01: Young women, Baptists and other seekers who have had personal contact with Anabaptist life are most likely to join the Amish and other “plain Mennonite” groups, according to a recent study by Corey Anderson of Ohio State University. In the ARDA blog, Ahead of the Trend (Aug. 28), David Briggs reports that the study shows that the simple lifestyle of these groups, as depicted in the media and romance novels, are especially appealing to young adults “who appear to be seeking a genuine alternative to a modern world that glorifies technology.”
Anderson surveyed nearly 1,000 people interested in Anabaptist communities. Anderson estimates there are only 1,200 to 1,300 convert or first-generation members among the approximately 500,000 members of such communities in the U.S., but that number has been growing in recent years.
By surveying people who visited his Anabaptist website seeking information about “plain” churches in their area, Anderson found younger adults and women had the strongest interest. It was not until ages 54 and older that the percentage of people who inquired was underrepresented relative to the general population. About six in 10 inquiries were by women. Evangelicals were two-and-a-half times more likely than mainline Protestants to be inquirers. (Ahead of the Trend, http://www.thearda.com.)
02: U.S. Senate prayers have gradually de-emphasized Christian references in the last two decades, even if some sign of Christian concepts are still present, according to a study by Brandeis University sociologist Wendy Cadge.
In a paper presented at the New York meeting of the American Sociological Association in August, Cadge examined the prayers led by the Senate chaplains between 1990 and 2010. The 135 prayers that were studied mostly consisted of categories Cadge classified as bearing witness and petition. The decline in biblical references prayers was the most dramatic—97 percent of the prayers said by Chaplain Richard Halvorson during his term in the 1990s contained biblical verses while none of the prayers of current chaplain Barry Black, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, had such references.
Most of Halvorson’s prayers ended with “in Jesus’ name,” while his predecessor Lloyd Ogilvie ended his prayers with “Lord and savior.” Black typically ends his prayers with “in your holy name” or “in your sacred name.” Cadge concludes that while the use of the Bible and references to Jesus have declined, there is still the
use of Christian concepts.
03: A recent study finds that the prevalence of evangelical Christians in a given area of the U.S. predicts the establishment of a secularist organization.
The preliminary study, by Alfredo Garcia of Princeton University and Joseph Blankholm of Columbia University, was presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in New York. Garcia and Blankholm found a total of 1,390 “disbelief” organizations—which includes atheist and the various humanist groups—in 48 states in the U.S. Although the states in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Western U.S. contain the highest number of these groups, likely reflecting their demographics, there were “higher densities of these groups by county in unexpected places” — such as Texas, Virginia, Nebraska and Minnesota.
By examining county-level census and religious data and the “organizational ecology” of these areas, including bookstores, universities, museums and bars, the researchers found that, more than any of these institutions, it was the presence of evangelicals that predicted the presence of a disbelief group. Even the presence of “nones”—those unaffiliated with religious bodies—did not have that positive predictive value. Garcia and Blankholm speculate that a high percentage of evangelicals may compel atheists to organize as a means of support and resistance to such religious influence.
04: Religious practices such as prayer vigils tend to be associated with greater racial and ethnic diversity in faith-based community organizing coalitions, according to a paper presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in New York.
Researchers Richard Wood, Ruth Braunstein, and Brad Fulton presented findings from a national study of faith-based community organizing coalitions (FBCOs), which have grown significantly in recent years and numbered as high as 189 in 2011. The researchers found that in prominent FBCOs, such as the Pica National Network, prayer vigils and other common prayers bridge the differences in ethnicity, race and economics.
The result is greater unity. The study controlled for the presence of black clergy, who often organize prayer vigils as a means of protest. But the researcher found that prayer practices were positively associated with ethnic and economic diversity in membership.
05: The first-ever survey of Buddhist organizations in Canada finds “tremendous growth” in the midst of considerable change. Although new groups start, some then disband after a relatively short time. The
survey, conducted by John H. Negru of the University of Toronto and published in the online Journal of Global Buddhism (Vol. 14, 2013), found Buddhist congregations growing from just a handful in 1950 to 483 in 2012.
Negru compiled the list of congregations from surveys and online directories, with 21 percent of the organizations providing more details about their structure, leadership and activities. Without strong institutional support and often founded by charismatic leaders who may have died or were discredited, Canadian Buddhist congregations showed a significant degree of ferment. Even Jodo Shinshu churches, with a long history of support from the Buddhist Churches of Canada, have closed due to demographic changes. Most of the congregations are located in metropolitan areas and show strong levels of leadership by laity and priests rather than monastics, as is the case in Asia.
Men outnumber women in leadership, although there are more women in most Buddhist congregations. The result is more unity. Most congregations portrayed themselves as autonomous and not accountable to any other authority beyond themselves, according to Negru. As in the U.S., meditation-based Buddhist congregations are the most prevalent, although there are a diversity of spiritual practices. Although some scholars have found foreign-born Buddhists as vastly outnumbering Canadian-born ones, Negru found both groups present in his study.
However, Negru allows the possibility that responses may have been skewed along cultural lines (such as among English-speakers). In contrast to the U.S., there is a much smaller presence of “engaged Buddhists” – congregations or individuals engaging in social action — or participating in interfaith activities in Canada.
(Journal of Global Buddhism, http://globalbuddhism.org/.)