01: While Christians continue to make up the largest share of legal immigrants to the U.S., a new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that there has been a decline of Christian new legal permanent residents from 68 percent in 1992 to 61 percent in 2012.
During this same period the percentage of green card recipients who belong to religious minorities increased from 19 percent to 25 percent. The religious groups increasing among immigrants include Muslims (increasing from five to ten percent), and Hindus (from three to seven percent), while Buddhists decreased from seven to six percent. The percentage of immigrants who are secular or unaffiliated remained the same at about 14 percent per year.
Illegal or unauthorized immigrants remain largely Christian (at 83 percent), coming from Latin America and the Caribbean—a share that is slightly higher than the percentage of Christians in the U.S. population on the whole (about 80 percent as of 2010).
02: Blaming the secularization of Sunday for the decline of a congregation misses more important issues and alleviates the need to consider changes to make the congregation more relevant to its social environment, writes Steve MacMullin (Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Canada) in the Review of Religious Research (March).
MacMullin’s research is based on a survey of 16 mainline and conservative Protestant congregations in decline in Canada and the United States, plus two (rapidly growing) comparison congregations.
Decline had started in most cases in the mid-sixties and had steadily continued. MacMullin was surprised to discover that, contrary to what he had expected, the most frequent reason mentioned for the congregations’ decline was the secularization of Sunday (the repeal of so-called “blue laws,” creating opportunities for retail shopping and Sunday work, sports activities, etc.).
Competing Sunday activities seemed more important to respondents than internal factors for explaining the situation. But, despite facing the same social environment, not all churches are declining. MacMullin acknowledges that organized sports activities on Sunday affect attendance, especially of families with children involved in sports. However, growing congregations find ways to navigate such busy Sunday schedules and respond in a positive way, offering options to find a balance and thus not losing families of these children.
On the other hand, declining congregations seem often to lack the flexibility needed to face such a changed situation. Moreover, other studies quoted in the article show that religiously active teens in Canada and the United States tend on average to be more involved in other (sports and non-sports) activities. While not dismissing the impact of secular activities on Sunday morning for church attendance, this cannot explain the extent of the decline of the congregations in MacMullin’s sample.
Blaming secularized Sundays allows those congregations not to identify internal factors that are contributing to their decline. Moreover, “since change is perceived to be the cause of the problem, it leads to an even greater resistance to change,” such a resistance being a source of comfort for remaining members, while cultivating the nostalgic memories of long-gone days when pews used to be full. (Review for Religious Research,
03: Contemporary believers in the imminent end of the world appear to be sincere enough to refuse monetary rewards if they conflict with their expectations, according to a recent study. At the mid-April conference of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture (ASREC) in Washington, DC, which RW attended, economists Ned Augenblick (University of California), Jesse Cunha (Naval Postgraduate School and University of California), Ernesto Dal Bo (University of California), and Justin Rao (Microsoft Research)
presented a case study of radio broadcaster Harold Camping of the evangelical Family Radio network, who predicted that the rapture would occur May 21, 2011 (with the final end of the world arriving on October 21 of that year) to see if his followers were willing to pay for their end-times beliefs before and after these dates.
The researchers set up an experiment where they offered those attending a seminar on Camping’s teaching the choice of receiving a payment of five dollars immediately or the chance of receiving a much larger payment payable by check in four weeks’ time (a future date intentionally set post-May 21).
The researchers conducted the experiment among 23 Family Radio (FR) members and a control group of Seventh Day Adventists, who share a belief in the end times, although not Camping’s version of it. All but one of the FR members were willing to forego larger payments in four weeks for receiving five dollars immediately in their belief that the rapture was imminent.
This behavior was consistent with surveys where 100 percent of FR members said they were certain that the rapture would occur on May 21, 2011. When this event did not occur on that date, the researchers examined Internet message boards and found that followers of Camping tended to put forth alternate future dates for the rapture. Following the passing of each new predicted date, a new revision was immediately suggested and the group coalesced on that date.
These revisions continued until Camping announced on May 23 that a “spiritual judgment” had indeed occurred. The paper concluded that the evidence indicates a sincere belief in the end of the world and future prophecy on the part of FR members, ruling out an “external profession of beliefs … driven by exclusively social motives” or evidence-based beliefs.
04: Atheism is a strong component of the majority of philosophers’ worldviews, according to
a recent survey of professional philosophers conduced by David Bourget and David J. Chalmers.
