01: The current issue of the journal Culture and Religion (Vol. 14, No. 1) looks at “spaces of renewal,” meaning places of religious pilgrimage that allow for a break from everyday life.
The articles range from an examination of how visitors to such traditional pilgrimage sites as Santiago de Compostela have replaced recreation with religion by undertaking healing practices at Lourdes and Irish holy wells. While not exactly a pilgrimage site, there is also an interesting article on the Catholic community and university of Ave Maria in Florida.
Authors Brad Huff and J. Anthony Stallins note that the planned community is intent on creating a conservative Catholic oasis in a secular landscape, although financial interests due to the housing crisis tend to blur the lines between residents and outsiders.
Intersecting the Ave Maria community is a senior “lifestyle community” that markets to potential residents along more secular lines. For more information on this issue visit: Culture and Religion, hp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles)
02: Demographic researcher Mary Eberstadt argues in her new book How the West Really Lost God (Templeton Press, $19.96) that not only does religious commitment lead to larger families, but that family life itself generates religious devotion.
The book thus provides a twist to the standard secularization theory, arguing that the family decline and birth dearth in places like Europe is the engine driving of religious decline rather than weak religion causing demographic decline. Eberstadt writes that the “natural family” mediates religious experience for individuals and when such disruptive factors as widespread contraception, divorce, legal abortion, and single parenthood become the norm in societies, religious faith is severely undercut.
She writes that if it is true that religious faith propels family growth, “then we would not expect to see religious people having larger numbers of children than do nonreligious people, even when their religion allows them the option of contraception. Yet we do see that connection repeatedly across different Christian denominations in different places and times.” It is also the case that leading secular societies such as France tended to show family decline well before widespread membership losses in the churches.
As to why family life has such a strong effect on religion, Eberstadt relies more on speculation than available research (few studies have been done on this relationship). She argues that aside from the obvious reason of families reproducing potential church members, the family is the arena where adults experience self-sacrificial behavior and a sense of transcendence (such as through the experience of childbirth) that can lead to a religious faith.
Children also drive parents to find a community and like-minded people in order to inculcate and pass on moral values. Grasping the basics of Christianity, such as the fatherhood of God, requires experience with a real father in a family, according to Eberstadt. The growth of single-parent and other unconventional families makes it more difficult to those involved to understand Christian teachings, even generating resentment against Christianity for condemning their relationships.
Thus Eberstadt sees secularization increasing in most of the West where these family changes are most prevalent; yet the decline of the welfare state in Europe may inadvertently revive traditional families for the forms of social the support they offer, actually leading to renewed religious vitality.
03: Naomi Schaefer Riley’s `Til Faith Do Us Part (Oxford University Press, 24.95) is a compelling account of interfaith marriage that shows both the benefits and difficulties of such relationships. Somewhat uniquely for a journalistic treatment, Riley commissioned a poll of 2,450 Americans on the subject of interfaith marriage and finds varying levels of acceptance of and adaptation to these partnerships. As previous studies have shown, same-faith marriages show somewhat higher levels of satisfaction than do interfaith ones (8.4 versus 7.9, on a scale of 10); mainline Protestant and Catholics are more satisfied in these marriages than are evangelicals.
Riley integrates the survey’s findings into her interview accounts with interfaith couples and clergy (with an interesting section on the clergy specializing in providing interfaith ceremonies). She notes that interfaith dating and marriage are highly accepted by Americans (the most taking place in the far western states), leaving Mormons (the least likely to be intermarried), evangelicals and Orthodox Jews as the sole dissenters against the practice. Riley offers an interesting chapter on how Jews — who have the highest interfaith marriage rates — can learn from Mormons, although the Jewish leadership seems disinclined to take Mormon advice, such as encouraging young marriages.
Riley points out that interfaith marriage may have benefits for society, increasing tolerance of religious difference and lowering prejudice, but admits that the practice just as often challenges religious identities and traditions. She concludes that challenging the silence most dating couples experience about interfaith relationships will be difficult, since most religious institutions do not speak with their young adults about its costs and difficulties.
04: Corwin E. Smidt’s American Evangelicals Today (Rowman & Littlefield, $38) is based on an analysis of the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, which included a large sample of evangelicals (9,000), and more recent studies, providing a unique portrait of the social, religious, and political characteristics of this unwieldy movement — or tradition, as Smidt argues. He finds that evangelicals make up the largest religious tradition in America, representing 26.3 percent of the population, although their growth has leveled off over the past decade or two.
Overall, considerable doctrinal unity remains in evangelicalism, despite growing ethnic diversity. Generational differences, such as between the millennial generation and baby boomers, are present, but not always in the expected directions of the former holding more liberal views and following more liberal practices; for instance, millennial evangelicals are actually more likely to claim their religion as the one true faith, even if they go to church less than older evangelicals (which may be a life-cycle effect).
While much has been made of younger evangelicals holding to more liberal political views than older ones, Smidt finds that the differences in “social theology” and politics are stronger between various ethnic groups (such as black evangelicals) and especially “traditionalists” versus non-traditionalist. Older and younger evangelicals may differ on issues such as the Republican Party and homosexuality, yet the differences with the millennial generations of different traditions are greater than those of different generations within the evangelical camp. Smidt forecasts that evangelicals will likely remain about the same size while showing loosening denominational atachments, divisions between traditionalists and “reformists,” and weakened political cohesiveness.
