01: The new book Religion, Politics and Polarization (Rowman & Littlefield, $28), by William D’Antonio, Steven A. Tuch and Josiah R. Baker, examines the relationship between religious affiliation and voting behavior of American politicians over the last four decades.
The authors seek to test the hypothesis that there is a culture war in American society between “progressive” and “orthodox” parties, holding that such conflict should be especially evident among members of Congress on the contested issue of abortion, as well as defense spending, taxes, and military spending. They looked at the abortion voting records from 1977 to 2010 and the votes on the other three issues from 1969-2008.
Not too surprisingly, while party affiliation was the strongest predictor of voting behavior, religion also correlated with the different voting patterns. The authors argue that the greater representation of conservative Protestants in the Republican Party and their simultaneous departure from the Democrats has fueled much of this polarization. The public, particularly white Protestants, have also experienced such polarization, though to a lesser extent than politicians. D’Antonio, Tuch and Baker conclude there are currently few values and beliefs that are shared across parties.
02: Social Media and Religious Change (DeGruyter, $140), edited by Marie Gillespie, David Eric John Herbert, and Anita Greenhill, goes beyond past studies of online religion to examine how the new media forms, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, are challenging and reconfiguring traditional religious institutions and forms of authority.
The book’s beginning chapters are highly theoretical, but the volume eventually gives way to interesting case studies on how various forms of religion are represented in and interact with various forms of social media. International in coverage, several of the topics deal with what has been called “implicit religion,” as religious meaning is invested in secular beliefs and practices. Thus a chapter on social media venerating celebrities looks particularly at how Facebook pages memorializing Michael Jackson endow the late performer with divine attributes.
Other chapters include a study of how “post-denominational” Judaism is spread and constructed — with offline expressions — on Facebook pages; a look at how the Baha’i leadership seeks to guide and in some cases control members’ online discussion of the faith; and an examination of the ways in which radical Islamic martyr videos (which have even gained a presence on Facebook and Twitter) seek to revive and galvanize a global “Ummah” (or community) into action.
03: The new book Secular and Sacred? The Scandinavian Case of Religion, Human Rights, Law and Public Space (Vandenhoeck & Reprecht, for ordering information, visit: http://www.v-r.de/en/title-2-2/secular_and_sacred-1011025/) casts some doubt on the common view that the Scandinavian countries represent a secularized vanguard or end-point toward which Europe (and even America) is heading.
The book, edited by Rosemarie van den Breemer, Jose Casanova and Trygve Wyller, presents some evidence of a new role for religion, though in often unexpected places. The contributors particularly focus on case studies of graveyards, religion in public hospitals, and services for immigrants (mostly in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish contexts). Especially noteworthy is the chapter on the ministry to the undocumented in Sweden and Denmark, with Wyller showing that in the former country, a Lutheran church has engaged in unprecedented activism for immigrants—a social sphere usually reserved for the welfare state. But because of their illegal status, the church has worked with a secular philanthropic agency to become a center of immigrant welfare.
The congregation under study did not provide religious services to the undocumented, but only secular services such as healthcare. Yet such work is something new for the Swedish church — showing a process of “intertwinement” of secular and sacred. This case study is contrasted with Denmark where the state Lutheran church leaders and theologians actually supported authorities stepping in to stop a church giving sanctuary to illegal immigrants.
Earlier chapters in the book explain that varying interpretations of the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms (teaching that there is a sharp distinction between the earthly and heavenly kingdoms) account for these different approaches. But more to the point, the book suggests that Lutheranism, even if it doesn’t draw many Scandinavians to attend church much, continues to shape the development of modernity and secularism in these nations.
04: Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion (Bloomsbury, $29.95), edited by Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors, reveals how the wide diversity of Muslim dress practices around the world creates quite a discrepancy from the well worn debates that remain fixated on whether women should or should not wear the hijab (head covering) in public.
In the introduction, the editors argue that the expansion of Islamic fashions shows significant differences among Muslim women in how they relate to the public, as well as different levels and kinds of piety. While some Muslim women stress a strictly internal piety and care little about fashion, only being concerned with dressing modestly, other women, blending piety and self-expression, are fueling a global market that reflects the growing diversity of dress practices based on both local custom and consumer taste. A theory underlying many of the contributions is that the covering of women may be a form of submission, but that there is also a measure of agency that women exercise, hence the growth of Islamic fashion.
As the chapters suggest, there is nonetheless conflict and new issues surrounding these diverse styles. In Italy and Sweden, women wearing the Islamic bathing suit known as the “burqini” find opposition by the sexually liberalized cultures (even making it illegal in some parts of Italy) for covering themselves too much, although this style is allowing Muslims to participate in the once-prohibited practice of mixed-bathing.
A study of Turkish women in Texas shows some are looking for a middle ground — not veiling but choosing among the new fashions for modest dress — and actually find less public opposition than in their home country. In Denmark, a “Miss Headscarf” competition, which featured everything from a Goth punk style to a classic “biblical style,” showed how Muslims use these fashions both for piety and expressing their individual personalities — even as the Danish media and public remained fixated on the “pro-” and “anti-” headscarf debate.
05: The idea that the occult or esotericism is a Western phenomenon comes under critique in the edited collection Occultism in a Global Perspective (Acumen, $99.95), edited by Henrik Bogdan and Gordon Djurdjevic.
The editors argue that the growth of globalization, particularly as powered by the Internet, gives even marginal groups and movements associated with the occult a universal currency and an audience that blends these teachings and practices with their own cultural and religious sensibilities. In fact, several groups have moved entirely online, although allowing access only to initiates. Although several of the contributions are historical in nature, showing that the spread of occult teachings in many parts of the world is not a recent phenomenon, other chapters provide interesting case studies of how Western and largely European occult leaders and groups have influenced — and are influenced by — non-Western occultists.
Noteworthy chapters include a study of the rapid growth of esoteric groups in the former Yugoslavia after the collapse of communism (such as the Ordo Templi Orientis, which has the second largest membership in the world) — continuing the influence of occult ideas on Balkan artists. Another chapter examines the occult in an Islamic Turkey and a segment of the Sufi brotherhoods (although strongly opposed by other Sufi orders). A look at the spread of esoteric Hitlerism in Latin America shows a movement that venerates Hitler as a messianic figure bringing in a new age.