01: The overall numbers of American Catholics often cited by church officials and activists might be inflated, with even those doing the counting expressing dissatisfaction and uncertainty about the methods used in arriving at these figures, according to an exploratory study by J. Patrick Hornbeck II of Fordham University.
Writing in the current issue of the journal American Catholic Studies (Volume 123, Number 4), Hornbeck notes that across the ideological spectrum of the Catholic Church in the U.S., church leaders and activists often cite Catholic numbers for political and ideological purposes. He interviewed 12 staff members from a pooled sample of dioceses in western (seven interviews) and eastern states (five interviews) about their methods of counting Catholics.
While not representative, the qualitative study does shed light on how “insiders” view the reliability of the counting procedures of the church in the U.S. More than half of those surveyed believed the statistics their dioceses provide are inaccurate. They identified common problems that limited the accuracy of such figures: some of those counted as Catholics by parishes and dioceses no longer identify as Catholics, even though the church considers them as such; others may be inactive, or are “snowbirds,” who move south for the winter and may be counted twice.
Another common counting technique that raised concern is based on estimates of those who attend Mass but have never registered with a parish (a common pattern with undocumented immigrants), which in this case can result in undercounting Catholics.
(American Catholic Studies, http://amchs.org/publications/index.html)
02: After a long period of steady increases, the percentage of Utah residents belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) may now be lower than at any time in the state’s history, according to sociologists Rick Phillips and Ryan Cragun writing in Nova Religio (February), the journal of new religious movements.
Mormons in what is called the Mormon Culture Region (MCR), consisting of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Nevada, have historically had higher rates of religious attendance and other LDS practices (such as tithing and serving in missions) than in other regions considered “mission” territory.
Recently, church-based and other sources note that since 1989, membership statistics in Utah have shown some decline. Phillips and Cragun examine data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and find that the apostasy rates of those in the MCR were traditionally low compared to other areas, but have grown since 1989 to the extent that there is little difference between regions. GSS data shows that for every person who converts to Mormonism in the MCR, another leaves the religion.
The researchers conclude that this change in the Mormon heartland could adversely affect the overall vitality of Mormonism.
(Nova Religio, 2000 Center St., Suite 303, Berkeley, CA 9474)
03: The assumption that converts to new religions join primarily through preexisting social networks is called into question by James R. Lewis (University of Tromso, Norway) in the latest issue of the International Journal for the Study of New Religions (November).
Based on a survey administered over the years to samples of followers of five different types of new religious movements (Satanism, Neo-Paganism, Hare Krishna, Adidam and Order of Christ Sophia), Lewis observes not only that the recruitment through parents, friends or coworkers varies from one movement to another, but also and more importantly, that patterns of recruitment for the same movement change over years: in the case of Adidam, a small esoteric group based on the teachings of the charismatic leader “Da Free John,” the role of friends and relatives as initial points of contact with the movement has increased, while in the Order of Christ Sophia, it has decreased.
The importance of social network conversions fluctuates.While researchers working on NRMs have always been aware that movements are not static, they seem often to have unconsciously assumed that generalizations could be made on the basis of a relatively limited set of case studies: continuous observation of specific movements over an extended time period is needed in order to gain a better and more differentiated understanding. Moreover, the role played by the Internet (including the emergent phenomenon of religious beliefs based to a large extent on the Internet, such as solitary practicioners of Satanism or – to a lesser extent – Paganism) makesclear the weakness of generalizations about recruitment primarily through social networks, concludes Lewis.
(International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Equinox Publishing, Unit S3, Kelham House, 3 Lancaster Street, Sheffield S3 8AF, UK https://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/IJSNR)
04: According to the results of the 2011 census, slightly more than 20 percent of the Czech people describe themselves as believers, reports the head of the Czech Agency of Statistics, Iva Ritchelova in Religion & Gesellschaft (February).
While 44 percent of the population did not answer the question about religious affiliation (in contrast with the previous census in 2001, when only 8 percent refrained), the census also included a new option for people describing themselves as “believers without religious affiliation.” This option was selected by nearly 7 percent, which leaves 14 percent for affiliated believers.
Also striking is the drop in members of the historical churches, especially if the results are compared with those of the 1950 census (the question on religion was then removed until the end of the Communist period): it bears witness to the depth of secularization achieved during the years of Communism and to the continuation of this process after the regime change. The Czechoslovak Hussite Church included 10.6 percent of the population in 1950, 1.7 in 1991, 1.0 percent in 2001 and now only 0.4 percent.
The Roman Catholic Church dropped from 76.4 percent in 1950 to 39 percent in 1991, 26.8 percent in 2001 and finally 10.4 percent in 2011. However, interestingly, observes Petr Slouk in another article in the same issue, the level of attendance at Roman Catholic religious services has not changed during the past ten years: this means that a number of non-practicing Catholics still described themselves as church members, but have now given up that identification entirely.
(Religion & Gesellschaft, Postfach 9329, 8036 Zurich, Switzerland, http://www.g2w.eu)