01: A new study finds that divorce is higher among religiously conservative Protestants and even drives up divorce rates for other people living around them.
University of Texas at Austin professor Jennifer Glass sought to explain why divorce rates would be higher in religious states like Arkansas and Alabama — which boast the second and third highest divorce rates, respectively — but lower in more liberal states like New Jersey and Massachusetts, and found the religious factor significant. The researchers trace the high rate of divorce in these states partly to young marriage, which they say occurs more often in conservative Protestant counties where “[p]harmacies might not give out emergency contraception” and “[s]chools might only teach abstinence education,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 21).
W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and editorial advisor for The Family in America, commented in the article that the findings were “surprising.” The results conflict with other research showing that young marriage, which the researchers blame for Protestants’ ills, is in fact in many cases a protector of mental health. Wilcox added that the study also showed that more “secularism” — people not adhering to any religious tradition — was also linked to higher rates of divorce.
02: Korean-American churches continue to show significant growth, showing their greatest strength in New York, California and New Jersey, according to new data on these congregations reported in the newspaper Korea Daily (Jan. 14).
There was an increase of 123 Korean American churches from 4096 in the year of 2011 to 4,223 in 2012. According to the Census, 17,068,822 Korean Americans reside in the USA, as of 2012. Therefore, there are 403 churches per each Korean American living in the US. The most Korean American churches are located in California, as many as 1,329, which is 31 percent of the total number. It was followed by 436 in New York, and 239 in New Jersey. This means that 47.3 percent of Korean American churches are in California, New York and New Jersey.
In more detail, between 2011 and 2012, there was an increase of 46 churches in California, 22 in Texas, 6 in Maryland, 8 in New Jersey, and 8 in Virginia. In particular, there was an increase of 16 churches in Seattle in 2012. Interestingly, there was a decrease of two churches in Arizona and one church in Alabama, Montana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. There are mainly six Christian traditions which Korean American churches belonged to in 2012.
They are: Presbyterian 40.5 percent, Baptist 17.9 percent, Methodist 12.9 percent, Ecumenical (which could mean non-denominational) 6.9 percent, Evangelical 6.7 percent, and Holiness 6.6 percent. There are also 420 Korean churches in Canada, 200 in Australia, 175 in Germany, 71 in England, 62 in Brazil, 53 in Argentina, and 25 both in France and Mexico.
— Written and translated by K.T. Chun, a New Jersey-based writer and researcher.
03: Biblical names for babies are finding renewed popularity among prospective parents.
Experimentation with or creating new names is on the decline, reports the National Catholic Register (Jan. 8). The baby-naming website, called Belly Ballot, allows prospective parents to share via social media the name choices of their soon-to-be-born baby with their friends and family, who then vote on their favorites.
Based on data gathered from 3,500 parents, along with 25,000 votes of their friends and families who use the website, Belly Ballot finds that biblical names are likely to surge more in 2014 than they have in previous years. While biblical names such as Noah and Ethan are already popular, parents are being drawn to less frequently used names from the Bible, such as Caleb, Naomi, Levi and Judith.
The concurrent decline of more experimental names fading in popularity with the rise of biblical names may show a desire to go back to “original values and traditions,” according to Lucie Wisco, editor the website.
04: A new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities toward religion reached a six-year peak in 2012.
One-third of the 198 countries and territories studied had high religious hostilities in 2012, increasing from 29 percent in 2011 and 20 percent as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities grew in every major region of the world except the Americas. The Middle East and North Africa showed the sharpest increase, still feeling the aftershocks of the Arab Spring. There also was a significant rise in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China entered into the “high” category for the first time. The study is based on two indices gauging government restrictions Index and unofficial “social hostilities.” Europe had the largest increase in the median level of government restrictions in 2012, followed closely by the Middle East and North Africa.
In characterizing the overall level of restrictions — whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities — the study finds that restrictions on religion are high or very high in 43 percent of countries, also a six-year high. As in the previous year, Pakistan had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion, and Egypt had the highest level of government restrictions on religion. During the latest year studied, there also was an increase in the level of harassment or intimidation of particular religious groups.
Indeed, two of the seven major religious groups monitored by the study — Muslims and Jews — experienced six-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by national, provincial or local governments, or by individuals or groups in society.
(For more information on the Pew study, visit: http://goo.gl/REc3fK).
05: A “dynamic relationship between the religious and the secular” rather than a pattern of the former being eclipsed by the latter seems to be emerging from recent research on youth and religion in the United Kingdom, writes Rebecca Catto (Coventry University) in the journal Religion (January).
Those findings are based on her analysis of a series of 21 research projects, all part of an ambitious, well-funded Religion and Society Program, based in Lancaster. The projects maintain a special focus on youth and religion. The variety of topics and disciplinary approaches opens the way to richer and more nuanced assessments when linked with each other. The age range considered was from 13 to 25. Youth are growing up in a context in which all traditional modes of belonging (religious and political) have eroded. But at the same time, religion is perceived as significant again in the public sphere, and thus worth researching, despite persistent decline in church attendance and the rise of non-affiliation.
It is not surprising to see that only 33 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.K. say that Christianity currently has an influence on them. Still, Christianity remains the largest religious group among young people in the UK. Yet affirming oneself to be a Christian tends to become something of a counter-cultural choice, for instance among students. At schools, local and regional differences can be noticed: in places in Northern Ireland and Scotland, being an active Christian can still bring respect, while students in rural Sussex rather see religion as “strange,” having little direct experience of it. In central Birmingham, religious and non religious pupils all take religion courses as part of everyday life.
When it comes to ethnic minorities, religious identities seem to acquire increasing significance among their young people in the UK. Young Muslims are subjected to public scrutiny. Among those families coming from Bangladesh, one research project has observed that they tend to place their Muslim identity above other labels, in contrast with their parents. Migration can make religion a more important part of personal identity.
The impact of modern communication technologies is obvious. One of the projects has showed how young Sikhs use online forums for learning more about their religion and connecting with each other: the Internet becomes a source of authority in itself.
Another research project was conducted on youth in areas of urban deprivation (Glasgow, Manchester): young people in such precarious environments may not set foot in places of worship or have a clear doctrine, but they speak of guardian angels, God, the afterlife and other topics, if one takes the time to listen to them. The author of that research project called into question the “middle-class bias” often present in research on youth and religion, reports Catto.
Interesting findings emerge when attention is shifted “beyond questions of numerical growth and decline,” stresses Catto. It should also not be forgotten that both religious and non-religious young people are affected by the same changes and global forces. Religious change is multidirectional. Young people are religious in new ways, beyond traditional spaces of worship (e.g. online). Moreover, the grand narrative of decline and individualization is not fully realized in the study of young people and religiosity, as evidenced by the rise of religion as a possible signifier of identity.
(Religion, Taylor & Francis, 325 Chestnut St. 8th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106; http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rrel20/current).