In an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Philosophical Studies, Boeturg and Chalmers surveyed 931 professors of philosophy on a wide range of concepts and theories relating to the discipline. They found that 72.8 percent held to atheism, 14.6 percent to theism and 12.6 percent to “other” views. More held to the idea that zombies are “metaphysically possible” (23.3 percent) than to the existence of God. Specialists in various subfields of philosophy, such as the philosophy of religion, were more likely to embrace theism than generalists by a wide margin—only 20.87 percent of specialists embraced atheism, compared to 86.78 percent of nonspecialists.
Bourget and Chalmers found that there was a tendency among the majority to underestimate the popularity of their own views, but they conclude that atheism, along with such concepts as “scientific realism” and taking a cognitive approach to moral judgement, are among the few positions that tend toward a consensus among philosophers.
Such philosophical views tend to come in a “package” with other views and were affected by respondents’ professional backgrounds, specializations, and intellectual orientations. (Study cited in the website http://www.PhilPapers.org/rec/Bouwdp)
05: The religious ethical principles embodied iny Protestantism tend to encourage entrepreneurship more than Roman Catholic ethics, according to a study by two Italian economists. Luca Nunziata and Lorenzo Rocco of the University of Padua presented their paper at the ASREC conference, arguing that its findings confirm Max Weber’s influential thesis on the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The economists note that most research since the seminal Weber study has failed to confirm its thesis that there is an affinity between Protestantism and the development of modern capitalism. Nunziata and Rocca note that most of the difficulty in establishing this relationship has been because of limitations in the data; rates of religious affiliation and even basic beliefs and practices do not necessarily suggest that religious ethics would inform economic activity.
For this reason, Nunziata and Rocco focus on Protestant and Catholic minorities in Europe, since they are more
likely to be religious rather than nominally affiliated with a church and engage in more of a struggle to keep their religion in relation to a majority, and are thus the most likely to hold religious ethical principles.
By analyzing European Social Survey data from 2002 and 2008, as well as other relevant data, the economists find that adherence to Protestant ethical principles increases the likelihood that one will become an entrepreneur by about 3.3 percent in respect to Catholics—a significant difference, since only about 13 percent of working individuals in Europe are self-employed. This result remains even when controlled for such variables as education, immigration (whether the minorities were first- or second-generation immigrants), economic development, and regional differences. The minority status was important since the researchers found being a Protestant in a region where this religion is the majority produced no such effect. The greater rate of devotion found among religious minorities that may result among Protestants in encouraging individual success and achievement, along with such factors as an entrepreneurial family background, were the most
important factors in encouraging entrepreneurship.
06: Both secularized and religious countries are likely to feature high levels of antireligious sentiment and activism, often depending on the level of education and age, according to a study by Dutch researchers in the journal Politics and Religion (No. 6, 2013). There has been some debate among scholars about whether a strongly religious or a more secular society fosters antireligious sentiment—as seen in the new atheist phenomenon.
Researchers Egbert Ribberink, Peter Achterberg and Dick Houtman of Erasmus University analyzed data from the 2008 International Social Survey — which is the most extensive in asking people about their attitudes toward religion and religious people — and found evidence for both theories. Anti-religiousness is a reaction against religion and is evident in religious countries, especially among the highly educated and young. But antireligious sentiment was also found to be strong on the opposite side of the spectrum—among the older and less educated in more secular nations.
The authors venture that this tendency could be seen in the reaction against Islam in secular European countries by those who resent such newcomers and their faiths.
(Politics and Religion, http//:journals.cambridge.org)
07: While there has not been more media coverage of religion in Scandinavia during the last 20 years, the treatment of this subject in the press and films has become more diverse and, in the case of Sweden and Denmark, more deinstitutionalized from the established Lutheran churches, according to recent research.
In the Nordic Journal of Religion and Society (Vol. 26, No. 1), Kati Niemela reports on findings from the NOREL project, which studied the role of religion in the public sphere of the five Nordic countries, and finds that while there was an increase of religion coverage in the media between 1988 and 1998, there was an actual decline of this coverage compared to the period 1998–2008. The study, which was based on a content analysis of newspaper, magazine and film treatment of religion in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, and Norway, did find that there was more religion in film between 2005 and 2008. But because the differences were small, the researchers did not find that there was a greater visibility of religion in the media.
But the results also showed that institutional religion was being challenged. This could be seen in the increased coverage of Islam in Sweden and in Denmark (and also the paranormal in Denmark). In Finland and, especially, Iceland, more attention was paid to the established Lutheran churches, while Norway lay in between these four countries.