01: Social Compass, an international journal on the sociology of religion, devotes most of its September issue to the state of Italian Catholicism. The Catholic Church in Italy has long been considered something of an exception from the rest of secular Western Europe in commanding a fair level of devotion and identity among its adherents. In one article, sociologist Marco Marzano of the University of Bergamo argues that the Italian church is institutionally weaker than many have claimed; like the U.S., church attendance rates are often inflated (with Italians saying in surveys they attend more often than actually is the case), and the pool of priests is aging and declining.
Marzano acknowledges that areas of Catholic vitality include the public presence of the church leadership (especially in the media) and the involvement of younger Catholics in various Catholic movements, such as Community and Liberation and the Neocatecumenals. But he concludes that such trends promote a “sectarian church” at odds with the Catholicism of ordinary parish life. Another article by Franco Garelli maintains that the Catholic sense of belonging among the population is still strong at least at the parish level, which has encouraged the new public assertiveness of Catholic leaders. For more information on this issue, visit: Social Compass, http://www.sagepub.com/journals/Journal200920.
02: A new journal called the Sociology of Islam recently published its first issue. While there is no shortage of publications on Islam and Muslims, they are often published or written by Muslims themselves or are highly partisan.
The journal seeks to publish more disinterested empirical research in this contested field than has usually been the case.
Introducing the journal, sociologist Bryan Turner writes that the “first prerequisite of the Sociology of Islam would be to struggle to disconnect the field from partisan politics and overt ideology…[moving] beyond the proliferation of descriptive studies of Islamophobia that have become repetitive and predictable…” The first issue features studies on the Muslim Brotherhood, Islam and democracy, and the nationalizing of Islam in Tunisia. For a preview of the first issue, visit: http://www.brill.com/sites/default/files/ftp/downloads/35734-Preview_SOI.pdf.
03: The new journal, Critical Research on Religion, has a long pedigree in the often uneasy relationship that has existed between religion and the social sciences.
The journal seeks to revive the debates and research interests about religion issued throughout the decades by “critical” theorists including Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxists, feminist, post-colonialist and gay liberationist theorists. The journal also takes the term “critical” literally, arguing that too much sociological research on religion has stressed its positive effects.
Whether or not this is the case, the two first issues of the journal have covered wide territory — from (not necessarily negative) articles on the state of sociology in North America to religion in China to the future of secularism. For more information on this publication, visit: http://crr.sagepub.com/content/1/2/123.full.pdf+html.
04: The growth and growing influence of Christianity in the global South has receive the most attention in evangelical and Catholic circles (mainly because their churches are predominant in these regions), but the new book From Times Square to Timbuktu (Eerdmans, $20), by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, approaches this trend from the perspective of the mainline and ecumenical protestant churches and organizations. Granberg-Michaelson, the former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, analyzes the shift from northern and Western church influence to Christianity in the global South (and East) without much bias. But the biggest contribution of the book is in showing how these changes are impacting “establishment” institutions such as the World Council of Churches in Europe and other ecumenical and mainline bodies in U.S.
The author seems uncertain and pessimistic about the long-term future of the WCC and related ecumenical organizations because of their declining resources and memberships but also because their interests (and obviously headquarters) remain removed from the burgeoning regions of Christian growth south of Geneva, Washington and New York. The author sees more hope in the Global Christian Forum, which was founded in 1998, as it gathers together not only the traditional ecumenical and mainline churches but also evangelicals, Catholics, and especially the newer indigenous Pentecostal churches. But he notes that the forum’s bare structure—it has just one staffer—and minimal budget only allows it a small presence on the world Christian scene.
Other repercussions of the new global configuration for the West include:
● forming an immigrant African diaspora made up largely of Pentecostal and African indigenous churches, as well as continuing reshaping of churches and ministries with the continuing growth of Latino Christianity;
● targeting the West for evangelization by a major, non-Western missionary movement (with many of them being planted both through “reverse missions” and immigration);
● importing a resulting global collection of South Christian music and art;
● growing church activism (and accommodation) for immigrants and other areas of social justice;
● meeting the challenges of multi-racial churches (which are at present mostly evangelical and Pentecostal);
● and confronting a “theological clash of cultures,” which includes global South Christians’ conservatism on doctrine and sexuality but also the tendency to connect evangelism and worship with social ministry to meet the needs of the whole person.
Granberg-Michaelson acknowledges the church fractures and friction over gay rights between churches in the south and north, but advocates for a new ecumenism that does not put these controversies front-and-center.
05: Much has been written on fundamentalism over the past three decades, especially as such contentious and diffuse religious movements have taken on political significance in much of the Middle East.
