01: Last issue’s review of Kim Hansen’s book Military Chaplains and Religious Diversity incorrectly stated that the interviews were based on a representative sample of chaplains. The sample was not meant to be representative of chaplains, but rather was designed to highlight the issues facing the chaplaincy and the diverse religious makeup of the chaplains.
02: The current issue of Sikh Formations (Volume 8, Number 3), the British journal on research on Sikhism, is partly devoted to the history, current state, and future prospects of the 3HO branch of the religion. 3HO and its sister organization, Sikh Dharma International, was started by Yogi Bhajan in the late 1960s and brought together Sikh practices with yoga and Eastern teachings.
The movement, which drew a large Western following, has been subject to sharp criticism and even exclusion by Indian Sikh leaders. The charismatic authority of Yogi Bhajan and the movement’s integration of Hindu-based practices stood in tension with Sikh traditions. But the articles in this issue suggest a signiﬁcant rapprochement between Indian Sikhs and the 3HO movement. Shanti Kaur Khalsa writes that 3HO yoga is no longer as controversial to many Sikhs now that yoga has gone mainstream, and for their part, the Western Sikhs have moved closer to Indian Sikh traditions.
As the younger generations of Sikhs become Westernized and in danger of discarding their religion, the 3HO Sikhs are serving as models of how to remain committed to the religion while living in Western culture. The 3HO Sikhs run summer camps and educational institutions that have helped keep young Sikhs committed to the faith.
Another article notes that the 3HOs’ entrepreneurial activities, ranging from running the Golden Temple health food brand to the $3.5 billion Akal Security ﬁrm (controversially contracted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), shows evidence of a “Sikh ethic of capitalism,” as they see wealth as a sign of God’s blessing.For more on this issue of Sikh Formations, contact: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rsfo20/current.
03: In one way, the new book Paging God (University of Chicago Press, $25) by sociologist Wendy Cadge covers familiar territory, as the role of religion and spirituality in health and medicine has become a popular ﬁeld, but the book also pioneers in providing rare in-depth observations about how hospitals actually address religious and spiritual concerns.
Cadge conducted ethnographic studies of chaplains, personnel, and patients in 17 (secular) hospitals, as well as investigating the history of hospital chaplaincy in the U.S. A central irony running through Cadge’s study is that a concern with more explicit forms of religion, involving speciﬁc traditions and beliefs, was more evident among the staﬀ in the intensive care and neo-natal units of these hospitals; they tried to make room for the various faiths of their patients and their families and sometimes drew on their own religious beliefs (especially in praying for patients).
Hospital staﬀ, especially doctors, did tend to draw the line on tolerance and acceptance of religion when beliefs and practices interfered with their work and what they believe is best for the patients’ health. In contrast, the chaplains were more likely to discard tradition-speciﬁc religious language in favor of a seemingly neutral, generic approach to spirituality. Rather than trying to be multi-faith, e.g. by including numerous religious symbols in their chapels, the chaplains downplay the images, symbols, and rituals used to transmit religion.
Because of these diﬀerent approaches, chaplains and hospital staﬀ have problems understanding each other on matters of religion and spirituality and forming a coordinated response to patients’ needs. Cadge concludes that “managing” religious diversity and the messy interaction of spirituality and traditional religion will be the main challenge even as the “formal secularization” of hospitals continues, with many dismantling their religious foundations and sponsorship.
04: Religious historian Callum Brown has produced interesting studies on the decline of religion in Britain since the 1960s, and in his new book, Religion and the Demographic Revolution (Boydell Press, $95), the author extends his analysis to the U.S., Ireland and Canada as well as the UK.
He argues that all of these societies have experienced or are experiencing the same secularizing dynamics due to demographic changes, although in diﬀerent time periods and at diﬀerent levels of intensity. But Brown makes it clear that the demographic eﬀect, particularly the lowering of fertility rates due to contraception and the rise and acceptance of divorce and cohabitation, are not inevitable parts of a universal or even Western secularizing trajectory associated with modernity.
The strongly religious cases of Northern Ireland and the U.S. suggest that a steady path toward secularization is not inevitable. But in one way or another these societies tend to take a similar route of ﬁrst loosening church membership and then aﬃliation (the rise of the “nones” is evident everywhere but in Northern Ireland), and ﬁnally a rejection of Christian beliefs (it should be noted, however, that Brown focuses on the decline of Christianity and rarely discusses other religions or the persistence of a generic spirituality).
Brown argues that it is the intentional choices of women (and many men) to embrace feminist changes and new conceptions of womanhood and gender, involving controlling fertility and engaging in pre-marital sexual relations, that drives secularization. These changes in sexual behavior loosen the grip of traditional Christian moral constraints, which leads to declines in women’s religious involvement. The “second wave feminism” prominent in the 1960s and ‘70s provided an ideological framework to directly challenge Christian teachings (with “third wave” feminists being largely secular by 2011).