05: Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) is arapidly growing industry that enables average people to immerse themselves in a fantasy world where they are the antagonist. In his new book eGods (Oxford University Press, $24.95), William Sims Bainbridge explores the possibility that online gaming, while not necessarily being completely at fault for the growing lack of religious faith, may be an underlying factor in the process of a faithless society. This is partially due to fantasy providing more imaginative and therefore more beneficial outlets for the individual in the sense that it gives them the freedom to create and achieve goals that are unrelated to reality, while not stimulating their religious needs or beliefs.
Bainbridge believes this is due to the amount of diverse culture that is inadvertently displayed in online video games, i.e. the presence of gods, magic and mythology in gameplay that reaches a broad audience of all ages. The book takes a deeper look into the role that both fantasy and faith play in life, which is especially prevalent in online gaming. Spending countless hours socializing and becoming thoroughly involved in gaming communities, Bainbridge traversed through the virtual universes of the world’s leading MMORPGs to the standard online games on a quest of his own, discovering and taking note of the benefits (or lack thereof) that separated each.
His research shows reduced favoritism among games that were more faith-based and required elaborate rituals, while the more popular MMORPGs were focused on the individual’s race and ability, with faith-based characters (clerics, priests, etc.) acting as their aids in battle. He reports that such individual avatars, played by human beings, appeared to be gods themselves in the gaming world. Their a ributes and skills, coupled with their devotion to completing quests and receiving awards, transcended them through levels, making them more powerful and better respected in the fictional realm that surrounds them.
Bainbridges provides remarkable insight into the sociological view on faith and fantasy, and also poses new theories on the human need and desire to achieve. Online gaming, while in itself a very powerful and often misunderstood and highly criticized market, has shown through its popularity that people crave not only fantasy, but the ability to gain respect through their actions and devotion that can be seen and not simply promised, as is often the case with faith. While religion is prominent in gameplay, it is not forced or often even available for the players to engage in, more commonly remaining a part of a story that is usually restricted to all except the non-player characters who serve only to sell items or hand out quests.
So it is not the lack of religion in gameplay that Bainbridge believes plays a vital role in the secularization of the player, but the denied admission that is a crucial part of his study — Reviewed by Caitlin Maddox, an Oklahoma-based writer and researcher.
06: Attacks against sacred spaces are growing around the world and are often aimed at maximizing violence, according to the new book Protecting the Sacred, Creating Peace in Asia Pacific (Transaction, 39.95). Edited by Chiwat Satha-Anand and Olivier Urbain, the book brings together six scholars and activists to address the global trend of violence against religious symbols, buildings, and practitioners, focusing especially on Southeast Asia (and Thailand, Israel-Palestine, and India more specifically).
The incidents profiled in 2012 alone range from grenade a acks on a Buddhist temple in Thailand, to ultraorthodox Jews causing serious damage to a fourth-century synagogue in Jerusalem, to Chinese police demolishing a mosque in the Ningxia region. In the introduction Satha-Anand writes that violence against sacred space is sometimes strategically used in ethnoreligious conflicts to maximize effect: in the “zero-sum game dynamics of ethnic conflicts, violence against sacred space may serve different types of perpetrators’ emotional needs: fear, rage, revenge and the thirst for justice.”
While extremist Muslim groups are often behind many of these attacks on sacred places, mosques and other Islamic sacred sites are found to be targeted more than other religious symbols and structures. The concluding chapter reports on the progress of a campaign to protect sacred places launched by the International Movement for a Just World in 2002. Contributor Chandra Muzaff ar finds that while a widely supported declaration was issued, an a empt to get a UN resolution on the issue did not succeed, partly because of poor media coverage.
07: The new book Assertive Religion: Religious Intolerance in a Multicultural World (Transaction, $39.95) by Dutch anthropologist Emanuel de Kadt seems like one of many works critiquing “fundamentalist” groups of many faiths throughout the world. But the book also reflects the growing public disenchantment regarding multicultural policies in Europe, especially in their recognition of Islamic groups and identities.
While de Kadt disassociates himself from new rightist movements and leaders, such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who attack multiculturalism for permitting religious minorities to undermine national identity, he also lays the blame for much of the discord on Islam—both in its mainstream and more militant expressions. De Kadt argues that too few Muslim leaders or groups are truly “progressive” or tolerant, a problem which he traces to an underlying authoritarian foundation of the religion itself. He tends to see these elements in all revelationbased religions, also looking at cases of Jewish and Christian forms of fundamentalism, although such faiths have generated more influential reformist or progressive movements.
08: In his new book Disrupting Dark Networks (Cambridge University Press, $46.99), Sean Everton applies social network theory in the counterinsurgency attempts to thwart terrorist and criminal networks. Just where the religious factor figures in Everton’s complex and quantitative study is suggested in the concept of “dark networks.” The sociologist defines these networks as operating through secrecy and invisibility from authorities — not always to bad ends, as seen in networks resisting Nazism.
But in today’s world the concept is most applicable to “global salafi jihad” networks, such as Al-Qaeda and groups carrying out suicide aacks. Social network theory seeks to understand the connections and interactions between members and their leaderships, as well as with other groups and even states.
Everton writes that new techniques used to detect changes in the makeup of networks were actually able to trace — unfortunately in hindsight — how Al-Qaeda became more unified at a certain point and could carry out the attacks against the U.S. He argues that the attempt to integrate dark networks into civil society may be slower than more aggressive efforts to target key players in counterinsurgency, but could be more effective.
He provides the example of analysts being able to “identify central jihadi schools and build alternative schools nearby, ones that promote moderate forms of Islam and instruct students in subjects other than the memorization of the Qur’an.”