But the new book Religious Fundamentalism in the Middle East (Brill, $141) is unique in that it uses survey research methods to explore this phenomenon, thus allowing it to go beyond previous studies of fundamentalism that tend to focus on its leaders and key intellectuals. The book, by Mansoor Moaddel and Stuart Krabenick, is based on published statistics (such as from the World Values Survey) and surveys the authors conducted in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The authors identify fundamentalists as holding to: a literal interpretation of sacred texts, an image of God as a disciplinarian, a belief in one’s own religion as superior, and ab intolerance of other faiths. They find that the attitudes and behaviors generally found among fundamentalist leaders tend to apply to followers of the various fundamentalist groups.
The study found that:
● The presence of religious pluralism dampened the growth of fundamentalism.
● Fundamentalism was lowest in Lebanon, followed by Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
● Lebanese Christians on average were less fundamentalist than Muslims.
● Among Muslim sects, the Druze in Lebanon were less fundamentalist than either the Shiites or Sunnis, and the Iranian Kurds were less fundamentalist than the other ethnic groups in their country.
Some of the findings were more unexpected:
● Gender differences in fundamentalism were country specific, with males in Iran tending to be less fundamentalist than females, while in Egypt it was the opposite.
● In Lebanon and Saudi Arabia there were no gender differences in holding fundamentalist attitudes.
● The use of the Internet and Satellite TV was inversely related to fundamentalist attitudes and beliefs.
The authors argue against viewing fundamentalism as a sign of either inevitable secularization or religious revival; rather, there is a back-and-forth movement between “secular spirituality” and fundamentalism in these societies. The Arab spring was a move toward reconciling these two tendencies, although they acknowledge that if Islamic groups push forward the idea of the Islamicization of society, there will be renewed conflict and discord in these countries, especially Egypt.
06: In his new book Jews, Confucians, and Protestants (Rowman and Littlefield, $35.99), Lawrence Harrison takes over from where the late Samuel Huntington left off with his controversial “clash of civilizations” thesis. Actually, Harrison raises the ante as he sees culture and religion as the predominant factors in why different ethnic groups and nations thrive economically and politically. Many social scientists will take issue with Harrison’s “culture matters” perspective and the way he applies this formula to disparate places and groups, though he does argue that politics and policies can change culture and accelerate social change. The book is engagingly written in the first person and Harrison provides interesting accounts of how various religious groups harness social and cultural capital—not only the three groups cited in his title but also Mormons, Basque Catholics, Jains, Sikhs and Ismaili Muslims (a small Islamic offshoot led by the Aga Khan).
The most interesting parts of the book show how these religious practices may translate into democratic tendencies and business acumen, including the radical equality teachings of the Sikhs, the anti-hierarchical attitudes of Basque Catholics, and the time-saving practices and punctuality of the Ismalis. These groups embrace “Universal Progress Culture,” which is marked by believing that people can influence their destinies and by promoting the Golden Rule (which in turn support a wide set of values, including a strong work ethic, trust, frugality and risk propensity). Harrison sets this against “progress-resistant cultures,” which are shaped by religion such as Eastern Orthodoxy, Voodoo, much of Latin American Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, Harrison hangs much of his hopes for progress in impoverished and undemocratic nations via reform movements in these religions.
07: German Jihad (Columbia University Press, $37.50), by Guido Steinberg, pinpoints the leading edge of Muslim extremism in Europe to Germany, finding that its network of jihadists have fanned out to countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Chechnya and Afghanistan to export terrorism. Steinberg identifies Turkey as an important way station in German jihadism, especially since there is a large base of immigrant Turks who have become radicalized in recent years. The infamous Hamburg Cell, an Al Queda network of terrorists that included 9/11 perpetrator Mohammad Atta, demonstrated how such groups repeatedly drew disaffected European born or based young Muslims into their ranks. Since 2001, these networks in Germany have expanded, even creating another Hamburg cell, and generally falling into three camps: those that belong to the established jihadist organizations, such as Al Queda; the independent or “lone wolf” jihadists; and the “new internationalists,” mainly young Turks, Kurds and German converts who fight for the jihadist cause in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Most of the jihadists have come from the radical wing of the Salafist movement (purist and orthodox Islam) in Germany—which itself has grown from a few hundred followers in 2001 to between 5,000-10,000 in 2012. Germany is increasingly both a target and a base of jihadism; many observers erroneously thought that the country would be spared terrorist attacks since it did not participate in the war on Iraq (though its involvement in Afghanistan has been widely condemned by jihadists). Steinberg notes that increasingly, the three above approaches are being combined: Al Queda is supporting lone jihadists and new internationalists in carrying out small-scale attacks in Europe after facing too many obstacles in attempting to attack the U.S. again after 9/11. Steinberg concludes that due to internal problems and strict political and legal safeguards, German intelligence and security services “have had significant problems identifying and monitoring the radicalization processes in Salafist circles in recent years.”