical of those who claim that the U.S. is becoming more secular, arguing that the increase in non-aﬃliation does not suggest a growth in secularism or atheism (4 percent of Americans disavowed a belief in God in polls in 1944 and 2007).
On crime, Stark writes that criminologists have largely ignored religion’s preventative role. He tracks down rarely used self-reported data on crime from the General Social Survey showing that those who never attend church are about four times as likely to be picked up for criminal activity as are those who attend weekly.
The eﬀect is not just on an individual basis—high rates of religiosity in cities also create “moral communities” that tend to keep crime rates down.
Stark reports that greater degrees of religious commitment and involvement also create stronger families (in measures ranging from fertility to parent–child bonds and, contrary to some scholarship, a lack of violence).
He uncovers similar patterns in sexuality, mental health and even politics (showing a correlation between sexual pleasure, general emotional well-being and “good citizenship” and greater rates of religious faith) and seems to enjoy “debunking” experts who predict or claim contrary ﬁndings.
Other scholars are sure to criticize some of the ﬁndings Stark recounts or argue that there are also documented negative outcomes of religious belief and practice, but the gist of the book is that on balance, religion provides far more beneﬁts to Americans, including the atheists among them.
04: In his new book Military Chaplains and Religious Diversity (Palgrave Macmillan, $85), sociologist Kim Philip Hansen portrays such clergy as living on the razor’s edge between commitment to their own faiths and military and government demands for respect for religious diversity, and religious freedom and neutrality.
Hansen does an interesting job of tracing the history of the military chaplaincy in the U.S., noting that the ministry has faced added responsibilities, especially since the war on terrorism, such as serving in reconciling and cross-cultural capacities (e.g. acting as liaisons with Muslim leaders in combat areas). There has thus been an “about face” in how the military recognizes the importance of religion.
Although most of the book is based on ethnographic interview with chaplains, Hansen provides a snapshot of the constituencies the chaplains serve: religious “nones” are more highly represented in the military (at 25.5 percent) than among civilians , while Catholics (20 percent), Baptists (15 percent), and other Christians (30 percent) predominate among the believers.
Contrary to the much — publicized controversies over chaplains trying to Christianize the military, the 34 active-duty chaplains that Hansen interviewed — whom he says are fairly representative of the military chaplaincy — stress the collaborative and cooperative nature of their ministry — accommodating a wide range of faiths out of necessity and in respect for military personnel’s religious freedom (he provides an interesting account of how Mormons were accommodated in a joint Protestant service).
But the more conservative chaplains, such as Missouri Synod Lutherans, stop short of cooperating with other groups and resist eﬀorts to maintain a generic ministry, raising tensions among the chaplains. Others refuse to refer personnel to denominational meetings they disagree with, such as facilitating Wiccan services (although there is more cooperation with Islam and Muslims).
It is the ambiguities between proselytism (forbidden by the military) and evangelization that has raised concerns about chaplains “Christianizing” the armed forces. The divide among them is strongest in the context of counseling and the extent to which chaplains raise speciﬁc religious concerns, the evangelicals being most likely to bring up their speciﬁc faith concerns. The “culture wars” among chaplains is magniﬁed by a clear pattern (especially in the Navy) of deploying more mainline Protestants and Catholics than evangelicals to minister to the troops.
05: In the book Whatever Happened to Islamists? (Columbia University Press, $27.50), a diverse collection of scholars look at how polical Islam has failed, giving way to new forms of activism and Muslims relating to the state. Edited by Amel Boubekeur and Olivier Roy, who has charted Islamism and new forms of Muslim piety for the last two decades, the book expands on recent work done on “neo-fundamentalism,” which is less concerned with strictly political issues “targeted by Islamists, and rather focused on the spirituality of individual believers.”
Such religious individualism, aided by the process of globalization, opens the door to a new kind of entrepreneurialism, as seen in the attempt to Islamicize businesses, taking a more decentralized approach to political activism, and adopting new social media and an “Islamic culture of consumption.”
In a chapter on the changes in Islamism, Roel Meijer writes that the totalizing approach aiming for a complete Islamic state exempliﬁed by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has given way to movements embracing more pluralistic and democratic values, including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The new activism may not even be question of religion but aims to normalize political Islam as an ethical ideology that can be shared by anyone,” writes Boubekeur in another chapter.
Other interesting contributions include a look at “heavy metal” Muslims—young people who are far from conservative in lifestyle, yet often religious—found in Sunni and Shia Islam from Morocco to Pakistan (although its base seems to be in Egypt); and an examination of “corporate Islam” in Malaysia that blends charity (zakat) with proﬁt making.
06: The Social Signiﬁcance of Religion in the Enlarged Europe (Ashgate, $114.95) represents an ambitious attempt to apply a uniﬁed theory of secularization to the very diverse dynamics active in diﬀerent European countries.
The concept of an “enlarged Europe” is clearly in play in the book, edited by Detlef Pollack, Olaf Muller and Gert Pikel, as it oﬀers comprehensive studies of a wide range of Western and Eastern European countries. The book is a result of the Church and Religion in an Enlarged Europe study, which conducted surveys in Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Russia, Poland and Finland — thereby including Protestant, Catholic, and multi- and bi-religious societies.
