We are happy to re-introduce our annual review of religion — a feature RW suspended after we went bi-monthly in 2008. As is our custom, we look at the events and developments of 2013 that are likely to have long-range impact in the years ahead. We cite the issue of RW after each item in cases where we reported more in-depth on these trends; some developments, however, are treated for the first time in this overview.
01: It is still too early to know how Pope Francis will impact global Catholicism. There is something to be said for conservative Catholic theologian George Weigel’s comment that the papacy of Francis is serving as a huge Rorschach test for Catholics, with each camp in the church projecting its desires for change in the church on to the new pope. But Francis’ tone of moderation and reconciliation has given liberals and moderates renewed confidence about the prospects of incremental church reform — if not women’s ordination, then maybe women deacons; if not liberation theology, then at least a reassertion of Catholic social teachings more critical of global capitalism.
Francis’ apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium, at least as it was interpreted by the media, seemed to affirm the latter hope for many church liberals. All of this has created disquiet among Catholic conservatives, who fear a loss of influence after more than 30 years of papal favor and consultation. For now at least, Francis has also generated enough good will among the secular and non-Catholic public that even such a hot-button issue as the sexual abuse crisis has faded quietly into the background (September/October RW).
02: The Pew survey on American Jewish identity released in 2013 confirmed trends of disaffiliation from liberal Jewish groups and the growth of Orthodoxy that have been visible for over a decade.
But the survey, which was the first one carried out by a non-Jewish organization, seemed to put these issues on the front burner for Jewish organizations to grapple with and debate for years to come (November RW).
03: Last year’s revolt in Egypt after only a year of rule by President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and the growing wariness among Westerners about supporting a revolution in Syria by Muslim rebels against authoritarian rule has taken the sheen off of the Arab Spring.
Although surveys continually show strong democratic sentiments among Muslims, it is another question whether Islamist groups that jockey for power in post-revolutionary societies share their constituents’ concerns. It was evident early on that the revolutions would have different outcomes in different nations; Tunisia’s longer democratic traditions seemed to bode well for greater religious freedom and stability, but even in this case there has been a reemergence of influential radical Islamic groups.
Last year also brought signs of a new nationalism developing between Muslims and Christians in Egypt who are opposed to the rise of Islamism (May/June, July/August, November).
04: A more recent conflict in Turkey between its President Recep Erdogan and the Islamic Gulen community could have repercussions for the future of the Muslim democratic project.
The Gulen movement is a pro-Western and free market form of Islam that appealed to Erdogan, especially as he sought to strengthen ties to Europe and gain the support of the Muslim business sector. Jadaliyya.com (Dec. 22), an e-zine of the Arab Studies Institute, reports that much of the conflict is over Erdogan’s growing tendency to embrace Islamist ideas, including the prospect of an Islamic state.
The subsequent political infighting and divisions between Gulen and Erdogan could destabilize an already fragile Muslim democratic front.