All of this reverses the old dictum that secularization is men-led and that women encourage religious vitality. Brown writes that particularly in special circumstances of rapid church decline, as in Britain and Canada, “it is women who leave the church faster and show lower inclination to be recruited.”
05: Founded by Herbert W. Armstrong (1892–1986), the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) had already experienced a few minor schisms while its founder was alive. But after Armstrong passed away and the new leadership revised the WCG doctrines radically, many members left over the years and, while a proportion did not reaﬃliate with other groups, a majority joined oﬀshoots of the original movement, aiming to preserve part or all of the original message.
At its highest point in 1988 the WCG probably had around 130,000 members: according to best estimates, there are currently up to 400 groups with roots in the WCG, reports David V. Barrett in his new book, The Fragmentation of a Sect: Schism in the Worldwide Church of God (Oxford University Press, $55). In comparison with the original number of members, there has probably been no contemporary religious movement matching this level of schismatic activities.
The total number does not only include direct breaks from the WCG: a number of these groups experienced divisions among themselves. Some have already disappeared, but others continue to be born, although the rate of new creations is decreasing, since all compete basically for the same pool of potential members. Now rechristened Grace Communion International, the WCG itself gathers today between 40,000 and 50,000 members.
The largest of the schismatic groups is reported to have around 12,000 faithful, while the others number from a few thousands to a handful. Obviously, many of them won’t survive in the long run. There would probably not have been such an amazing level of dissent if it hadn’t been for the doctrinal orientations introduced by the new leadership under Joseph Tkach Sr. (now succeeded by his son) during the 1990s. Ten years after Armstrong passed away, nearly all his distinctive doctrines had been discarded, to the extent that the WCG, until then branded a heretical cult, was accepted as a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.
This left many believers with the feeling that their church (not seen merely as one denomination, but as the true church restoring original Christianity) had been hijacked by its leaders themselves: instead of converting to mainstream evangelicalism, they took the church with them.The result of many years of research and a useful contribution to the under-researched ﬁeld of the sociology of schism, Barrett’s book will be of interest primarily to specialists on contemporary religious movements and to members or former members of the WCG; other readers would probably soon feel overwhelmed and lost in the profusion of groups and subgroups, sometimes with confusingly similar names.
But a number of topics covered in the book are relevant for wider issues as well: for instance, the status of written material no longer deemed acceptable by a religious organization that retains the copyright, but still considered as valuable by oﬀshoots; in the case of the WCG, after litigation due to unauthorized reprints, the Philadelphia Church of God ﬁnally bought the copyright for 19 books and booklets from the WCG.Interesting issues of authority and its role are also relevant for the WCG (Tkach used the powers invested in him by a centralized structure in order to transform it into something else), but also for the oﬀ-shoots (as a source of legitimacy).
Doctrinal concerns seem to have played an important role for those leaving the WCG (or dissenting groups) and joining new ones: according to a survey conducted by Barrett, few members of the oﬀ-shoots have all their close relatives in the same church and nearly half of the sample has no relative at all in the same group. This tends also to indicate that once the doors to dissent opened, it started a process conducive to religious mobility: a signiﬁcant number of members of the “schismatic” groups have switched aﬃliation again after leaving the original WCG.
06: The Gospel after Christendom (Baker Academic, $29.99), edited by Ryan K. Bolger, is probably the most comprehensive books to date on “emerging” and postmodern churches throughout the world.
The book brings together scholars and practitioners who look at these “missional” congregations existing in a wide range of traditions and national contexts, including America, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. While the diversity of these expressions stands out, they seem to follow, especially in secular or “post-Christian” societies, two patterns: low-intensity, seeker-friendly fellowships that downplay the traditional rubrics of church life—sermons, hymn-singing—in favor of an approach stressing the arts and creativity; and more intense forms of belonging that often have a social action thrust, most vividly seen in the new monasticism.
The formation of small groups appears to be a trait of both styles of postmodern experiments; for instance, the Brie Church in a village outside Paris is based in small groups meeting in homes throughout the week and then members joining together for a joint worship service. The role that established churches play in such new expressions is the most debated issue in the book, with several observers venturing that a “mixed economy” church (featuring both emerging and traditional services and congregations) is the most likely outcome.
The second half of the book covers issues that are engaging these emerging congregations—from environmentalism to the growth of dispersed congregations that have several diﬀerent locations. Although not explicitly addressed, the divide between more conservative—usually evangelical—and liberal and mainline postmodern congregations that are more open to using “indigenous” spiritual expressions (such as New Age and non-Christian religions) is likely to remain a point of conﬂict in the near future.