While most of the countries show some slippage in formal religious participation, the diﬀerences stand out more than the commonalities. The Catholic societies of Poland, Croatia, Ireland and Portugal have retained strong levels of religious identity compared to the other nations (although Finland is less secularized than other Protestant countries, even though it shows low church attendance), but at the same me there is a widespread growth of religious “individualization” — meaning eclectic and non-instutional spiritualities. Several contributors suggest that new religious movements exist alongside established churches rather than competing with or serving as alternatives to them.
In the conclusion, the editors arrive at the concept of “diﬀerentiated secularization,” which allows for a continuing loss of religious vitality due to modernization “at diﬀerent levels, at diﬀerent times and at diﬀerent speeds.” At least in the case of Europe, they claim to ﬁnd little support for the market theory, which holds that a decrease of regulations on the “supply” of religious services and institutions will increase demand, although they make more allowance for individualized religion and spiritualies co-existing with secularization.
07: Originally coming out of a colloquium in 2009 at Monash University, Flows of Faith: Religious Reach and Community in Asia and the Paciﬁc (Springer, $139), edited by Lenore Manderson, Wendy Smith and Ma Tomlinson, is a collection of essays on how religion is being transformed in the wake of globalization.
The volume reﬂects on such transformations by giving attention to the societies of Asia and the Paciﬁc whose dynamism is driven by urbanization, migration and tourism. The contributors, most of whom are based in Australia, demonstrate the growing interest in religion and transnationalism. The collection’s strength lies in the diversity of the cases, religious traditions and societies covered, ranging from Bosnian Muslims in Australia to Methodist practices in Fiji.
The concept of religion, as far as the collection is concerned, embraces both the historical traditions of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam and such new religious movements as Hare Krishna, Brahma Kumaris and Falun Gong.
The volume’s ethnographically rich chapters oﬀer substantive themes relative to religious transformation. These themes include belief, practice, identity, conversion and even the construction of religious space. But more broadly, the chapters can be seen to be addressing three broad questions. First, what strategies or responses does a religion employ as it interfaces with new environments and diﬀerent kinds of people? As the experience of Brahma Kumaris shows, asserting purity as the ideal for every member has become essential as its rituals and principles are brought to other parts of the world.
The case of the new religious movement Falun Gong, in contrast, shows that revisions can be carried out depending on circumstantial exigencies. Christianity, for example, was originally criticized by Master Li, Falun Gong’s spiritual leader. But since Falun Gong’s suppression by the Chinese government in the late 1990s, Master Li has drawn from the Book of Revelation to interpret the oppressive great red dragon to be the Communist Party.
The second question concerns how religious expansion occurs in Asia and the Paciﬁc. The Nan Tian temple in Wollongong is an example of how Buddhism is making its presence felt and relevant to the locals in Australia. Accompanying the images in the temple are explanations, for example, that present Buddhism as a rational belief system and not merely a form of superstition. To the New Testament Church (NTC), the occupation of sacred space was also important when it built its temple on Mount Zion in Taiwan.
The move legitimized the spiritual validity of the NTC by re-appropriating the mountain as a holy place where, interestingly, practices with arguably Chinese origins, such as geomantic principles, may have been introduced. The last question that the volume addresses concerns the role of religion in political life. In Bali, the inﬂux of tourists has dramatically altered the cultural and physical landscape of the island.
But instead of resorting to fundamentalism, the Hindu movement of Ajeg Bali has called for the revitalization of the community’s values and political institutions in dealing with social change. But perhaps a more decidedly political outlook can be found among the members of the Dead Sea Canoe Movement, who are calling for the establishment of theocracy in the Solomon Islands.
Because of the way the book is organized, the reader is led to discern the emergent themes and their connections to each other across the various chapters. The opening chapter also warrants a more elaborate discussion of the volume’s key concept: What is transnationalism?
How one answers this question has implications for methodological and analytical approaches. If the volume, for example, seeks to address the question of how religion ﬂows beyond borders, then why are many of the case studies still focused on the nation-state? Methodological nationalism is certainly one area that the volume could have engaged.—Reviewed by Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Germany and at Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippines.
08: The relationship between national belonging and religion is explored in a wide range of contributions in Religious Identity and National Heritage (Brill, $142), edited by Francis-Vincent Anthony and Hans-Georg Ziebertz.
The editors note that the rise of globalization has led to “de-territorialization,” which breaks down the bonds between national identity and religion, although multicultural populations can hold multiple loyalties and nationalities that do not preclude these connections, particularly among immigrants. In any event, most of the contributions suggest the salience of national belonging to religious identity.
Chapters include a study of how Palestinian Christian and Muslim youth relate to national identity and how the former are less religious, but more engaged in social action; an examination of how the visitors to cathedrals in Britain may be reaﬃrming their national identity, but such visits reach many more on a emotional-spiritual than an intellectual level; and an important multi-national study on the rite of conﬁrmation and its relation to national identity.
Unlike other measures, conﬁrmation rates have remained remarkably stable, even if conﬁrmation has declined in more secularized countries. Researcher Frederich Schweitzer writes that conﬁrmation is “one of the major programs in these countries that contribute to the maintenance of civil society by fostering social commitment and pro-social attitudes in general and by introducing people to the meaning of voluntary work.”