01: Involving young adults in leadership, innovative worship and an accepting attitude toward different lifestyles and theologies mark congregations that have effectively incorporated those in their 20s and 30s into their ranks, according to a new study.
The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership/Faith Communities Today (FACT) study, bringing together researchers and religious leaders from 40 U.S. denominations and other religious groups, is based on surveys and case studies of congregations in which more than 1 in 6 (21 percent or more) are between 18 and 34 years old. Having younger people in both pastoral and worship leadership is important in the congregations studied, as is innovative, often informal and experimental worship services. The use of technology in worship, teaching and communication between members also characterized these congregations.
Half of the case-study congregations have developed events popular with young adults that cross the line between worship and secular social events (especially those that tend to mix drinking and theological reflection, such as Theology on Tap gatherings that meet at bars and restaurants for Catholics). Seven of the 10 case study congregations placed a high premium on “non-judgementalism” on issues such as homosexuality and conflicting theological views. While all of the case study congregations are linked up to denominations, only half stressed this link.
(For more information on this study, visit: http://goo.gl/zBfvag).
02: As the Vatican is convening its Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family next fall, a new survey of Catholics around the world shows divided views in the church on these issues.
The survey, released by the U.S. Spanish language TV station Univision, suggests a divided church on six issues: gay marriage, women’s ordination, abortion, divorce, contraception and the celibacy of priests. Conducted among 12,000 Catholics from countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, the survey found that gay marriage is now the most divisive. While 66 percent are opposed, only 54 percent and 38 percent of Americans and Europeans (respectively) agree with the church on this issue.
But of those who support gay marriage, more than half agreed the church should not perform gay weddings. Europe, Latin America and the U.S. tend to be on one (the more liberal) side of these issues while Africa and the Philippines are on the other. The results of the Univision survey closely match the reporting that various bishops are sending to the Vatican in response to a questionnaire it sent out in preparation for the upcoming synod, according to the National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 28). The only issue where respondents showed strong unity is in positive view of Pope Francis.
03: The over-reporting of religious involvement in surveys, such as church attendance, has been evident among Christians in the U.S. but a new study finds that Muslims in Islamic nations likewise engage in inflating their level of religious practices, particularly prayer.
The study, by Philip S. Brenner of the University of Massachusetts and published in the journal Social Forces (March), looks at survey responses on Muslim prayer in Pakistan, the Palestinian territories and Turkey, comparing them to time diaries, where respondents would record their actual times of prayer. Brenner finds that the comparison of survey responses regarding practices of prayer with the time diaries show that 15-40 percent of prayers are over-reported.
Variation in over-reporting emerged in Turkey and Palestine by gender, with women not men over-reporting. Brenner writes that this may be because women tend to claim a stronger Muslim identity and that religious identity in general tends to motivate over-reporting. Brenner concludes that while these Muslim rates are somewhat lower than the over-reporting found among Americans in surveys of church attendance, “they are still high enough to add a caveat to survey estimates of religious practice in these countries.”
(Social Forces, http://goo.gl/QcMw9L)
04: Secularization may be occurring in Israel, but the loss of religious influence that has occurred in recent years is affecting the various Jewish ethnic groups in different ways, according to political scientists Guy Ben-Porot and Yariv Feniger.
Writing in the journal Ethnicities (Vol. 14, No. 1), they note that on one hand, the Orthodox have retained a monopoly on Jewish life in Israel, and there has been a resurgence of religion in different forms along with a limited commitment to the liberal values of tolerance.
On the other hand, there is also an increasing secularization of the public sphere seen, for instance, in the rapidly growing commercial activity on the Sabbath. These conflicting patterns can be explained by the way in which the three major Jewish ethnic groups — the Ashkenazim (or European Jews), the largely Middle Eastern Mizrachim, and the Russian immigrants— are being secularized.
The researchers conducted a survey among 495 subjects focusing on questions about belief and practices, the reach of religious authority, attitudes toward the Arab minority, and their religious practices. In one part of the survey that included both religious and non-religious Jews, the researchers find that 32.8 percent describe themselves as less religious than their parents, and only 7.8 percent said they were more religious than their parents. Almost half describe themselves as secular. But the above three ethnic groups occupy different places on the secular religious-divide in Israel.
The Ashkenazim experienced secularization earliest—beginning in the 19th century—and display a “liberal” variant of this process, showing a loss of belief and practices, support for liberal reforms in society as well as greater freedom and equality for Arabs. The secularization of the Mizrachim happened later but without the abandonment of religion, and is mostly expressed as the relaxation of some observances, such as shopping on the Sabbath, while maintaining respect for religious authority and a rejection of political liberalism.
The Russian immigrants are described as “ethical liberal,” experiencing secularization as having a strong non-religious identity and support for liberal reforms against the Orthodox monopoly while rejecting equality measures for Arab citizens. The authors conclude that ethnicity is the factor best explaining the various and partial paths to secularization and the continuing importance of religion, particularly as an identity marker among Israel’s Jews.
05: A new analysis of two decades of Russian beliefs and practices shows that while there has been a large increase in affiliation and a modest increase in religious commitment, such a return to religion did not correspond with a return to church participation.
The Pew Research Center analyzed three waves of data from the International Social Survey Programme (1991, 1998, and 2008) and found a large increase of Russians identifying with the Orthodox church—from 31 percent to 72 percent—as well as a growth of affiliation with other religions. The share of Russians saying they are at least “somewhat religious” rose from 11 percent in 1991 to 54 percent in 2008. But across all three waves of survey, no more than about 1 in 10 Russians said they attend religious services once a month.
(To download this report, visit: www.pewforum.org/2014/02/10/russians-return-to-religion-but-not-to-church/.)