01: Religious belief and involvement remain high for American Indians—whether in aboriginal traditions or Christian churches, and for both men and women, according to one of the largest surveys of religion among this native population.
The study, published in the current issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Vol. 53, No. 1), is based on a survey of more than 3,000 American Indians located in two tribes in the Southwest and the Northern Plains. Previous studies of small samples of American Indians found they were more likely than others to claim “no religion,” and to not give high importance to Christianity. But the new survey found that the great majority reported participating in at least one tradition at least “sometimes,” with about one-third to half of participants involved “often” in such activities.
The small percentages who indicated they never participate in any spiritual or religious tradition was only 3-11 percent—far smaller than the 44 percent of unchurched Americans shown by national polls. They also find that 97 to 99 percent reported that religio-spiritual beliefs were important to them.
About two-thirds of participants in both tribes reported participating in aboriginal traditions, which suggests that the “networks of participation associated with historic religio-spiritual traditions remain active in contemporary American Indian communities,” according to Boston College sociologist Eva Marie Garroutte and six other researchers. The most unexpected finding was that the odds of “frequent religio-spiritual participation was no different for women and men within any tradition examined”—a degree of religious equality not seen in most other religious traditions.
Participation in the Native American Church, an American Indian group blending Christian and indigenous teachings and practices, particularly the use of peyote, was lower than for the other traditions, but about half of respondents in both tribes had sometimes participated in these rituals, especially in the Southwest. The authors conclude that these results show an American Indian religious profile of “robust participation within aboriginal traditions while simultaneously arguing against nominal commitment to Christianity.”
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1468-5906.)
02: A new survey of more than 10,000 Americans (including scientists and evangelical Protestants) suggests that there might be more common ground between science and religion than is commonly believed.
The “Religious Understandings of Science” survey showed that only 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict, according to a report in the Huffington Post (March 17). In addition, it showed that nearly half of scientists and evangelicals believe that “science and religion can work together and support one another,” according to Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Rice University sociologist who conducted the survey.
She adds that “This is a hopeful message for science policymakers and educators, because the two groups don’t have to approach religion with an attitude of combat. Yet 60 percent of the Protestants surveyed—and 38 percent of all people surveyed—indicated a belief that scientists ‘should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.’”
03: Much is being made of the “Francis effect” in the year since the new pope was elected, but surveys suggest that his influence in the West is far from uniform.
The web site BRIN (British Religion in Numbers) features a report (March 12) comparing Canadian, American and British Catholic differences in assessing the positive influence of Pope Francis. Citing an Angus Reid Global survey, the “Francis effect” is less prevalent in Britain than in other countries. While three-fifths of Americans and Canadians have a positive view of Pope Francis, the rate falls to 36 percent in Britain, with the majority being neutral (56 percent) or negative (nine percent).
Although two-thirds of British Catholics welcomes Francis’ simple lifestyle and commitment to the poor, 70 percent of British said the pope has not changed their own views of the Catholic Church, with one-quarter acknowledging that he had improved them—compared to 37 percent in Canada and 44 percent in the U.S. Even among lapsed and non-practicing British Catholics, 77 percent say that Pope Francis’ record has not convinced them to strengthen their relationship with the church.
For Protestants, the “Francis effect” seems to be weak to non-existent, according to a report from the Barna poll (March 18). In contrast to the high marks among most Catholics, just 45 percent of practicing Protestants express a very or somewhat favorable view of the pontiff. Among non-mainline Protestants, those expressing a favorable view dips down to 37 percent.
Francis’s favorability rate closely matches generations in Protestantism as well as Catholicism, with the oldest generations the most favorable, although Barna reports that Millennial Catholics are the most likely to have changed their faith practice because of the pope in the last year—with a significant 13 percent increase in Mass attendance. The report concludes that “while much has been made by the media of Protestants’ approval of Pope Francis, our research shows the historic schism between Catholic and Protestant traditions is alive and well in America.”
04: A new Pew Research survey of global attitudes on religion finds that a high number of people around the world think a belief in God is vital to leading a moral life. The Huffington Post (March 14) reports that a survey of people in 40 countries found that majorities in 22 countries believed that having God in one’s life was essential to being a moral person.
Majorities in all five African countries surveyed, as well as every Middle Eastern country except Israel, believed belief in God is vital to a person’s morality. The reaction was more mixed in other parts of the world. While majorities in most countries in Latin America and in the Asia/Pacific region believed God was important for morality, no European country polled had a majority saying the same. The U.S. showed a slight majority believing God was necessary to be a moral person, while Canada registered a strong majority in the opposite direction.
Opinions broke down along largely economic lines. The higher a country’s GDP, the less likely its citizens were to believe God necessary for a moral life. The exceptions were the United States and China. “Americans are much more likely than their economic counterparts to say belief in God is essential to morality, while the Chinese are much less likely to do so,” the report says.
05: As Scotland approaches the referendum on independence from the United Kingdom later this year, the most recent Scottish census suggests that national identity is strongest among the non-religious, Catholics and, as might be expected, members of the Church of Scotland.
The web site BRIN (March 1) reports that the 2011 census results for Scotland, released at the end of February, show that two-thirds in each of the groups of Catholics, Church of Scotland, and those having no religion claimed an identity of Scottish only. The Scottish versus British debate is much less relevant to other Protestants and non-Christians in Scotland, with a majority (other Christians, Buddhists and Hindus) or a plurality (Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other religions) declining to choose between these two competing identities or to select another identity combination.
The census also found that the majority of Scottish youth (56 percent) were reported as not stating a religion or claiming “no faith.” The report notes that it is difficult to know if this means that respondents were admitting that youth (less than 16) in their households were being brought up without religion or if they were implicitly stating that this was matter they were leaving up to their children when they were old enough to do so. This finding might particularly impact the Church of Scotland and the Catholics who have similar proportions of adherents among children and adults. Finally, the census finds a much stronger showing of Islam among children than adults, thus “laying the foundation for future expansion of Islam in Scotland.”
06: Worldwide observance of the holy month of Ramadan tends to slow down the economies of Muslim dominated countries, but it also leads to greater happiness among those observing this fasting period, according to the magazine Foreign Policy (March/April).
Harvard University economists Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott examined data from every Ramadan since 1950 in countries more than 75 percent Muslim and found that when people spend more time fasting (especially when the observance falls on the long days of summer) it takes a bigger toll on economic growth. Increasing the average daily fast in a country from 12 to 13 hours, for instance, decreased GDP growth by 0.7 percentage points.
The economic losses do not come from time taken away from economic productivity but rather from the different choices Muslims tend to make post-Ramadan, such as concerning which jobs to take and how to balance work and worship. These choices might slow down economic productivity, but the researchers find that they also lead to greater happiness.